Like many businesses in the service industry, you likely deal with the challenge of restaurant staff turnover. While the exact expense of it isn’t always easy to measure, reducing staff turnover should always be part of your restaurant’s overall cost-saving strategy.
Let’s dig into a few ways (beyond pay raises which are always good if you can afford them) to cut down on employee turnover, starting with a big one.
Stand up for Your Staff
There’s an oft-cited quote that says “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.” Part of being a successful and respected manager is knowing when to take another common phrase – “the customer is always right” – with a grain of salt. Management willing to support their team in the face of unreasonable guests will earn staff loyalty and keep top talent on the payroll.
North Carolina restaurateur Scott Maitland agrees:
“Conventional wisdom is that the customer is always right. I don’t believe that, and I think anyone who’s been in the restaurant business has a story where the customer was wrong. But you definitely have to go in with that bias, that the customer is right […] But at some point, we have to think about the staff, or we have to think about investors. And I think anybody who is worth having as a customer will appreciate and respect that as well.”
Keep in mind that yours customers will notice when management is caving to the whims of obnoxious patrons as well. Take this experience from blogger “ViolentAcres” as a good example. (Warning: that post contains some sharp language)
Think about the message you want to communicate to your team; will you have their back when they are clearly in the right?
Lead by Example and Get Your Hands Dirty
It’s time to get in the habit of getting out of the office. Few things inspire your staff like a manager willing to jump in and help with any task at the drop of a hat.
Kitchen managers: hop on the salad station if need be. Or help out the prep cooks. Or roll up your sleeves and start racking dishes in the dish pit.
Dining room managers: get out there and bus dirty tables. Don’t spend five minutes tracking down a host to ask them to bus. Assume your staff are busy and take the initiative yourself.
Seeing the bosses jump into the fray not only encourages everyone else to step up their game, it earns management plenty of loyalty and respect.
Empower Through Training
If you’re looking to set employees up for success and hopefully keep them on board for the long haul, putting together an effective training plan is absolutely essential. An insufficiently-trained employee will feel less empowered, overwhelmed, and far more likely to quickly move on. Maintaining a halfhearted training process shows a lack of commitment to employee success and your turnover rates will reflect this.
Whenever possible, your training process should include a degree of cross-training. Cross-training not only helps reduce your labour costs, it helps employees get a better feel for what a shift is like from a different perspective. A server that knows how hectic the bar can be is less inclined to get into arguments with bartenders. A line cook who’s spent time in the dish pit is less likely to come into conflict with a busy dishwasher. Reduce employee conflicts (tempers can flare during a rush) and reduce staff turnover in the process.
Hire Only the Right Fit
We sound like a broken record on this, but it really is one of the most important things to keep in mind when operating a service establishment. Many have the skills, fewer have the attitude.
You have to resist the urge to fill available positions with the first semi-acceptable applicant that walks in. Whenever possible, hold out for the right person. A quick hire of the wrong candidate means a quick exit, and you’re back to square one.
Recognition and Incentivization
Do not wait until your monthly team meeting or annual performance reviews to tell employees they’re doing a good (or great) job. And don’t simply praise someone’s hard work; do it in front of their fellow staff. Not only is this encouraging to the employee, it tends to motivate everyone else as well. Everybody loves to be recognized.
Incentivize your employees with tangible recognition. Offer them discounts on food or free staff meals; whatever your budget allows. For the front-of-house, hold nightly contests for things like highest gross sales, or most specials sold for the shift, most large drafts sold, etc. Recognize the winners with both verbal and physical rewards. Praise and incentives work hand-in-hand to keep a highly motivated staff ready to work hard for you.
The Product Makes a Difference
All of the above tips are fine, but the best employees – the ones that take the most pride in a job well done – won’t stick around if they don’t believe in the product you’re plating. Restaurant employees will grow frustrated if guests are consistently sending back dishes, and complaining of poor food quality.
Restaurant managers need to realize that lack of effective quality control in the kitchen will have detrimental effects not only in terms of customer loss, but employee loss as well.
The exit interview isn’t just for office jobs. This doesn’t need to be an overly formal affair, but conduct a quick interview with any employee that decides to leave the business. Ask for as much feedback as possible and see if you can pinpoint any changes in policy or procedure that could help reduce employee turnover.
Got any other tips for reducing staff turnaround? Share them in the comments. And be sure to download the free ebook, 25 Restaurant Cost-Saving Best Practices, at the button below.
NOTE: A version of this post originally appeared on FoodTender.com’s Strategy Blog.