Restaurant staff turnover rates, currently at a staggering 73%, are wreaking havoc in the U. S. foodservice industry and major headaches for restaurant owners in all sectors of the biz. Not only is finding qualified managerial, dining room, and kitchen staff an ongoing challenge, but with the dizzyingly high employee drop-out rate, businesses are losing precious time and money in training and re-hiring.
To quote the familiar adage: “Your employees are your greatest asset.” No one knows this to be true more than those who run a food-and-beverage establishment. While happy employees are correlated with higher retention, increased efficiency, and more satisfied customers, a less engaged or less experienced staff has come to be equated with poor operational workflow and subpar customer service.
Given the statistics from the National Restaurant Association indicating that restaurants’ struggle with employee retention affects both front-house employees and managers (who respectively leave within the first three months or within a year), what can your foodservice do to turn the tide and set the table for success?
To answer this question and more, let’s delve into what the experts are saying about why restaurant employees leave in the first place. Then, we will present a smorgasbord of the top recommended strategies on how to lower, and better yet reverse, the high restaurant industry turnover rate.
Why Restaurant Employees Leave their Jobs
- Proliferation of Foodservice Venues
- Seasonal Workers and the Teen Factor
- Low Salaries
- Long Hours in a Stressful Work Environment
- The Tipping Schema
- Low Opportunity for Advancement
In an era that has been dubbed ‘the golden age of food and dining’ and with the number of new restaurants and eating-out venues higher than ever before, it’s hard to fathom why foodservice employees are walking out the door, leaving restaurant owners in a frenzy and leaving customers out in the cold. Yet ironically, according to some experts, it is the very plethora of modern-day restaurants, with more than 1 million estimated across the United States alone, that may be causing part of the problem.
In the words of General Manager Josh Phillips, who works at Washington, D.C.’s Espita Mezcaleria: “There is free agent mentality among many workers. They are essentially shopping around for the right restaurant to call home. There is always someone hiring, so if you are not 100% satisfied with your job, the grass is always greener somewhere else.” Bolstering his viewpoint is David Howard, president of Washington, D.C.’s The Neighborhood Restaurant Group: “[There are] a great many entering the job market for the first time. Consequently, job stability and employer loyalty are not their priority.”
If we take a closer look at exactly who comprises the majority of foodservice employees, teenagers take the top spot by far. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in three working teenagers are employed by a restaurant, yet at least 27% of these youth are still enrolled in school and do not work full-time. As for post-high school and college students who comprise the next largest demographic of workers, their employment is largely seasonal – they are hired during the summer months and return to school around September. This seasonal nature of employment for key operational positions can severely handicap an establishment’s ability to function and thrive.
The fact of the matter is that the minimum wage requirements for restaurant staff are lower than in all other industries – more than ample reason for workers to want to seek greener pastures and a poor incentive for employee loyalty.
The restaurant industry is notorious for its long hours and burnout rates, where managers rarely work less than 12-14-hour days, where 6-day work weeks are common, and where shift workers similarly work long hours in often physically and mentally stressful environments for minimal payment.
More and more, the tipping schema which has become synonymous with the foodservice biz, is being denigrated as a significant culprit of employee attrition. It creates a competitive ‘dog-eat-dog’ environment between low-end staff whose payment structure is predominantly reliant on tips, while salaried workers employed in the top spots may end up earning less than those they are supervising.
In the words of Alison Arth, director of development for Soigne Hospitality in Minneapolis: “Tipping culture inevitably creates work environments in which salaried leaders working the most hours, performing the most critical and complex responsibilities earn significantly less than the people they’re charged with managing. It’s fundamentally backwards and creates an impossible-to-navigate conundrum in which superstar cooks, bartenders and servers who want to take the next step in their career are forced to either accept making tens of thousands of dollars less per year to grow professionally or make a lateral move to a different company in order to feel like they’re still being challenged.”
According to employee interviews from industry-wide polls: “One of the worst things about the restaurant industry is the lack of career paths.” Minimal prospects for promotion and advancement give rise to a disengaged work atmosphere in which unsatisfied employees engage less with customers and are more likely to leave.
How to Reverse Staff Turnover Rate
Here are some of the top ways to encourage restaurant employees to stay and to attract a talented pool of managers who can lead your biz to success.
- Incentives: Many foodservice establishments have begun offering meaningful employee benefits to entice workers to stay. These include the elimination of the tipping payment structure; more competitive salaries; health and life insurance; dental plans; paid vacations; discounted meals; reserved parking spaces; staff appreciation days; 401k programs (with company match).
- Recognize and Reward: In a similar vein, communicate often with your staff. Get to know them by name, treat them with respect, and regularly praise and acknowledgement their strengths and efforts. Offer special rewards (i.e. gift cards) for performance excellence, celebrate individual and team achievements at staff meetings – and be sure to ask your staff to contribute their ideas for improving service or updating a product. This one technique alone will go along way in boosting moral and securing loyalty, while the combination of approaches will create a positive work atmosphere that will have employees eating out of your hand, spreading the good word – and above all, staying put.
- Improved Work Conditions: A growing number of restaurants are recognizing the need to pay attention to staff’s physical and mental health by investing in creating safer work conditions. This includes the purchase of advanced kitchen apparatus that minimize hazards and the institution of behavior policies which prevent unruly customer behavior and require diners to treat staff with respect.
- Investing in Managers: According to Gallup poll analytics, boosting loyalty at the managerial level is a business’s bread-and-butter and a potent strategy for combating turnover. When managers are not only committed to their jobs but engaged and enthusiastic, there is a ripple effect on those they supervise. In turn, a more engaged pool of workers results in increased consumer satisfaction, improved customer ratings, and in the case of restaurants: dining-out experiences that garner loyalty. Towards this end, given the truism that says, ‘talent cannot be detected on a resume,’ it may pay to invest in software that uses analytics to identify candidates who possess the attributes and characteristics of a leader. There is an innate capacity for leadership and not all individuals have it.
- Provide Ongoing Professional Development and Training: Once you pick the right people, continue to equip your senior level staff with the knowledge and skills they need to inspire employees, boost team performance, effectively engage with the media, and deliver your brand message. Finally, continue to hone your staff’s talents and skills by offering ongoing advanced training, group classes, coaching, and more. When you invest in your staff, they will invest in you and your restaurant in kind.
Insiders’ Tip for Foodservice Pros
Finally, if you want to increase employee retention and be on the cutting-edge of the future of the food-and-beverage industry, consider investing in new pools of assistance. The buzz in the biz is that the overall U.S. workforce is getting older, hence growing your staff’s demographics to include baby boomers or even retirees may be a savvy move with rich rewards.
Reversing the Turnover Tide
With these proven techniques, tools, and ideas in your arsenal, now is the time to create your own recipe for success for not only lowering the high industry turnover rates but for reversing the tide and making sure that your food venue is a magnet for employees who will invest in your business and in their own careers in a hard-to-beat, win-win combination.