Employee turnover is an epidemic in any industry but is especially egregious in the restaurant world. If your rate of employee turnover is at least 50 percent or over, then you need to strive more to retain your restaurant staff. How do you do that?
Here are 10 tips for retaining restaurant employees:
- Figure out why staff are leaving
- Don’t keep toxic staff
- Ask for feedback
- Revamp onboarding
- Train employees well
- Build a good company culture
- Keep things safe
- Pay competitively
- Improve benefits
- Appreciate employees
Sure, it all seems simple when looking at a couple of bullet points but retaining restaurant staff is an ongoing process that will require a lot of time, dedication, and expense in some instances. Keep reading for more information so you can hold onto those valuable team members!
1. Figure Out Why People Are Leaving
Are you taking the time to have exit interviews with those quitting staff, or do you just let them walk out the door? If it’s the latter, then you’re missing huge opportunity after huge opportunity.
When you forego the exit interview, then you will never have any clear idea of why your employees have decided to make the choice they have.
An exit interview takes about an hour of your time if that. We know, an hour is a lot when you’re a busy restaurant owner with more than enough on your plate, but it’s worth doing.
Don’t be too invasive when you ask why an employee is leaving, but you can at least broach the subject.
Expect to receive a variety of answers. Some employees might leave because they found a better opportunity elsewhere, for instance.
Others might not like your company culture, the long hours, the benefits (or lack thereof), or the pay, which they may perceive to be too low.
Perhaps some of your restaurant staff doesn’t get along with others, so they want to work in a more harmonious environment.
If your employee turnover rate is indeed hovering around 50 percent and especially if it exceeds that, then you’ll have plenty of chances to learn what’s motivating people to quit your restaurant.
You can’t begin to make changes until you know what the root cause of your turnover rate is. More than likely, it won’t be just one thing but a whole smattering of issues.
Keep track of the ones that keep popping up in every exit interview or close to every exit interview, as those are the ones you have to address first.
2. Don’t Keep Toxic Staff
This next tip might seem surprising to you, all things considered. After all, how are you supposed to retain and even grow your staff if you’re cutting people out or letting them go willingly?
In the short term, when you fire toxic restaurant staff, you’re right in that you will reduce your overall number of employees. That’s only for the short term, though.
In the long term, your employee numbers will grow, and here’s why.
No one wants to work with toxic people. According to HR resource Insperity, poisonous people reduce productivity among employees, destroy morale, and can stir up discord.
If enough of your employees during their exit interviews mention a disharmonious working environment, then it’s time to pry a little deeper.
Some employees might not want to name any names while others might not care since they’re leaving the company anyway.
Once you know who the main culprits are, you can monitor those employees and then decide on an appropriate punishment.
As these employees either leave the restaurant or change their tune, you might notice that the rate of turnover reduces.
This only applies if enough people during exit interviews complain of a bad working environment, of course.
For any other issue, it doesn’t matter how many toxic employees you let go of. The problem will still persist.
3. Ask for Feedback
While exit interviews are an important part of retaining restaurant staff, you shouldn’t only pick the brains of those employees who are on their way out.
You also want to talk to your current staff and request their feedback. These are the people who are sticking with you, after all, so their opinion matters just as much if not more than those exiting employees.
You can issue surveys or even host brief one-on-one interviews with your employees.
We’d recommend starting with the former over the latter, as it’s a lot more anonymous. (It’s also less time-consuming, which we’re sure matters to you!).
Some employees might not feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions if their names have to be tied to them because they worry about the risk of punishment for their viewpoints.
An anonymous survey grants these employees more freedom while permitting you to learn valuable information about the company culture that you might have never been aware of before.
When you issue the surveys, either in the restaurant or through email, give your employees adequate time to complete them, such as a week or two.
After all the responses come in, you have to collate them just as you did the replies you got during the exit interviews.
You’re once again looking for common threads. Some of the complaints that your staff might have could surprise you, as you’ve never heard them mention these issues before, but that doesn’t make them any less valid.
While eventually, you will want to address every recurrent complaint, we’d suggest starting with those that are brought up the most often and then working your way down the list.
Asking for employee feedback is not a one-time process, by the way.
Every six months or so, or perhaps even more frequently while you strive to improve employee retention, you want to hear what your employees really want.
4. Revamp the Onboarding Process
Onboarding is your employees’ first glimpse into how new staff are brought into the restaurant and integrated with existing staff.
We would go so far as to say that onboarding is your employees’ first impression of how the restaurant is run.
If you make a poor first impression, that could pave the way for what the rest of that employee’s experience is like working under you.
New employees shouldn’t be given free rein to do whatever jobs they wish until they’re properly trained, but you don’t want to make the newbie feel like an outsider, either.
Before you hire another employee for your restaurant, we’d suggest assessing your current onboarding process.
As you go through the phases, imagine yourself in the shoes of your new employees. Is your current onboarding process designed to make an employee feel welcome? Knowledgeable? Ready to work?
It’s okay if you answered no to some of those questions. You can’t go back and improve the onboarding for past and present employees, but you can ensure that the process goes more smoothly for future employees of your restaurant.
A good onboarding process should include an informational stage where you provide all the info that an employee could want about working at your restaurant, including benefits, pay, and policies.
