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Guide to Successful Restaurant Management and Staff Retention

Tools and Tips for Better Restaurant Management

Restaurant success typically starts with proper management strategies and, more importantly, the execution of that strategy. It’s a classic mistake for restaurant managers to put a ton of time and effort into establishing all of the proper procedures, but don’t enforce those rules or make sure their employees are following through with them.

Most restaurants do basic things pretty well. What makes a restaurant successful, and the mark of a great restaurant manager, is to be exceptional in everything you do: no shortcuts, staying on top of the little things, and sticking to it.

And it starts with training.

waiter-mopping-floor-in-cafe-DTJGV5POne thing to keep in mind when you’re managing your employees is to remember that certain tasks might be a much bigger deal to your employees than it is to you. When running your store, you’ve got a lot bigger things to worry about than mopping the bathroom floor. However, when you have an entry-level employee who wants to succeed, mopping the floor could be a big deal.

That’s why proper training is so critical. You need to know that the processes you put in place are carried out by your employees, and with a good training program and employee handbook, your team members will know exactly what’s expected of them and be empowered to deliver on it.

Good training starts with the onboarding process. If your employees don’t know what the rules are and what their job is, they will be stressed out. Or worse, bored. They need to know what success looks like. Sometimes things may seem obvious to you, but they can’t read your mind. Set expectations from the beginning and continue to coach them regularly.

Communication is critically important as well. Managers can assume employees know what’s going on, but that’s not always the case. For example, one question you’ll hear a lot is, “When do I get paid?” We’ve seen a lot of managers over the years not do a good job with communicating the pay schedule. It’s such a basic thing but if it’s not handled well can cause tremendous unease.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that even when you set these processes in place, you're going to have some successes and some failures. Try not to get overly cynical with your employees because they're mostly just good folks trying hard. They're not mind readers. You're not a perfect manager. Just keep a positive attitude and keep trying to improve. The rest will fall into place.

Creating Effective Restaurant Employee Retention Strategies

What would you say is the number one thing keeping restaurant owners up at night?

If you said staff retention, you’re probably right.

It’s not going out on a limb to say that it’s very challenging to find good employees for your stores and keeping them on your payroll. It’s a problem for everyone, but this is especially true in the restaurant industry.

Constant employee turnover makes it nearly impossible for your restaurant to grow and improve. If you’re devoting a ton of time every week to sifting through potential candidates, conducting interviews, and training new employees, you have less time to focus on the things that are going to drive your business forward.

The first thing to recognize is that you, as the restaurant manager, are responsible for your staff retention. There will always be outside factors and things you can’t avoid, but ultimately it falls on you.

Of course, you’re never going to eliminate turnover completely. But how can you create effective strategies that increase employee retention? There are all kinds of management books you can read with some killer tactics and important lessons, but you need to know how to apply them to the restaurant industry specifically.

As long as you keep your star performers, you can improve your restaurant. Say for example, you have a staff of 10 people at your pizza shop. The real world will always have an impact--like people moving away or going back to school--but as long as you can retain five core members, you’ll be in a good spot.

Identify who your core people are. If you can keep them on your payroll, the rest will fall into place. Where many restaurants fail is they don’t keep those core people in place. If you’re able to do that, then you’re only rehiring the bottom part of your staff which suddenly becomes a much more manageable challenge.

What Good Restaurants Have in Common

Most restaurants with low turnover have a few common traits. First of all, when you create a culture where your employees share about themselves and find common interests with one another, they’ll enjoy being there. You can even get silly with it: talk about the new Call of Duty game or the latest Star Wars movie.

Good restaurants also enforce their rules, even the little ones, openly and consistently. When you think about that core team that you want to keep, they’re rule followers, right? They do things the right way regularly and consistently. So when you allow people to bend the rules, you’ll end up aggravating your top workers who want structure and discipline.

For more tips, read our blog post: 3 Ways to Improve Restaurant Employee Retention.

What You Can do About the Cost of High Employee Turnover

We all know that employee turnover is something that all restaurant managers are struggling with. How can you reduce turnover, improve retention, and keep a staff on your payroll that’s happy, talented, and motivated?

