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How to Hire a Serving Staff for a Party

Whether you want to hire a staff of one or a staff of one hundred for your party, there are a few things you should know walking into the process. 

Here's a breakdown of questions to ask, tips to decide and what to expect when hiring a serving staff to make the planning process a bit easier.

Tips to Start Your Search

The best reference for finding staff to work your party is by word of mouth. However, there are many party staff or even temporary staffing agencies with excellent reputations (and more importantly workman's comp insurance) that you can research and feel confident about using for your event without the sign-off from a person that you know.

If you've hired a caterer that has an in-house staff or some one they use all the time, I'd go with them!

If your finding staff on your own, ask your friends, family, and work buddies for serving staff recommendations for your party from bartenders to waiters.

Check on line or in your local phone book under "Party Staff, Party or Event Planning, Temporary Staff."

Call a local restaurant, which you frequent and trust, and ask if someone would be willing to work a private party.

Questions to Ask When Hiring a Serving Staff

After you've spoken to a few folks and feel comfortable with your initial picks, set up an appointment to meet them, if appropriate, or the agency contact in person. Here's a helpful list of questions you might want to ask:

What is the hourly rate of each person, or rather position as managers and bartenders may cost more, and is there an hourly minimum? Many companies have a 5-hour minimum.

How long is the staff's break times within that time period?

Is a tip for each staff member customary and what is the "going rate?" For the record, tips are customary for private events in your home.

Can they provide recommendations with phone numbers that you can call? Don't expect to call each staff member personally, but you should call party hosts or even caterers who have worked with the staffing agency in the past.

What does the serving staff wear? Often times the staff wears nice black pants, a white button down shirt, and maybe a black bow tie. For more casual events, the staff may wear a white Polo shirt. Or you can inquire about something specific such as all pink shirts for a baby shower (but you may have to pay for and provide the shirts).

*In Los Angeles and other cities as well, there are many events that have serving staff who are hired for their "look," such as "beachy types" for a party at the beach. And, many staffing agencies have photos of their staff for clients to peruse. Mind you, this has little to do with skill and more to do with modeling, but these types of agencies exist and may be right for your event.

Do they have all the necessary paperwork for their staff such as workman's comp insurance?

I believe that "there are no stupid questions," so ask away until you feel comfortable. Remember, the serving staff will be in your home or acting as ambassadors for your event. Make sure that you have a nice rapport with the person that is representing them or the people themselves.

How Large of a Serving Staff Do You Need?

If you are going through a staffing agency, they can advise you on how many people you'll need for your event. If you are hiring people direct here's a good guideline, which doesn't include a chef!

The assumption here is that, in addition to the serving staff, you will be hiring a pro chef, caterer, or preparing the food yourself and the staff will assist you in serving it.

Generally, most buffet parties with a guest list of 50 require about 4 people: 1 bartender, 1 food / kitchen helper, 2 busser / helpers to tray pass during cocktails, pick up glasses, plates, and replenish the buffet.

If you are renting plates, as opposed to using nice disposables, you should have another person to help rinse off rental dishes and pick up plates around the party.

If your party of 50 people has a sit-down meal, I'd up the staff by 1 or 2 more people on the floor. It all depends on how long you want to wait for your food, and typically, the more staff you have, the smoother your event will be.

As your guest list increases by 25 people, you should consider hiring another bartender and server.

What to Expect from Hiring a Serving Staff

When you hired the serving staff, you should have given them the date, general arrival time, party address, and your phone number(s). If they are a direct hire you should have their cell phone numbers as well. If they are through an agency, you should have a contact number or two for any "party day" issues.

You may want to call within the week before the party to confirm staffing arrangements through both the agency and direct hires.

Everyone doesn't need to come at the same time - 2 people, the food/kitchen person and another who will can help set up chairs, the buffet, etc... should arrive 2 1/2 hours before guests, and 2 people should arrive 1 hour to 45 minutes before guests get there.

Let the serving staff know what the dress code is: Nice white shirt, nice black pants, black shoes, black bow tie - or whatever you have in mind.

Make sure that your "communication" chain is clear. Who do they go to for any issues? Typically a staffing agency will assign a "manager" or person that signs every one in and out.

Create a party timetable if necessary and post it in the "working kitchen" area or distribute it to all who will be "running" the party so you can sync up on when the buffet opens or planned events, like serving a birthday cake.

Expect each staff member to take a meal break. And, make any "etiquette requests" or party protocol clear such as "Please don't eat food in front of the guests or behind the buffet." You may want to request that they refrain from drinking alcohol while they are working.

I always touch base with the bartender and let them know what my feelings are about guests that seem to be chugging down the cocktails. Ultimately, it's a party host's responsibility to keep an eye on this and find a ride for a person who has had too much to drink.

The serving staff should leave their "kitchen workspace" in your home in the same condition as they found it. Don't expect them to wash your windows, but they should sweep the workspace floor or the place where they've prepared the food. Plates, glasses, and trash should be picked up in the party space and taken to your trash bins outside, but don't expect them to clean the rooms from top to bottom!

If you did get rentals, find out how these items need to be situated for pick up. Sometimes the staff will help get these in order for you, but it's not necessarily their responsibility.

For direct hires, it is customary to pay direct at the end of the night or when you let each person go home. Gratuity on top of the hourly wage should be applied if you are happy at the evening's end.

Staffing agency rates usually run higher as they have more overhead, insurance, and more to account for.

Finally, treat the serving staff courteously and your party should be a success. A verbal "thank-you" is always appreciated!

The Fine Print on a Serving Staff Contract

You may want to make sure that these points are in writing or consider adding them:

The hourly rate or the pricing structure that you have discussed and agreed upon for all items and services including overtime.

The party information including the address, and arrival and departure times.

Proof of workman's comp insurance or a statement that they carry it. If you are hiring staff direct, you should consider this carefully and make sure you are covered if a staff person slips and is injured on the job. Check your homeowner's policy or perhaps your state's guidelines and see if they provide some sort of temporary insurance for these situations before you consider how you want to hire serving staff.

Their cancellation policy or procedure for a "force majeure" situation - meaning what happens if there is an unforeseen circumstance, natural or otherwise, on the day or leading up to the day of the party which makes it impossible for the event to take place.

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Meet our Writer
Jennifer Geddes
Celebrations Writer

Jennifer Kelly Geddes has hosted Christmas cookie swaps, New Year's open houses, Thanksgiving for 22, and all manner of dinner parties in her Manhattan and Ghent, NY homes.

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