Then you want to clarify their role until it’s crystal clear, train them (more on this in a moment), integrate them into the company culture, and introduce them to colleagues so your new employee can forge social connections.
5. Train Employees Better
Equally as important as good onboarding is proper employee training.
If an employee isn’t wholly trained in a certain area of doing their job and then they do that job incorrectly and poorly, whose fault is it?
It’s not the employee’s fault, that’s for sure!
They’re merely working with the few tools they’ve been given. You or someone else at your restaurant was supposed to train them on how to do their job properly, and if that didn’t happen, then the onus is on you.
Employees who don’t undergo a dedicated training process or who are inadequately trained cost your restaurant money in so many ways.
You wasted onboarding and training dollars on what was ultimately a futile process that was marred with inaccuracies.
More so, the employee continues to waste restaurant money by doing their job poorly. You have to have someone else go back and correct their mistakes, which takes away from the job that person is supposed to be doing.
You’ve already gone through the time of improving your onboarding process, so don’t you think it’s time to do the same with your employee training?
You can send limited training materials to the new employee’s inbox before their first day of work, especially if your restaurant uses employee onboarding software.
The rest of the new employee’s training can continue once they show up for their first day of work and in the days and possibly even weeks to come.
6. Build a Great Company Culture
Although yours is a restaurant and not a traditional, nine-to-five company, you still need an excellent company culture if you hope to retain employees for as long as possible.
So what makes for good company culture?
There isn’t one correct answer to that question, of course. It only takes assessing the company cultures of some of the biggest brands on the planet to prove that much.
Here are some elements of a great company culture that your restaurant should begin incorporating sooner than later!
Employees hate being left in the dark. They want to know what’s going on, including the good, the bad, and the ugly.
When you communicate with your restaurant staff, you should use plain language that everyone can understand, not isolating jargon.
If an employee feels like they can’t trust you or your restaurant, then it’s game over. They might not up and quit right then and there, but it’s going to happen sooner than later.
Honesty and transparency are two pillars of trust, as is owning up to your mistakes, which will inevitably happen.
A restaurant is a high-pressure environment, but that does mean it has to be completely devoid of fun? No!
The more fun that you can make working at your restaurants, the more that your employees will enjoy themselves.
This will come through in their naturally happy attitudes, which will be quite pleasing to customers, who will want to come back for the positive atmosphere.
Your employees will look forward to coming to work rather than dreading it, and that goes a long way toward keeping them employed for the long haul.
An employee doesn’t want to feel like just another cog in the wheel. When they express themselves, they want their voices to be heard.
When you ask for feedback, your employees want you to take what they say and implement it into day-to-day restaurant operations. That won’t always be possible, of course, but as often as possible, you should.
This creates a more collaborative working environment.
7. Keep Things Safe
This one should absolutely go without saying, but we had to mention it, anyway.
Under Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA laws, you need to make your restaurant a safe place for your employees to work and for customers to dine in.
When spills happen, someone needs to clean them up immediately. If that can’t happen, then signs need to be posted so your staff doesn’t accidentally walk into a puddle of liquid and slip and fall.
You need to limit the length of employees’ shifts as well as the number of back-to-back shifts they can take.
Employees must be required to wash their hands frequently, especially every time they leave the bathroom.
Foods that require pre-cleaning ahead of being cooked must always be sanitized. Other foods must be stored at proper temperatures, and food should always be thrown away when it expires.
Restaurant equipment must stay sanitary, and your employees must go out of their way to prevent cross-contamination.
8. Pay Competitively
While pay is not the top reason that employees quit according to the Pew Research Center (that’s lack of advancement), pay is absolutely a major priority for today’s workers.
If they’re not being paid what they deem they’re worth, then they’re not going to stick around.
The restaurant industry is incredibly competitive. An employee will jump ship to another establishment if yours won’t pay better.
If you’re not already doing so, then you need to begin offering competitive salaries to your new employees.
When the time comes to sit down and go over the performance of your current employees, you might offer them similarly competitive pay.
The longer you’ve had employees at the restaurant, the more you want to hold onto them, so be willing to do what it takes.
That’s not to say you should bankrupt your restaurant, but you will need to set aside more cashflow towards paying employees than what you are at current.
If that’s not financially feasible for you right this second, then do expect that your high rate of employee turnover will continue until the issue is remediated.
9. Improve Benefits
Employees want more than competitive pay but competitive benefits as well. Perhaps you offer exceptional health insurance or flexible time off or maybe even both!
An employee will appreciate that when they want to take a vacation getaway with their family or that when they need to take a sick leave that they can do it and still have a job to return back to.
10. Appreciate Your Employees
Our last tip for retaining restaurant employees for as long as possible is really quite simple.
Show your employees that you appreciate them!
This needn’t happen through grand, expensive gestures, at least not always. Perhaps you host an employee appreciation day once or twice a year or you have a small party in the breakroom.
You could always buy your employees’ breakfast or lunch once a month, shoutout employees on your restaurant’s social media, or even present opportunities for additional time off.
When your employees feel like you care about them, they’ll put more personal pride into the work they’re doing. They’ll also stay at their jobs, and happily at that.
Retaining restaurant staff is no easy feat considering the restaurant industry has such a high rate of turnover as it is.
The 9 tips we provided for you here today will help you reshape your restaurant into a place that employees don’t only enjoy working at but look forward to going to!