How To Reduce Restaurant Turnover and Increase Employee Retention

Restaurant employees

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Updated August 23, 2022

In a related RetailWire discussion, Ralph Jacobson commented as Devil's 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 average a turnover rate of 60%. There are several reasons why staff turnover happens:

The attitude many employees bring to the job is one factor. For example, servers often feel the job is a step down from other restaurant staff jobs and therefore hate what they are doing. Others initially believe it’s an easy job but don’t understand 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 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 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 the restaurant manager will reward me with better shifts.” And he will do it all without the customers feeling like he was being pushy.

And the last reason is employers hire out of desperation; the restaurant manager needs someone who can fill a shift, and they don’t have the time to hire the best person. Often the hiring decision is based on the servers’ availability to work specific days and hours. That’s an awful solo criterion. You need an engaging person, 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 turnovers 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 properly, but do they know how to 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.

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 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 employee engagement - people who can 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, or 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, or gardening – this tells you they are likely not a good fit.

Discover more ways why your turnover rate may be high and how to increase employee retention here.

In Sum

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

These are not all ways to reduce restaurant turnover and increase employee retention, but focusing on whom you allow to be representing your restaurant is a big start.Access My FREE 5-Part Retail Sales Training Course