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Tips on hiring great food truck employees

Rickshaw Dumpling Bar has one brick-and-mortar restaurant in New York City, and two food trucks that find ideal places to park each day for lunch and dinner.

Managing partner Kenny Lao spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about how he finds people with the skill set necessary to sell dumplings and salads out of a truck in New York City.

What are you looking for in a truck employee?

We look for all the regular soft skills for great customer service — someone who is adventurous and curious about food, but also is able to talk to customers, help them make a decision, and connect them with something they’ll love.

They also have to be able to steam fresh dumplings, prep all the fresh sides like the green salads and sesame noodle salad, and be able to drive in New York City.

They have to be able to handle hot weather days, cold weather days and being harassed by other vendors.

Basically, they set up the entire store in the morning and tear it down at night.

They also have to be good at not getting tickets.

They have to feel very confident in troubleshooting when the truck goes down because so many things can go wrong that we don’t have checklists like we do in the restaurant. Instead, we just tell them to leave the truck how they’d like to pick it up.

There can’t be many people with that skill set looking for work.

We look for people with a couple of those elements who are open enough to learn from the others. We’ve hired people who have worked as baristas and people who have worked as porters or have driven trucks or delivery vans, but also have great customer service skills.

The challenge is that we find people who are passionate about things other than food. They came to New York for something else — to be an illustrator or a nurse — and we have to get them to be passionate about the food, too.

Are some skills harder to teach than others?

Teaching someone how to count cash or do dumpling inventory is easy. But you need to find people who are empathetic and who want to make customers happy.

We also put them through a full tasting of the menu and a food quiz. Even though we have an abbreviated menu on the truck, we need them to speak intelligently about everything on the menu, to know how what’s on the truck fits into the overall portfolio of the menu.

The soft skills are really important, and people we hire need to be open enough to communicate with people of all sorts, from famous people to policemen to other vendors to busy corporate people who come to the truck. And they also have to be able to get along with everyone at the restaurant.

This is also important: We look for people who have easy commutes.

How much training do you provide?

With in-store training and training on the truck, they’re not fully operational for about a month.

How many people do you have who can work on the truck?

We have about 10. We interview all the time. [Look up] our Craigslist ad to get an idea of how we market the job.

Tell us about the logistics of working on the truck.

One person picks up the truck in Brooklyn. The other goes to the store to prep for a “just-in-time pickup,” as I call it, so the driver doesn’t have to park. Parking is hard on 23rd street, and if they have to drive around the block, that can take 15 minutes. So if someone’s a little late, it’s a problem.

They also have to be flexible. There are certain days when, if the truck goes down, they might not get paid, and they’re really flexible and really awesome that way. It helps that it’s a tough economy out there.

How much do you pay?

Between $10 and $15 per hour. On average, truck workers get a little more than people who work in the restaurant.

It takes a certain personality to work on a food truck. If we find someone we think would work based on their skills, we have them do a shadow day. We have them hop on the truck to see what it’s like all day long. I tell them that since I’m not there, this is their chance to ask the employees what it’s like to work for us.

It also gives the staff a chance to check them out — to see if they’re engaged and curious and look like they’ll fit in. And my staff reports back to me and tells me if they think they’d work or not.”

Get to know the Rickshaw Dumpling truckers

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].

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