As your catering business continues to expand, staffing will become a more critical component of your scaling strategy. The challenge of going from a few part-time helpers to a team of full-time staff can be overwhelming. Aside from trying to hire the right people, navigating the legal and tax components of staffing can also be dizzying.
I’m here to simplify things. In the United States, there are only three categories of workers: employees, independent contractors, and interns. Also, each is very different and defined by a different area of the government.
I’m going to break down each of these types of workers over the next few months to give you a better feel for what is best for your business. First up… interns!
What can an intern do?
No, you can’t have your intern sling coffee, unless you’ve created an internship to teach barista skills. An internship is a short-term training program within your company. The goal is for you to serve as an educator and provide hands-on experience for a specific skill. Interns are not hired to file papers, serve coffee, do kitchen prep, and manage social media all in the same summer.
Internship rules have become slightly more flexible in recent years, allowing employers to benefit from the work done by interns. However, the employer still must show educational value. You’ll want to think about creating a ‘curriculum’ for a period of time. For example, a three-month marketing internship or a six-month event management internship in which the intern gets specific instruction on those areas.
Focus on education
The rule used to be that the employer could not benefit from the work done from an intern. While this has loosened up somewhat, the priority still needs to be on education. However, the work done by the intern to practice the lessons learned can now benefit the company, which is excellent news!
Any company can put together an internship program; it’s not required to tie it to a college program for credit. However, incorporating your back-of-house internship to a culinary college or your front-of-house internship to a hospitality program can make these opportunities even stronger for potential candidates.
The Department of Labor defines internship laws, and any “unpaid worker” is considered an intern. (That’s important for you to know if you have “volunteers” or people who come into shadow positions in your company.) If you have a paid internship, this would be considered employment, and the worker is subject to all the same regulations and requirements as a regular employee.
Where do I find interns?
While you don’t have to go through a college program to have your internship program validated, the best source for finding interns are local colleges and universities. Call the career development department to learn the process for sharing available jobs. Is there a website? A job board? Alumni resources? If a local school has a specialized program in the field you’re searching for (e.g., culinary program) you’ll want to go directly to that department to learn where you can post your internship.
Are internships a good idea?
Internships are an excellent fit for a catering company that has a secure internship system and for managers that love mentoring. If you can create a formula that can be replicated each season, this can become an incredible little pipeline for training and testing staff that can grow into future employee positions.