It’s not a completely solvable problem in the sense that you’re always going to have some employee turnover. How can you reduce the turnover to the point where it’s not hurting your business?

Breaking Down the Numbers

When you really understand the high cost of employee turnover, the numbers are staggering. If you think about it, if a manager has to interview four people for a position, that’s half of a business day! And that’s just for the interviews.

When someone is actually hired, they’re obviously going to need training as well. Now, assume that you have a new hire spend three days shadowing someone else and they spend about 100 hours getting up to speed. At $12 an hour, it comes to more than $1,700 to train a new employee.

Does that seem crazy to anyone else?

Running Background Checks

First of all, you can hire better. That’s obvious and at a macro level, that's a huge topic. However, one little thing you could do that you might not be doing already is to conduct background checks. They can range from $12-$47 per applicant and is well worth the investment if it can help you avoid a potentially risky situation by making the wrong hire.

The cost of doing a background check is a small price to pay for a relative peace of mind. The standards of who you want to hire and fit in your culture are different for every business.  However, running backgrounds can help you accomplish a few things.

First, if you post that you are performing a background check on the job listing itself, it may filter out some of the people that would not be a good fit for your business.

Second, it could help you avoid some very catastrophic situations. Hiring the right person from the start can reduce turnover expenses by reducing employee termination.

The Big Picture

Spending more time with new employees can go a long way in making sure that they’re happy, aren’t stressed out, and know what’s expected of them. 

And, even though that $1,700 figure may sound scary, it’s important not to cut corners. A bad employee or a poor onboarding experience could cost a lot more than that, not to mention the stress it could cause you and the rest of your staff. The more you invest up front in hiring the right people, the more it will pay off in the long run.

Finally, think about your poor performers. You know who we’re talking about. Yeah, that one. Are you really doing the high-performing team members a favor by keeping the troubled ones on your payroll? If you hire someone and you know that they're not working out, you should cut ties quickly and quietly and help them get a job that's a better fit for them. And you won't stress out the rest of your staff and your high-performers.

Like we said, you can’t mitigate employee turnover completely but you can slow it down.

Reduce Employee Turnover

How to Train Your Restaurant Staff to Keep Them Happy

Employee training is important. 

Is there anyone that would disagree with that? Probably not. However, not all training programs are created equal. There are many things to consider when building an effective training program that keeps employees happy and drives the success of your restaurant

Don’t consider training only for teaching your team members specific tasks. Instead, use the training to create the type of culture that you want to build. Set clear expectations so your employees know exactly what is expected of them. Explain what it means to be a good team member and give examples, so they understand. Sometimes they may need to swap shifts with other employees. Things come up, schedules change. Make sure you set clear expectations and processes so there are zero surprises. 

Show your employees that work can be fun by gamifying the system. Gamification allows work to be enjoyable, allows them to monitor their progress. Having processes in place that provide mental stimulation can reduce stress so make it a game. It doesn’t need to be anything too complex: maybe whoever waits the most tables gets a free milkshake or plate of fries. However, by simply introducing these concepts, you’re rewarding their behavior and building a culture where people want to come to work.

Work can be a productive yet fun atmosphere. Find out what interests your employees have outside of work and find ways to relate to them. Feel free to joke around with employees and even customers in a fun respectful tone. Employees who enjoy being at work will have a positive attitude even during the busy challenging shifts.

Ask your employees how they are doing. Seems so simple but is not done regularly. Ask them for suggestions or their opinions. Make them feel part of the team. Make them feel what they are doing makes a difference. You may find that your employees have some great ideas. Plus, they will feel appreciated and will look forward to coming into work.

Recognizing your employees who are doing well, whether it’s Day 1 or Day 1,000, goes a long way. Show them how they’re benefitting the organization and how their job is contributing to the success of the business. People want to know that their work matters! 

How to Reduce Employee Turnover in Your Restaurant: Real World Examples

When it comes to managing a restaurant, there's a direct correlation between how well you train your staff with the success of your restaurant. Training leads to confidence for the employees, confident employees who know that they're doing well are happier, and happier employees deliver the best customer experiences. It’s a continuous cycle that can either make or break your business.

