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Recruiter Savage says during a tough economy, some restaurant jobs are still safe

National unemployment at a five-year high, struggling financial markets, a severe credit crunch—times are tight right now for restaurants that also are dealing with high labor, energy and food costs. It’s also a tough time to be an employee in an industry experiencing layoffs, bankruptcies and closures. Even veteran recruiter Edward Savage III, founder of Stanton Chase International, a Los Angeles-based executive-recruiting firm, said he wouldn’t advise people to pursue restaurant careers right now. However, when times are tough, there are some positions that are in more demand than others in restaurant companies, says Savage, who is now managing partner for the Southern California region of the Stanton Chase practice, which services other industries besides hospitality. Savage started the hospitality and leisure division of the national recruiting firm Korn/Ferry, where he worked for 10 years before helping form Stanton Chase in 1989.

In times like these, who are restaurant operators looking for?

Chief culinary officers are still in high demand—those who understand multicultural cuisines, who have worked in different environments and understand what customer service is all about. And there is a need for a triple-threat CFO.

What makes a chief financial officer a triple threat?

Someone with an operational orientation, who understands equity and debt financing as well as Sarbanes-Oxley reporting. And at some restaurant companies, [someone] who knows how to deal with franchisees and owners, which is like herding cats in the dark.

What job do I not want to have right now in the industry?

You don’t want to be a regional head of operations. The middle-level person is going to get squeezed. The GM at the operating-unit level is not as expendable as those in the reporting hierarchy. District managers, regional managers, some of those layers are going to be rationalized out.

What about HR professionals?

They are going to be more focused, not so much on traditional housekeeping functions, but more on talent and acquisition and retention. They’ve got to be much more board-room-oriented and line-item-oriented. They have to develop programs that really work and are meaningful, such as pay for performance or reward systems.

With more people looking for jobs these days, is it easier to be a recruiter?

Yes and no. There are more people in the job market looking for new positions, but there are also companies that are thinking about hiring, but deferring decision making. They are putting decisions on hold, pending some funding event or acquisition or merger. They are waiting because there is a great deal of uncertainty in the market.

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