Lessening Restaurant Employee Turnover: Problems and Solutions Part 1

The Achilles Heal of restaurants is employee turnover. The loss of employees forces a restaurant owner to spend money and time in finding replacements, which affects the quality and viability of his or her business. To give you an idea, if you haven’t thought about the consequences all together, here are some expenditures that arise when an employee leave:

  • schedule changes (if not given enough notice)
  • seeking new employee (advertisements)
  • interviewing applicants
  • background checks
  • employee paperwork
  • health certification
  • training and exposure to actual restaurant operation
  • familiarization period (normally a temporary dip in customer service)

There was 107% turnover in 2007 for restaurants, as nearly all staff members abandon the restaurant they work for. Restaurants that keep good employees with say a 50% turnover will excel in ways (both financial and through service) that other restaurants can only envy. It doesn’t take genius to see that, along with being less likely in making careless errors, more experienced staff members improve customers’ experience and speed up service. In a restaurant, essentially your employees are assets and with each good employee that leaves, your restaurant loses a small amount of value.

Why Good Employees Leave?

If you are stumped why an employee wants to go, you should kindly ask them. One way to figure out what’s wrong is have an exit interview, hopefully extracting your employees reason for leaving. Some reasons they will be straightforward about (career changes), but others (like conflict with management) employees often are vague.

Needless to say, you want to keep your best employees. It has to be a priority, even though it isn’t easily quantifiable. So learning about the mindset of your staff goes a long way to not having many valued employees leave.

What Outside your Control

We all know that, in the restaurant industry, many do not see working at a restaurant as a terminal job, especially servers. Along with that, workers relocate. In the end, life happens and workers move on. But, frequently, the staff are students or working at your restaurant to supplement their income, and they have an idea when they will leave the restaurant industry.

They have other career plans. This should be anticipated with thorough and productive interviews. You should take how long the employee intends to stay at your restaurant into consideration when making hiring decisions. It is challenging to get this information out of the employee in the interview. Their fears of being not being considered because of other careers makes it difficult to acquire what their plans are. Thus, a relaxed interview environment where the applicant feels they can trust you pays off and allows you to make better hiring decisions.

Of course, some places are seasonal, and frequently the staff member hopes to work at your restaurant for years, so you don’t have to necessarily limit yourself to employees who are committed to working in restaurants for decades. However, the higher-end fine dining restaurants should expect true commitments from servers as customers hold servers there to a much higher standard.

Essentially, you cannot control employee’s life choices even though you can prepare for them. But a good portion of quality employees go on to work for other restaurants, meaning that you failed in retaining employees.

Why Employees Leave for other Restaurants?

Employers, in any industry, think it comes down to money. For the most part, they are sadly mistaken. Sure, restaurant staff that are underpaid, don’t receive benefits and have no chance of advancement have less of an allegiance to a restaurant. The number one problem, however, is a poor relationship between a staff member and their superior.

But work, especially in a restaurant, is a social atmosphere, and staff members are more sensitive to how they are treated than what they are paid (within reason). As you may guess, almost all bosses and managers imagine they are very good at both treating their employees well and getting the job done. With 107% turnover, I doubt even a majority of managers and bosses do this balancing act well enough. Most, to some degree, contribute to employee turnover because of interpersonal conflict.

Your treatment of your employees affects their perception of their job, and in this article we will focus on this.

Poor treatment worsens performance and causes explosive turnover. So what do you do? Here are 6 solutions to improving manager/employee relationships.

1. The Listening Habit

Employers who bark orders and don’t listen are never popular, nor effective. Actually, a sign of a good manager is that he/she listens more than he/she talks. Along with developing a rapport with the employee, your staff become your eyes and ears and pass on reliable information makes your job easier.

The way you communicate influences how a staff member perceives their treatment more than anything else. A good strategy would be in most non-urgent encounters to ask a open-ended question related to what you want to say. Even if you decided what directions you will give this staff member beforehand, you should entertain their opinion and let them express their thoughts.

2. Keep Listening

You may, in many instances, have missed something, and thus, change your instructions. But the main purpose is that you are interacting with your employees and acknowledging their concerns, assessments and ideas. Although it may be counter-intuitive, by actually engaging employees you gain authority, and more importantly their trust.

Of course, during times when you or your employee are busy, even having a 30 second chat may not be possible. In those moments, do everything possible to not increase their anxiety levels. In these moments, you need to exude calmness and decisiveness. This is unnecessary on most shifts. After overwhelming periods, try every so often to engage your employees at the end of their shift. Also, use your office on a weekly and welcome staff to come in and talk to you about his/her concerns (an open door policy).

3. Work With Them, Not Over Them

One good technique is when your employees seem overwhelmed is to help them with tasks that a manager doesn’t normally do, like busing tables or interacting with customers (which is good any day). This should be done in a way that lowers the stress level and increases the focus of your employees, not unnerve them that you are entering their turf. If you fight the same battles alongside your staff members, they will feel the same solidarity to you as they do their coworkers.

4. Know Your Workers

It normally not wise to become your employees’ friends but you should have a surface understanding of your employee’s lives outside of work. Some staff may have children or are taking care of elderly relatives. You don’t want to go too far into the details but learn about competing responsibilities and the lives your workers lead. A lot of behavior will make more sense if you know their life story and provide you some feeling about how you should handle situations.

5. Meetings and Group Unity

I don’t think meetings necessarily produce many benefits for managers except an explanation of a new policy, especially an unpopular one. It ensures compliance and also builds group unity. Some friendships between coworkers (not hopefully everyone en masse) can definitely improve their perception of work and all be a release valve for complaints. These meetings should be short and informal.

This only works if your subordinates, like head chef and managers also comply with your strategy to reduce turnover. Because they are superiors, they too can make employees unhappy. Often this is even more bothersome than poor treatment from an owner or general manager, because it can be more intense. If you receive multiple complaints from employees about one supervisor, whether it’s from exit interviews or complaints, you cannot dismiss this but get to the bottom of it and at least, give the impression of action even if you don’t think these are legitimate complaints.

Management is never easy, and it can and should be a humbling experience. But investment in your employees raises your restaurant to another level far beyond employee turnover.