How To Reduce Restaurant Turnover and Increase Employee Retention

By Bob Phibbs

server restaurant turnover


In a recent RetailWire discussion, Ralph Jacobson commented as devils advocate, “Do I want my low-margin, high-cost business to be driven by an ever-increasing average hourly wage rate by keeping people longer-term and being forced to pay them more because they've worked for me longer when labor is my largest controllable expense, beyond the COGS? Turnover may not always be a bad thing.”

Many restaurants are averaging a turnover rate of 60%. Here are several reasons why turnover happens:

The attitude many of these associates bring to the job is one factor. Servers often feel the job is a step down from other jobs and therefore hate what they are doing. Others initially believe that it’s an easy job but don’t get the connection that good service produces better tips. So when easy money (especially from tips) doesn’t appear, they leave.

And of course, we know there is nothing easy at all about being a server...

Another reason comes from employers who fail to provide adequate training. So, the new employee arrives on Day 1 without knowing what he’s getting into. He doesn’t value himself or the job. He doesn’t really know what to do or what to think, so he gets frustrated and he is either fired or he quits.

When guests are seated, and the server approaches the table, he says, “Hi, I’m John and I will be taking care of you today.” If he is a really good waiter and values his job, he will be trained to think to himself, “I’m John and the better experience I provide you and the more I can encourage you to treat yourself well, the more tips I’ll make, and the more my boss will reward me with better shifts.” And he will do it all without the customers feel like he was being pushy.

Discover 8 Reasons Why Your Retail Employee Turnover Is So High

And the last reason is employers hire out of desperation; they need someone who can fill a shift, they don’t have the time to hire the best person. Often the hiring decision is based just on the servers’ availability to work Mon-Fri from 5 to 9. That’s an awful solo criteria. You need a person who is engaging, who tries to win you over, and who you would enjoy spending time with. And they often don’t fit into a schedule 100% of the time. You’ll probably have to work around them just a bit.

A lot of turnover can be avoided with careful hiring ...

You’ve heard it before but you hire for attitude and teach the rest. Don’t take the easy way out by hiring someone else’s cast-offs. Attitude is a choice and those who don’t choose a helpful attitude before they work for you, never show a helpful attitude to your customers.

There’s training and there’s training. Sure a new server will learn how to roll setups the proper way, but do they know how they should they talk to your diners? If not, they’ll probably give the same bad service as at the last place they worked. Spend the time to show your newbie what makes your restaurant different, better, a place people come back to again and again. (bob link to Roy’s)

Restaurateurs’ number one interview question should be: “Tell me a time you went out of your way for a customer on a previous job?”

Before you declare not to hire an employee who may not have the very best availability, give them a chance. You always want to be on the lookout for servers with outgoing personalities who will turn work into fun.

Usually those types come with some restrictions to scheduling. You want people who are able to involve themselves with your customers, are not afraid of talking with them and aren’t caught up in the robot-like qualities of the job. The employees you want to hire like to be a part of the world - not shy away from it.

The way applicants show you they are outgoing doesn’t matter – you are looking for social skills. Do they like to go out with friends, work in groups, are they members of running or biking clubs?

If their hobbies or interests keep them from the world with things you typically do alone such as reading, video gaming, gardening – this tells you they are likely not a good fit.

In sum

A server has direct contact with your customers; theirs is a unique position that isn’t just about job duties but how about they represent you and your restaurant.

These are by no means all the ways to reduce restaurant turnover and increase employee retention, but focusing on who you allow to represent your restaurant is a big start.

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