The local catering sector is already seeing the effects of economic recovery, with customers once again willing to spend on fine dining and nights out. Reflecting that, restaurant groups are activating plans to open more outlets, contributing directly to the 49 per cent increase in industry vacancies, including hotels, recorded by the SCMP/admanGo recruitment report comparing last year's final quarter with the first three months of this year. 'We are very optimistic about the market and planning to expand strongly,' says Juliette Gimenez, deputy vice-president of Caffe Habitu. 'Apart from flagship stores, we will also open some kiosks in office building lobbies and MTR stations, and intend to migrate to other cities in China and Asia.' Part of the Sir Hudson group, Caffe Habitu's target is to shoot for 15 to 20 new outlets in the next two years. To support this growth, the group is looking for a significant number of new recruits. 'We are interviewing people every day to fill positions including everything from frontline operations, baristas and chefs to marketing, consultants and interior designers,' Gimenez says. The group does not necessarily require people with a background in hospitality, being more interested in hiring applicants who are energetic and clearly have a passion for the industry. 'We welcome fresh graduates because they are hungry to learn,' Gimenez says. 'They dare to say something out of the box and think unconventionally because they don't have fixed ideas about how the food and beverage business should be run.' As an example, she mentions the recruitment of a young graduate from University of California to work in business development and marketing. This person majored in nutrition and likes food, but just as importantly had the right personality and attitude. To implement the expansion, the group is looking for architects and interior designers. Since founder Jennifer Liu is an architect and designed the first store herself, the in-house team must meet high standards. Gimenez says that applicants for these roles should be gutsy and honest, rather than saying something they think the boss wants to hear. 'We are a specialist dining group and want to find out what a person is good at. With 20 outlets already, we can rotate people between roles and help them build a career. We are a group who treats investment in people as an element to success.' Backing this up, the group has a range of training programmes to develop employees. Coffee baristas can expect to take a two-month course to ensure they have in-depth knowledge and perform well on the job. 'We choose staff who show a real interest in coffee and teach them the more theoretical stuff such as how the process of growing coffee beans can affect the flavour,' Gimenez says. 'Customers today want more, which may mean wanting to know the origin of your coffee and the ingredients used in your dishes.' Restaurant group Igor's is also about to embark on a hiring drive. Known for offering good quality food at reasonable prices, there is a need for people who are sociable, flexible, and interested in learning and growing with the company. 'We are looking for staff in the areas of operations, marketing, public relations and accounting,' says Linda Kwan, marketing director of Igor's Group. 'And we will continue to look for interesting sites for our concepts.'