How to reduce employee turnover in restaurants

Published September 17, 2021

It’s not always easy to keep your restaurant staff motivated and in it for the long haul, but there are a few things you can do to keep your workplace happy.

The restaurant industry is notorious for having a high employee turnover rate.

Employees have to stay on their feet all day while maintaining a smile and a positive attitude and focusing entirely on the needs of customers. Owners and operators have to keep employees from quitting while managing inventory, payroll and all the other responsibilities involved in running a successful restaurant.   

So, what’s a manageable turnover rate for restaurant employees? There’s no clear answer, but those who are able to keep turnover low, margins big and profits high implement a few traditional and not-so-traditional methods. Here are five things you can do to help keep your workplace happy:

Set a good example

Staying connected with your employees is important in keeping them motivated. The goal is to receive optimistic feedback from your staff, for instance ask employees what they love about working here whenever you visit your different stores - hearing positive responses on working with management or for your brand is the ultimate win. You want employees to feel that you treat them well. Simple gestures such as greeting employees and offering positive body language whenever you stop by goes a long way.

Hire managers you can trust

Having a great management team in your restaurant is crucial for customer satisfaction, so general manager positions are key roles to staff. Many restaurant brands work with staffing companies for positions that require more experience on the management team and senior front-of-house staff.

But one of the best recruitment methods for many restaurants to find good staff is via referral. Referral programs also incentivize employees by offering compensation or rewards for bringing in good candidates who end up joining the team.

A referral program is a great way to keep restaurant employees engaged, reduce turnover and make staff feel appreciated for their contributions. Leveraging good management to keep restaurant employees' confidence high and offering incentives for referring new hires is key for all restaurant operators.

Related: 4 ways your management style can create a high-performing restaurant staff

Pay your staff well

While tips are a great incentive for servers and front-of-house staff, they don’t always make up for the potential income employees could receive working at another restaurant or in a different industry altogether.

Sometimes raising your staff’s salaries is all it takes to keep them onboard and reduce restaurant employee turnover.

Alex Brounstein, founder and owner of Grindhouse Killer Burgers, makes it a point to pay people what they’re worth. 

“Turnover is something every restaurant is dealing with right now. I treat everybody well, have good managers that don’t slack off and lead by example and  take care of people financially,” he said.

Higher wages can lead to a better company culture, too. “If you let some staff push people around and not contribute, then the staff who are actually doing their jobs get pissed off because they’re picking up the slack for others,” he added.

Create incentives

The more a restaurant staff puts in, the more the best employees should be rewarded. But tips don’t always cover the efforts of all the team members who deserve an extra reward. 

What’s more, restaurant owners can’t simply raise wages across the board when there’s significant seasonal turnover in the industry regardless of any other factors. 

Brounstein  has created a package of employee benefits with the goal of reducing turnover while rewarding outstanding employees. His method also benefits relatively new employees, too.  

“Lately we’ve come up with a five-year plan, which is kind of like a tiered benefits system, where after a year we’ll pay 50% of your health insurance.  After two years you get a $250 bonus check. After three years you get, like, five days paid vacation. And if you’re an hourly employee, we’ll average it out, like building them into the family full-time.” 

In other words, employee benefits matter and help reduce restaurant employee turnover.

Related: Tips for competing for employees, regardless of your restaurant’s size

Make your staff’s jobs easier for them to do

Not all restaurants are the same, but any job is easier to do (and the results are more effective) when your employees can each focus on a single task.

Clearly defining roles for every employee on your staff can create a more harmonious work environment.

So how can turnover be reduced? How can an owner remove some of the pain points that cause resignations and create a better work environment that encourages long-term employment? 

“We don’t make it too hard, you know? We’ve got a really good cleaning company so it’s not like our staff is staying late or getting there early to clean.  Just come in and do your job. We’re not making you do a bunch of annoying stuff,” said Brounstein.

Building great restaurant teams and finding ways to reduce restaurant employee turnover has always been a challenge, perhaps now more than ever. 

But restaurant owners and operators have found ways to incentivize long-term commitments by promoting healthy communication, rewarding their best employees, creating a happy workplace and hiring trustworthy managers.

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