Improve Restaurant Employee Retention

Improve Restaurant Employee Retention

It’s no secret the food service industry has one of the highest employee turnover rates in business. But if you want to be a successful restaurant manager you need to hire, train, reward and retain staff capable of supporting your vision.

This guide will explain five key areas of focus that will help you lower your staff turnover rates and help you keep star players on your team.

5 Keys To Improve Restaurant Employee Retention:

  • Know how to hire
  • Compensate fairly
  • Provide training
  • Be a leader
  • Give thanks

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

1. Hiring New Restaurant Staff

Assemble An All-Star Team

While sometimes you might feel desperate to fill positions, staffing your restaurant with “any warm body” is a mistake. The wrong candidate can spread chaos in your restaurant, making everything more difficult.

​It takes time and patience to find and develop restaurant employees that will become valuable team members. Respect the effort you’re putting toward training and skills development. Make sure they appreciate that and embrace their own opportunity for growth.

If you bring in trouble-makers or those who drag your team down it can actually make things worse than being understaffed. A small team that works well together can often accomplish more than if they have to pick up someone else’s slack.

Retaining toxic personalities on your restaurant team can drive away new staff. Consider this even if they are long-term employees. Don’t let their personal issues destroy the work environment for others.

Always be Hiring

Stay on the lookout and actively recruit new employees.​ Learn to look for the spark in someone that shows the initiative and a positive work ethic. Even if you are fully staffed at present you never know when an opening will appear. It’s good to have a backlog of new team members you can call in.

Ask potential candidates what their short and long term goals are.​ Determine if they are in alignment with your needs. If they tell you they are looking for summer work consider the amount of effort it will take to train them and find a replacement when they leave.

Open a career path for staff so they can become the next generation of chefs, servers, and managers. Encourage them to push their skills and take on more responsibility. When employees are invested you’ll get better work and a higher rate of retention.

Conduct an Exit Poll

When your staff members move on, find out why. If you are serious about improving restaurant employee retention address the reasons they are leaving.

  • Lack of opportunity
  • Schedule conflicts
  • Not enough hours
  • Personality clashes

It’s important not to be defensive and to just listen.

Understand what motivates employees to leave so that you can adapt. You may be surprised what you learn.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

2. Offer Fair Compensation

The Sunk Costs of Turnover

Since restaurant labor is one of your highest business costs it might be hard to consider raising employee pay. But to attract the best talent and retain employees your offer must be competitive.

Remember that there are increased costs associated with high employee turnover. The investment you’ve made in hiring, training and developing valuable team members cannot be so easily replaced. And the potential for a degraded guest experience increases as more inexperienced staff are introduced into the restaurant.

If You Don’t Someone Else Will

To determine what is fair compensation for your employees look at the pay offered by other businesses employing people with the skills and traits for which you’re recruiting.

It’s not just the restaurant industry who’s vying for your workers. Market-matched compensation lowers your restaurant staff turnover by keeping them from wandering away in search of better opportunities.

Provide Growth Opportunities

Restaurant employee retention is accomplished by showing your staff that they have a good reason to stick around. When employees show teamwork, leadership and initiative make sure they know they have opportunities for career growth.

Rewarding them with even a small bump in pay can reinforce positive contributions and make them feel appreciated. Stoking a sense of loyalty in your staff is key to increasing retention.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

3. Provide Training and Support

Develop a Roadmap to Success

The restaurant is a complicated place with a lot going on. For new employees this can be overwhelming, especially if they haven’t worked in a restaurant before. This is why having well developed processes and procedures is incredibly important.

By providing new employees with clear expectations and a pre-made path to achieve success it will put them at ease. Throwing a new recruit into a chaotic “sink or swim” environment is a recipe for unmet expectations and a high wash-out rate.

Having established training procedures in place will help new staff develop the skills they need to survive in the fast-paced environment of a busy restaurant.

We’re All in this Together

Improve teamwork, loyalty and staff accountability by making it clear that training and supporting new team members is everyone’s responsibility.

Staff should be constantly looking out for each others’ performance:

  • Reinforcing proper behaviors
  • Enforcing policies
  • Executing procedures
  • Developing a culture of excellence

Identify your strongest and weakest team members and have them spend a “coaching shift” together to focus on building skills.

Increase Tips Through Up-Selling

Because tips have a large part to do with how much money employees take home, make sure your staff are trained in exceptional service and sales. When staff are trained to increase their own pay through up-sales they’ll have more work satisfaction.

4. Lead Your Team

To improve restaurant employee retention you need to be a leader. Don’t be mistaken, leadership and management are two different things.

Management is:

  • The manual appointing of resources
  • Requires you to constantly monitor and direct even small changes

In contrast,

Leadership is:

  • The process of developing your team’s priorities
  • Trusting them to make the right choices when you’re not watching

You accomplish leadership when you set a high standard. When you hold yourself, managers and employees equally accountable to following the procedures you’ve designed.

Increasing a Sense of Loyalty

When you set a consistent standard and obey your own rules it gives your restaurant staff the confidence to “check” each other and themselves. The goal of leadership is to create more leaders, so that you can trust your employees to perform with excellence even when no one is looking.

You must show your team that you have a clear sense of what is wrong and what is right, and that you’ll support them when they follow the rules. This goes a long way in earning the loyalty of your staff.

Call Out the Elephant in the Room

As their leader, you need to address uncomfortable situations to find solutions. Consider distributing anonymous comment cards every 6 months or when you suspect there is something causing tension. When using anonymous comment cards, address the concerns without being defensive. Honest feedback is extremely valuable if you want to keep your staff long term.

You need to be able to address what people are feeling even if they are bringing unexpected or difficult challenges to your attention.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

5. A “Thank You” Goes A Long Way

Restaurant work is stressful and demanding. Employees need to know that their good works are not going unappreciated, or resentment can start to build. Unaddressed, this resentment will eventually lead to them leaving.

A simple “thank you” can mean a lot to a stressed-out employee. Showing appreciation in the heat of a busy rush can make a big difference and doesn’t cost a thing.

Pointing out the hard work of your team members in the next company meeting lets employees know that someone is keeping track of their efforts.

Some ideas for inexpensive or free perks:

  • A free meal
  • Free coffee
  • Preferred scheduling
  • Preferred parking
  • Small dollar amount gift cards
  • Monthly drawings for gas or vehicle oil changes

Inquire with local businesses to exchange services or discounts so that you can find more “little perks” for your awesome staff members to help improve loyalty and retention.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure


Improving restaurant staff retention starts with hiring the right people. Find good staff and open up opportunities to those who have a good work ethic and a positive attitude. When you find good people, make sure your restaurant is paying a wage that will keep them interested.

Make sure new people get proper training and support. Develop a training process and make sure everyone is accountable for getting them up to speed. Be a leader by developing leadership skills in others. Stoke loyalty by holding everyone accountable to the same standards.

Give thanks where it’s due. Working in a restaurant is hard work and rewarding people who give a good effort encourages them to keep it up.

This free guide to improving restaurant employee retention is part of the free resource library provided by Rezku. Rezku was founded in 2012 by veteran restaurateur Paul Katsch. The goal of Rezku is to provide innovative solutions for entrepreneurs in the food and beverage industry. We believe that restaurant management technology should be powerful, affordable and reliable.

Learn more about Rezku on our homepage. Schedule a free one-to-one consultation to learn about the latest developments in restaurant management systems.

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