Restaurateur Ami Tran says hiring staff with mental disabilities has not only boosted her businesses' efficiency, but also improved morale and the interaction between staff and diners.
At just 25, Ami Tran owns two popular Vietnamese restaurants – one in Sunbury and one in Moonee Ponds – as well as a roaring catering business. What sets her apart from the countless other ambitious young foodservice operators is that she makes a point of recruiting staff with mental illnesses. Here's why.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO CONSIDER INDIVIDUALS WITH MENTAL ILLNESSES FOR POSITIONS IN YOUR BUSINESSES?
I was keen to employ people from my local community, since there is quite high unemployment in my area, so I approached local disability employment provider Ostara Australia for help in doing that. The people they put forward all have a mental health condition and have struggled to find work or hold down a job. I believe in giving everyone a fair go, and I believe in using my position as an employer to make a positive contribution to the community. I also think it’s important to not judge people on their abilities, but to organise a workplace to give every employee the best chance of achieving their potential. So I was very happy to give these people a go.
WHAT SORT OF ROLES ARE THEY PERFORMING?
There are two types of positions: back-of-house in the kitchen and front-of-house. The kitchen duties are cutting vegetables, doing dishes, cleaning the store room, stocking the fridge, as well as maintaining high levels of hygiene. The front-of-house staff are mostly runners, that is, bringing food to tables from the kitchen. So providing high level customer service but without the really stressful responsibilities like taking orders, making money calculations or dealing with cash. I’ve found that if you can find roles for people that don’t make their condition worse, they can really excel.
HOW MANY EMPLOYEES WITH MENTAL ILLNESS OR OTHER DISABILITIES HAVE YOU HIRED?
It’s around seven in my Sunbury restaurant District 3429, and a few more in my Moonee Ponds restaurant, Green Leaf Cuisine.
WHAT CONSIDERATIONS DO YOU NEED TO TAKE BEFORE WELCOMING THE STAFF TO YOUR BUSINESS?
The most important thing for me is honesty, reliability and attitude. I think they are more important qualities than workplace skills. You can train workplace skills, but it’s much harder to train the right attitude. So that’s what I look for first and foremost, and that’s what I’ve found with most of my staff that I have employed. They have helped create a really welcoming environment for our customers.
HOW DOES YOUR INTERACTION WITH THESE EMPLOYEES DIFFER TO THAT OF YOUR OTHER EMPLOYEES?
My interactions aren’t different – I treat everyone equally. But in the back of my mind I know that the people we have employed through Ostara Australia have their own unique conditions, and a different level that they can perform at, so I keep that in mind when assigning them to workplace roles and setting up tasks. So I consider their different conditions and their different skills and abilities, but I don’t treat them any differently to the other staff, or single them out.
WHAT OTHER CONTRIBUTIONS DO THEY BRING TO THE BUSINESS?
I’ve been really impressed because they set a really good example for the rest of my staff. Although they might be dealing with their own issues or difficulties, they are able to perform tasks, be reliable, turn up on time, bring a good attitude, and perform consistently and effectively in their roles.
ARE YOUR PATRONS AWARE OF THIS BUSINESS DECISION? WHAT HAS THEIR RESPONSE BEEN?
Many of my customers are aware of what we’re trying to create here. But we’re finding that the patrons are now giving much more respect to our staff than they ever have, and they’ve been much more understanding, easy going and less demanding. It just makes everyone very comfortable, and sets up the business to have a great vibe for dining and ensuring diners havie an enjoyable time.