Internet social networks and virtual worlds are giving restaurant recruiters and trainers a new platform on which to do their jobs more effectively, and they are providing foodservice employees and managers new avenues for connecting with one another and with customers.
From foodservice blogs and websites to entire video-game-worthy virtual online worlds, social networking is changing the tenor of information gathering and sharing — and their numbers are growing. Among them: LinkedIn.com ; Konnects.com ; SecondLife.com ; YouTube.com ; Facebook.com ; MySpace.com ; and Twitter.com .
"Restaurant people are naturally social and gravitate to sites like this," said Ted Cohn, president and chief technology officer for FohBoh Inc., a social-networking site for foodservice employees and food devotees that went online in January. FohBoh's site is at www.fohboh.com.
Cohn offered that insight during an educational session titled, "Using Online Social Networking for Your Business," at the International Foodservice Technology Exposition, or FS/TEC, held earlier this year in Grapevine, Texas. "Clearly, social networks are here to stay," he added.
Another panelist, Arie Ball, of Gaithersburg, Md.-based contract feeder Sodexo USA, said her human-resources recruiting strategy for some time has incorporated the use of online sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as a proprietary blog. She is vice president of sourcing and talent acquisition for Sodexo, which has a 125,000-employee workforce in North America.
One such social network-aided hire was from an online "virtual career fair" at SecondLife.com, where Sodexo was among Microsoft, T-Mobile, Verizon, eBay and Hewlett-Packard in seeking new employees.
"This is a powerful social interaction tool," Ball said. "There's an economy with virtual dollars." Users, who conduct their second lives as avatars, can buy and sell products, clothes, jewelry and land. "Lots of companies have a presence on Second Life," she said. "And 300 colleges, including Harvard, are using SecondLife to teach courses."
The May 2007 career fair yielded two job offers, and chef Ray Giordano of Las Vegas accepted a position with Sodexo after "flying" his avatar downstairs after the interview.
He was among 14 candidates who had been identified early on in the process. Job candidates were given virtual cars rather than the pens that they might have gotten in a traditional career fair, Ball said. Recruiters, who were also avatars, actually were located all over the nation. They conducted the virtual career fair four hours a day over three days and "had a blast," Ball said.
"Most of the candidates that came through had between five to 35 years experience in the foodservice industry," she said.
Some issues that made the virtual career fair difficult were firewall problems, technological challenges for applicants trying to set up avatars and screens that froze.
"SecondLife is a fabulous, fabulous technology. But the technology issues remain," she said, which keep it from being a mainstream tool. "In my view, fix the technology and then have the ability to go a website and go in and out of a virtual world without having to log into another program."
She said all the sites are interconnected and added that the company recently beefed up the job description templates to make them more compelling and to get rid of the "legalese, HR-ese."
And the pages now include a button for website visitors to say that they are "not ready to apply" and provide the option of staying in touch.
FohBoh's Cohn said social networking online exposes people "to hundreds of millions of people. Then the question becomes: How do you reach them most appropriately, most quickly? How can you monetize relationships in this new world? Can you actually do business in this new environment?"
Cohn said the options offered in social networks are nearly endless, especially for finding new job opportunities and new business. One user recently found a restaurant developer for India through the FohBoh site, he said.