If you’re in the restaurant business, you’re in the people business.
We’d argue that your restaurant employees are your greatest asset — because at the end of the day, a restaurant isn’t its wine list or its rooftop bar or its James Beard Award-winning cuisine. A restaurant is its people: without them, everything falls apart.
Unfortunately, attracting and retaining the right employees in your restaurant is a perpetual battle, and it’s not getting any easier. In 2018, the employee turnover rate in the hospitality industry increased to 74.9 percent — the highest it’s been since the recession.
If we’re looking at the big picture, a rising turnover rate in hospitality isn’t a bad thing: it’s actually a byproduct of a healthy economy because it indicates that workers feel confident in the labor market. In other words, they’re not scared to quit their jobs and look for better alternatives.
Of course, that presents a unique challenge for restaurant employers in an already highly competitive labor market.
If you’re losing solid employees to other restaurants, or if you’re unsure how to compete with the explosion of gig-economy businesses: get our top four tips for retaining your restaurant employees.
1. Prioritize training
This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many restaurant employees are dropped into the deep-end and expected to perform flawlessly. Even if your new hires have recent, relevant experience, no two restaurants are the same, and their background may not directly translate to a new place with new people, processes, standards and expectations.
That’s why a formal, repeatable training program is critical, no matter how big or small your restaurant is. Your program doesn’t have to be complex, but the most effective ones include a variety of tactics — written instructions, personal demonstrations, shadowing — to cover all types of learners.
Prioritizing employee training will ensure a consistent level of knowledge and service among each of your workers, which of course, is great for business. More importantly, a solid training program will build confidence. When people know exactly what they’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to it, they’ll have a clear path to success and the tools they need to get there. That’s empowering.
Confident, successful, empowered employees tend to be happy employees — and happy employees tend to stick around.
2. Be fair — always.
There are a host of rules and regulations in place to protect restaurant employees, and for good reason: they’re some of the hardest-working people out there, and many of them are living paycheck-to-paycheck.
But it’s hard for employees to stay up-to-date and fully informed as to what’s fair or legal, and really, it’s not their job. As their employer, it’s your duty and obligation to play by the rules. And if your people see that you’re going out of your way to do right by them, they’ll take note — because that quality can be hard to find in an employer.
So what does that look like, exactly? It’s “little” things — like being aware of the fact that even when your employees are in training, they’re on the clock. Or knowing that if your servers spend a certain amount of time doing side work — bussing tables, folding napkins — where they’re not able to receive tips, they need to get paid the full minimum wage.
It’s also about finding ways to foster trust and transparency. In an increasingly digital industry, it’s much easier to give employees a great deal of visibility into their work — from scheduling and table management to payroll and tip-out history, so make sure you’re taking advantage of the right tools.
Speaking of money: maybe your people love what they do, or maybe hospitality isn’t their ultimate calling — but either way, at the end of the day, your employees are there to make a living and get paid. By ensuring they’ve got immediate access to the tips they’ve earned at the end of every shift, they’ll be less likely to leave you for the gig-economy jobs that pay out in real time.
Long story short: when you demonstrate fairness to your employees, they likely won’t take it for granted.
3. Recognize your people.
Motivation, culture and morale are all driven by recognition of a job well down. Recognizing your employees doesn’t have to be hard or expensive — it could be a shout-out during a team meeting, an early-clock out, a free meal from the kitchen or a small gift card.
This practice reinforces the right behaviors from your team members who are hustling and positions them as role models for the workers who need to step up their game. It’s also a way to show that you’re paying attention (without micromanaging), which makes everyone feel known and appreciated.
4. Nurture relationships.
This is a critical advantage restaurants will always have over the impersonal gig economy jobs: it’s simply impossible for the Lyfts and UberEats of the world to replicate the human connections and authentic relationships you have the opportunity to cultivate with your employees.
We live in a fast-paced world, and that’s amplified in the hospitality industry. But taking the time to get to know your employees, as you can, on a more personal level will go a long way in helping employees feel invested in their work and committed to their team.
When you develop those relationships, you’ll also develop trust. That can go a long way in reducing employee turnover because they’ll be much more likely to come to you when things aren’t going well or when their needs aren’t being met — before they go out and find a new job.