This is especially true when you're trying to build long-term success. If your team isn’t committed to constantly improving to meet the evolving needs of your customer base, you’re going to have a hard time keeping up with the restaurant down the street.

So, how do you build a culture of training that continuously grows and evolves?

An important part of training and managing that gets overlooked is the pre-shift meeting. Make sure your people know what’s going on each day, what they can expect, changes with products or procedures. Make sure there are no surprises.

Most of your training budget is going to be spent onboarding new employees, but don’t forget that it’s equally important for seasoned team members to keep improving as well. One way to do that is to have them keep learning new things. Challenge themselves. Some of the best restaurants will encourage employees to get certifications for food safety, hospitality, or even a culinary arts certification. The main goal is to keep the employees learning and engaged.

It can be hard to budget time and resources towards training for an employee that’s already thriving, but we can’t understate the importance of it. As Navy Seal and leadership coach Jocko Willink outlines in his book Extreme Ownership, leadership isn’t about what you preach, it’s about what you tolerate. 

Continual training is essential. Yes, it takes a lot of time and energy to create a culture that fosters employee training, but the benefits trickle into every aspect of your business. This is true for all industries, but especially in restaurant food service. 

Employee training can have a short or long term effect on employee retention, which we all know is one of the largest problems facing the restaurant industry right now. Employees who know what’s expected of them and buy into your culture will be happier and more likely to stay.

Like most things in life, this is a process and won’t happen overnight. But if you decide to stick with it and build on it every day, the results will compound and have incredible results for your restaurant.

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Using Gamification to Improve Employee Engagement

One goal of every good restaurant manager is to make work fun and enjoyable for their employees. However, as we all know, only so many actually succeed, which is why you see such high turnover rates. That’s where gamification comes in. At a simple level, gamification involves adding competition or scoring to the tasks that need to be completed for your business.

The first step in building a gamification program for your business is to identify which tasks or services need to be completed on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Daily works best, because this gives you the best opportunity to see real progress and competition day in and day out. 

Gamification has become more and more popular for a couple reasons, but here are the two main ones:

  1. High turnover rates have managers looking for new ways to engage with and motivate their employees
  2. New technology available makes it easier and more accessible than ever

However, you don’t need any kind of technology or software to create a culture of gamification in your business. It can be something as simple as adding incentives for your servers to upsell or for preparing food quickly. If you do it right, your employees will have fun executing the processes and strategies that you’ve put into place for your restaurant. 

When your employees are having fun and engaging in friendly competition against each other, they’re not only completing their tasks more quickly, they’re doing them correctly. We’ve all seen restaurants and other workplaces where this isn’t the case: the bathrooms are a mess, the trash bins are full, the food is subpar, and the service is underwhelming. It’s not the kind of restaurant you want to keep returning to.

Working in a restaurant is hard. Gamification gives meaning to your employees, it gives them something to focus their efforts around, it gives them something to be excited about. To accomplish that, the games need to be player-centric. If people don't feel like they're able to do it for their own sakes, then they're not going to want to do it, and they're not going to execute your strategy.

The Power of a 3rd Party Compliment

You don't want your team members to dread going into work, right? Think about it. You spend eight hours a day at work, not counting commute, so a large percentage of your waking hours are dedicated to your job. If you’re not enjoying your job, you’re probably not enjoying life.

That’s one of the reasons that 3rd party compliments are so powerful. Have you ever been complimented by your parents and you're thinking, “Oh man, they're just saying that because they're my parents.” But when a manager or colleague pays you the same compliment it suddenly means much more. That’s why testimonials and review sites work so well. 

When you have gamification working well and your employees excited about the work they’re doing, paying them compliments can go a long way. “Hey John, the bathroom looks spotless, outstanding job!” “Great work during that rush Mary, every customer left with a smile. Keep it up!” Compliments from an authority figure mean much more, especially unprompted, and they’ll feel really proud about it!

BLOG POST: 4 Ways to Gamify Your Restaurant Employee Experience

Restaurant Workflow in the Kitchen and in the Dining Room

When you're managing a restaurant, there are so many tasks that need to be completed every day. In some instances, multiple times a day. We’d consider these to be part of the restaurant workflow: any store processes that get done on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. These could be opening checklist, closing procedures, cleaning lists etc. 

