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Rethinking How Restaurants Hire - The Hiring Process at 3-Star Michelin RyuGin

Here, at Japanese Knife Imports, we have been expanding our library of books and magazines.  One of the magazines we get is essentially the equivalent of Art Culinaire in Japan.  Unlike Art Culinaire, however, there is a greater emphasis on professional chefs sharing information about how they run their businesses.  In the most recent issue, there was a very interesting article by Seiji Yamamoto, the chef and owner of 3-michelin-star RyuGin restaurant in Tokyo.  He discussed his hiring process in depth.  As we have been hiring lately, and as our job board has grown, we have thought a lot about this ourselves.  His process was extremely interesting to me.  I asked Sara to summarize his article.  Here is what she wrote:

-Job Interview-

Seiji Yamamoto wrote the process and philosophy behind how he and Ryugin conduct job interviews. Ryugin, as a leading restaurant for nihon ryori (traditional Japanese cuisine), their work ethic and level of performance as a team directly correlates to the world standard (as Japan is the standard for the world's nihon ryori).

According to Yamamoto, there's an unanimous consent - for any kind of job, not just restaurants'- that when someone becomes an employee, this person is to join the "team" and thus has to share the same vision and same level of commitment. This was a challenge that everyone from the current team of 18 had to overcome to be a part of Ryugin

Yamamoto always follows the four steps for a job interview:

  1. Apply for a position from Ryugin Website
  2. Dine at Ryugin as a customer
  3. Writing exam on a questionnaire form
  4. Interview in person with Seiji Yamamoto

Based on the first application from the website, some promising candidates will be called for dining at Ryugin. Its purpose is to have an established fact that all the remaining candidates have an experience of being a customer at Ryugin.

Most unique and valuable process is step 3. As of March 2015, candidates will be asked to answer 86 questions (28 pages long) - on average people spend more than 3 hours to finish the form. Some questions in the form are: how did you learn about Ryugin; what kind of pay do you expect to receive and why (How can you justify it? Do you think you and what you can do for the company are worth for the money?); what kind of dining experience do you have; why did you choose nihon ryori; what kind of books/magazines do you read; who do you respect the most as a chef; how long can you commit to work for Ryugin; what kind of influential restaurants abroad are you aware of; what do you know about Ryugin Group?

This wide-ranging questionnaire not only help Ryugin clarify the kind of questions new employees will be asked, but also find candidates who share similar visions with Ryugin, as oppose to trying to make people something that they are not.

For Yamamoto, the most important quality that he look into from candidates are skill set, contribution to the company, and lastly but most importantly trustworthiness. This questionnaire is, of course, exhausting to answer, but also the same for the team Ryugin to make and read answers. But because it is such an extensive form, people with a sense of commitment and passion naturally come across strongly.

When candidates make it to the interview with Yamamoto, because all the questions are answered on the questionnaire, it will be candidates' turn to ask questions if any. There will be an explanation about how he/she is no longer looking at Ryugin from outside, but is going to show Ryugin. Lastly, Yamamoto will tell the candidates that Ryugin is not begging or asking for them to work for Ryugin, but it is them who have to be wanting to work for Ryugin on their free will - if there is any question, hesitance, unwillingness, or disagreement, please do not come back.

The remaining candidates will formally sign the contract before starting 3 months trial period. This contract is also unique and wide-ranging, assuming every possible problem there can be (more than 90 statements). It clearly states regulations such as follows:

  • Ban on any SNS, such as instagram, face book, twitter etc
  • Ban on going into any service oriented business (ie restaurants) pretending that you are not from the industry, or hide identity (such behavior must be considered shameful).

They are expected to follow the rules to details. Yamamoto's philosophy is that once someone decide to be the best of something, it entails a strict training of mind everyday without any excuse. People who has the same level of commitment for learning and for nihon ryori as the team Ryugin will not have any problem or a second of hesitance to agree to these.

I found this to be very interesting.  I think this kind of format, though time consuming and over the top, might be a cool way to help create a better kitchen culture in our kitchens here in the US.  Over the last few years, we have seen a problem across Los Angeles and other US cities... chefs feel like there are no good line cooks out there anymore, and hiring good staff has become exceedingly difficult.  In fact, as I mentioned above, our Job Board has gotten out of control lately.  The list is getting longer and longer, and I hear from our chef friends and customers every day about how hard it is for them to find good staff.  Maybe this is a time for us to re-think the way we go about our hiring process.  What do you think?

*Source: Senmon Ryori Issue 4, April 2015- Shibata Shoten Ltd.


Jonathan Broida
Jonathan Broida

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