10 ways to improve restaurant employee retention


Greg Staley, CEO of SynergySuite, reveals 10 things restaurant leaders can do to keep employees happy enough to stay.

Many restaurant employees have quit lately because of low pay, lack of benefits, burnout, etc. The pandemic exacerbated existing problems and added more issues to the mix, including the fear of contracting COVID-19, additional safety protocols to manage, and dealing with irate customers who oppose mask-wearing and other COVID precautions. As restaurant employees take on additional responsibilities and shifts due to ongoing staffing shortages, operators are looking for ways to boost their happiness to maximize retention.

Offering competitive salaries and attractive benefits is a good start, but not the only things your employees want. To maximize employee retention, operators should:

  1. Provide the tools your busy employees need. Working extra shifts or while short-staffed is stressful enough. Your employees don’t need unreliable computers or disjointed software to add to their frustrations. Tech tools are supposed to make employees’ jobs easier — not harder — so be sure all equipment is working properly and that tech tools are integrated and simple to use.
  2. Make tedious tasks less cumbersome. Even in the best of circumstances, employees don’t really love to do inspections, line checks and other tedious jobs. The right digital tools streamline these chores, making them quick and simple to accomplish. And any time savings is essential when you’re short-staffed or working a busy shift.
  3. Cross-train. Operators know how important ongoing training is, but cross-training is also essential, keeping employees nimble and teaching them new skills. Cross-training allows employees to deploy wherever they’re needed, which is critical during busy shifts or when other staff members quit or are out sick. This tactic can also be valuable for career progression, helping employees gain necessary experience to advance into new roles.
  4. Provide advancement opportunities. Interestingly, 94% of employees would stay with their company longer if it invested in their career development. Provide job training, mentoring, and opportunities for advancement. Help employees set and achieve career goals. Be clear about what employees need to do, know, and accomplish to be considered for promotions. Keep employees motivated and engaged so they won’t look for better opportunities elsewhere.
  5. Have their backs. Restaurant employees have faced additional stressors at work due to guests’ angry reactions to COVID protocols, like mask mandates and vaccine requirements. Over the past two years, aggressive customers have verbally and physically assaulted restaurant staff in opposition to new COVID rules. First, be certain that employees feel safe at work. Have workers and managers well-trained in how to defuse situations with irate guests. And if angry customers are a frequent problem, consider hiring professional security to protect your team.
  6. Prioritize collaboration — not competition. Cut-throat, competitive work environments aren’t fun or healthy places! Build a collaborative culture where team members lift each other up – not tear each other down. Reward employees who support their colleagues. Foster strong relationships. Be certain that your team knows what’s expected of them and encourage them to work together to accomplish shared goals. Collaboration reduces the burden on individual employees while increasing a sense of shared purpose and teamwork.
  7. Ask employees how they’re doing. We’re all busy but take time out to ask employees how they’re doing — then listen carefully to their answers. As 74% of employees are experiencing burnout, it’s smart to identify (and resolve) stressors and problems that are bothering your team — before they quit because of these issues. Address disrespectful managers, mediate arguments between colleagues, adjust schedules if an employee is feeling exhausted. Reducing employees’ stress — and showing that you care about their happiness — can significantly increase satisfaction, loyalty, and retention.
  8. Schedule smarter. Instead of relying on manual scheduling, which can be time-consuming and inaccurate, use digital tools instead. Technology helps ensure that you’re properly utilizing all employees, giving them their preferred shifts, and avoiding overscheduling (and potentially burning out) your workers. Tech tools can also use historical sales patterns and other relevant data to prevent your restaurant from being over or under-staffed on any given shift.
  9. Thank employees sincerely (and often). Show appreciation for your employees and their hard work. Recognize your employees during staff meetings and spotlight them on social media. Celebrate their accomplishments. Reward them for helping a colleague or providing exceptional service to a guest. Give bonuses, gift cards, handwritten notes, flowers, or other tokens of your appreciation. Staff members will be motivated to work harder — and stay longer — if they feel appreciated and valued
  10. 10. Improve your hiring process. The key to retention success is to hire smarter from the beginning. Be sure prospective employees are clear on your expectations around the role, hours and compensation. Consider more than just if a candidate “looks good on paper.” Assess whether they’ll fit in with your company culture and work collaboratively with your staff. Ask about their long-term goals to determine if they’re looking for a short-term opportunity while they’re home from college on a break, or if this will be a longer-term commitment.

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