How to Motivate Restaurant Staff and Decrease Turnover

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Most restaurant owners have seen these types of employees at their establishments:

  • The high schoolers who only want to make some extra money.
  • The college students who swing by to help out during the summer and then leave.
  • The hard-working staff members who generally care about the future of your restaurant.

The best restaurants know how to engage their employees, no matter what, so every single one of them becomes a hard-working, enthusiastic, and forward-thinking member of the team.

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall turnover rate for restaurants was 66.3% in 2014, up 10 percentage points from the recent low of 56.6% in 2010.

What that says to me is that restaurant owners are simply accepting the status quo rather than fighting it. They’re expecting their employees to leave after so many months. They’re expecting restaurant staff turnover to increase. In essence, they’re expecting the worst from their staff, and not taking the necessary steps to engage and motivate them.

While much of the restaurant content on this site centers around  how to engage customers and improve the customer experience, I think it’s just as important to focus on employee engagement and staff happiness. The happier your staff is, the happier your customers will be.

A few months ago, we wrote about how to battle restaurant staff tnover and offered simple ways to engage the crew. Now, we want to go even more in depth and offer new tips for engaging your staff so they enjoy their job.

Here are our tips to motivate restaurant staff in your establishment.

Tell your story.

When you hire someone new, what is the first thing you do? Don’t say, “Make them read a giant HR pamphlet.” No, the best employees stay because they are attracted to your story, the why behind what you do. This is true for big corporations such as Google (their motto is “Do no evil” after all) and it’s true for your restaurant, too.

Sit down with new hires and tell them the past, present, and future of your restaurant. Why did you start it? How long has it been profiting? What are you excited to pursue soon? Allow some time for them to ask questions afterwards.

Strategize together.

Host a quick weekly meeting, perhaps before you open the restaurant for dinner, on what’s working and what’s not. Your servers, busboys, and hostesses are the eyes and ears of your restaurant. They see directly how customers are reacting to the food and the service. Your chefs, on the other hand, may be able to share ideas about optimizing the layout of the kitchen, creating a smoother process for hand-off to servers, and small changes to the menu.

In this meeting, encourage everyone to participate, and listen to all feedback before responding. It’s easy to get defensive about how you run your restaurant, but when your staff feels like they actually have a say in how it runs, they’ll be more apt to stay, and more apt to be more engaged and motivated in their job in the future.

Be transparent about your restaurant.

Transparency goes two ways for restaurants: You need to be honest about your individual employees’ job growth and promotion opportunities, and about the overall trajectory of your restaurant.

We recommend letting new employees know of their projected job path immediately after they’re hired. Say something like: “If you’re engaged, and prove yourself to be a great leader, you may be able to move into a manager position within the year.” This will keep them motivated to succeed and take on new roles within the restaurant.

In terms of communicating the status of your restaurant, our advice is to hold monthly or quarterly meetings to discuss the goals outlined in your business plan and how you plan on reaching them, as well as sharing a status update on restaurant sales, PR, and more. Again, allow questions from employees.

Start a mentor program.

Anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant knows that the staff is a tight-knit community and sometimes, as the new hire, it’s hard to break in. Like any work environment, it’s important to have new hires jump in, but also to give them a friend to bounce ideas off of and ask questions. This will also minimize the amount of times new hires go to you, the restaurant owner, for every little thing.

Some managers may seem like perfect fits for mentor programs, but we recommend having the mentor be someone who’s in the exact same position as the new hire. That way, they’re facing the exact same challenges together. Plus, managers have a lot on their plate, and may not be ecstatic about taking on another responsibility.

Reward employees for jobs well done.

This should go without saying, but there are some creative ways to reward restaurant staff for jobs well done. Empower managers and supervisors to instantly reward staff when they handle a customer effectively, master a new technique, or develop a new solution to a problem the restaurant has been facing. Whenever someone takes initiative, here are a few ways you can reward them, besides giving them a raise or a bonus check:

  • Feature your employee on your website or blog as Employee of the Month.
  • Verbally thank your employee during company meetings so they gain recognition from their peers.
  • Host monthly raffles for employees with the most positive comment cards at their tables. (BuzzTime has a few great ideas about this.)
  • Write a personal note of recognition to the employee.
  • Let the employee choose the next company outing destination.

How Will You Engage Your Restaurant Staff?

When you treat employees with dignity and respect, and you show them that you care about their career path and their personalities, you prove that your restaurant is not only about money-making, but about creating an atmosphere of growth and achievement. And, this will also help your customers get noticed. Companies like Starbucks are now offering full tuition reimbursement, while Chipotle is offering benefits, and Bar Marco is implementing higher wages and a no-tipping policy. These restaurants are redefining the status quo.

Source:, 5-1-2018

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