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Christine Hill of Lettuce Entertain You: Serving Up Success with Collaboration



Christine Hill

Director of Recruiting

Lettuce Entertain You


Christine Hill, Director of Recruiting at Lettuce Entertain You, exemplifies the growth potential of a career in the service industry. Christine evolved from a teenaged McDonald's employee to a hospitality management graduate, and then into management. At Lettuce, she spearheads recruitment with a focus on innovative methods and partnerships with organizations such as Cara Collective, guiding talent from various backgrounds towards professional success.


Tell me about your role at Lettuce Entertain You.


As the Director of Recruiting at Lettuce Entertain You, I lead a team that manages chef, management, and corporate staff recruitment for our restaurants. We also support restaurant hiring needs, building relationships with community partners to find top talent.


What was your first job? What age were you when you started? 


I began working for pay at the age of 16. It was for McDonald’s. This early exposure to the restaurant industry sparked my interest and set the stage for my career path in hospitality.



What was your educational path like, and did it mirror that of your family? 


I was the first in my family to earn a bachelor's degree. I pursued Hospitality Management at Johnson & Wales University, known for its focus on culinary arts and restaurant management. Balancing studies with restaurant work, I gained practical experience directly relevant to my coursework. This solidified my foundation for a career in the restaurant industry.


What was your first full-time job and how did you secure it?


I started my career as an entry-level restaurant manager, a role I got thanks to hourly work I pursued during college. This position came with thorough training, adding to my skills as a former server and bartender. This path showcases our industry's potential for growth. Starting in an hourly role can lead to advanced positions, such as chef and manager. 

Over my 23 years here, I have witnessed employees evolve into the partners who lead the company, which illustrates our nurturing, passionate work environment.

Tell me about your career progression.


I started as a manager and rose to general manager, handling entire restaurant operations. Intrigued by recruitment, I pivoted to my current field, adapting my skills across various industries. Then I joined Lettuce Entertain You, combining my restaurant background with recruitment. Twenty-three years later, I remain passionate about my unique role.


Who have been your primary mentors in progressing in your career?


My key mentor, an area director from my entry level manager job after college, recognized my potential and guided me from general manager to higher roles. His unique blend of supervision and empowerment was pivotal. Additionally, learning from leaders who advanced from entry-level positions to division presidents provided invaluable industry insights, significantly enhancing my professional development.


What obstacles have you had to overcome?


An early career challenge involved honing soft skills, essential for engaging with guests, team members, and managers. Embracing Lettuce's Culture of Caring and drive played a big role in the enhancement of these skills. I supplemented this with external resources like books, YouTube, TED talks, and Brené Brown's insights on self-care and respect.


What have been keys to your success?


Working in the restaurant industry, whether as a lifelong career or a flexible job during college, has been invaluable. It teaches life skills like passion for your work, energy, people skills, and organization. These skills are highly transferable and beneficial in any career path. Experience in the restaurant industry is an excellent foundation for professional growth.


Tell me what it’s like to work at Lettuce Entertain You. What makes it special or unique?


Our culture thrives on caring, support, learning from mistakes, and fostering growth across all levels. Our resilience, especially during the pandemic, demonstrates our commitment to employee well-being and business adaptability. Over my 23 years here, I have witnessed employees evolve into the partners who lead the company, which illustrates our nurturing, passionate work environment.



What is Lettuce hoping to achieve in the next few years? 


Lettuce Entertain You is focused on thoughtful growth, having opened three new restaurants this year amidst the pandemic's challenges. We’ve expanded into new markets, including recent openings in Orlando, Austin, and Las Vegas. As we grow, maintaining our Culture of Caring is important for us. This ensures both immediate excitement and long-term sustainability as we explore new opportunities.


What qualifications do you require for entry-level jobs at Lettuce?


For entry-level positions, we value energy, curiosity, and enthusiasm over formal education. We offer ample growth opportunities. For example, dedicated dishwashers can advance to prep cooks, and dedicated hosts can advance to servers. The essential factors are a strong work ethic and eagerness to learn. Additionally, soft skills such as effective communication and friendliness are crucial in our industry.

My advice for other employers: prioritize getting to know an organization and their job seekers, support individual success, and start small for placement quality over quantity.

What positions require a high school diploma at Lettuce?


None!


Why did Lettuce begin working with partners such as Cara Collective?


Working with community organizations like Cara Collective allows us to be introduced to job seekers that we might not have found otherwise.  Cara's program is structured and supportive to their participants before and after they secure employment with us.


Do you work with more than one partner?


We regularly explore a diverse variety of workforce partners with the hopes of finding employment for those coming from these organizations. One example is JCFS whose model provides support and training for the participants and employer.


When you first began to work with a partner, how did that go? Was it what you expected, or was it different? What should other employers know? 


We aimed at promoting individual employee success, starting with one restaurant before expanding. Then we appointed internal champions, sharing success stories to build trust. My advice for other employers: prioritize getting to know an organization and their job seekers, support individual success, and start small for placement quality over quantity.


When establishing a partnership with a new organization, how long should it take for this partnership to become an established recruiting strategy? 


Establishing a partnership typically takes three to six months, though this varies with applicant availability and hiring needs


What are the advantages of working with these partners? What solutions do they provide? How do they help you overcome challenges and obstacles? 


Partnering with Cara aligns with our Culture of Caring by nurturing long-term relationships, helping us discover candidates for roles where they can excel. Cara's structured, year-long program with post-hire support through regular check-ins and guidance is particularly valuable. It reflects our shared commitment to employee care and professional growth.



What are the challenges of working with partners?


In the fast-moving restaurant industry, we often face mismatches between partner program offerings and our immediate needs. There can also be issues with candidates around job readiness or personal challenges. Our goal is to provide thorough training in a Culture of Caring to promote longevity in their employment.


While these hurdles exist, we prioritize open communication and transparency. If we believe a placement isn't the right fit, we collaborate with the organization to find solutions. One way we often use is a "30-60-90 touch base" practice for regular employee communication. It helps identify and address turnover challenges, finding solutions beneficial for both managers and employees. Ultimately, our approach is to treat everyone fairly and address challenges as they arise.


How, if at all, do you believe Chicagoland employers should contribute to addressing poverty and inequality in Chicago neighborhoods? 


Everyone wins when businesses actively engage in grassroots efforts, building relationships with community organizations and connecting available roles with potential candidates. While time-consuming, a commitment to ongoing community involvement is worthwhile in supporting mission-aligned organizations and uplifting talented individuals.

To make a profound impact, it's crucial to stay open-minded and listen.

What, if anything, should be done to support employers who hire entry-level talent from Chicago’s most challenged neighborhoods? 


Incentivizing hiring with tax credits is key.


What experiences have you had that help you empathize with entry-level talent at Lettuce? 


My single-parent upbringing taught me about challenges like financial constraints and difficult commutes, experiences common among entry-level talent at Lettuce. The restaurant industry was my financial and professional stepping stone, and

I empathize with those uncertain about their career but needing a job.



What advice would you offer to employers contemplating partnerships with organizations focused on workforce development?


To make a profound impact, it's crucial to stay open-minded and listen. Employing individuals from challenging backgrounds can foster loyalty and long-term commitment, as they often show greater dedication. It’s essential to strike a balance between meeting business needs and offering meaningful opportunities. Be curious about how to align your organizational objectives with making a significant difference in someone's life.


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