Some of them are super important, like preparing chicken safely, whereas things like cleaning the bathrooms or restocking the condiments aren’t quite as high on the priority list. Still, all of these things work together to build a successful restaurant.

Every single restaurant has workflows. They’re all a little different--a pizza shop is going to have different workflows from a taqueria--but they all have many things in common as well. 

There are also different workflows for each area of the restaurant. Whereas the kitchen’s workflows are built around safety and efficiency, the dining rooms are built around pleasing the guests and providing good customer service. Here’s an example--maybe you’ve gone to one restaurant enough to have a favorite server that you request each time. However, ideally, you should have the same service and experience every time you go to the restaurant, regardless of who your server is. Workflows help restaurants run the same way regardless of who’s in the building.

Who’s Responsible for Establishing and Enforcing the Workflows?

Well, those are really two different questions. The owner/operator of the business is responsible for establishing the workflows and processes that they want to be followed. 

However, enforcing is up to the managers. They’re the ones who need to enforce all of the workflows and make sure that things are running smoothly every single day. And one of the big issues that we’ve seen is managers not practicing what they preach.

Why Workflows are Important

Why is it important to have simple and streamlined workflows? Well, it’s important because it helps your employees execute tasks consistently on a daily basis. It also helps your employees avoid being stressed out. As we’ve discussed, people get stressed out and overwhelmed when they don’t know what’s expected of them.

Workflows are also good for the customers because they absolutely take notice of these sorts of things. We’ve all been in restaurants that have poor service, long waits, dirty bathrooms, etc., right? Do those kinds of things make you want to keep coming back to that restaurant?

For tips on getting started, check out our blog post, How to Create a Simple, Effective Restaurant Workflow

What Affects Average Restaurant Turnover Rates

By now, we’ve established that turnover rates for restaurants are as high--or higher--as any industry in the country. In fact, let’s break it down statistically. Here are the comparisons based on 2018 numbers:

The overall turnover rate in the US is 44.3%.
In the restaurant industry, turnover rate is 74.9%.


When you think about the first number, it means almost half of the people in the country are switching jobs every year. And then the number obviously jumps way up for restaurants. In fact, the only industries that have higher turnover rates is the arts, entertainment, and recreation and that’s mostly due to seasonal jobs.

When you factor in the part-time nature of many restaurant jobs, the turnover is even easier to understand: 

18% of the total US workforce is part-time.
30% of the restaurant workforce is part-time.

So again, you can see the number almost double in the restaurant industry. Obviously, these factors play a considerable role in turnover rates just by their nature. Many people take restaurant jobs with full knowledge and understanding that they’re only going to be there for a little while: maybe it’s just a summer gig or they’re picking up some extra work before the holiday season.

However, it keeps coming back to the same thing: it all comes back to hiring the right people.

Many times, restaurant managers fall into the trap of not spending enough time or energy into hiring entry-level employees because they know they’re likely to leave. What they fail to consider, though, is that may be the reason why turnover is so high in the first place!

According to the National Restaurant Association, nine out of ten managers started at entry-level jobs. So that new employee you hire next week could absolutely be the best hire you ever make.

Then, consider the national average for turnover and retention. How does your restaurant stack up? Read our blog post, How Does Your Restaurant Turnover Rate Compare to the Average? for more!

Training Restaurant Staff for Ultimate Success and Retention

How does employee training influence restaurant success? In some obvious ways, good training helps you retain your employees better. People want to know what they need to do to be successful in the job. And frankly, they want to feel like they're doing well.

Training also helps your employees deliver better customer service. We've all been to a restaurant where we were standing across the counter from a new employee. With the right training and a positive attitude, you can make that employee feel confident and give the customer a happy experience.

Confident people will engage with other people better. Remember, employees are not mind readers. If you don't train them, how are they ever going to know the standards that you want them to uphold? And that includes standards on food safety and food prep. None of those things will happen the right way unless you do the training.

How do you suggestive sell? How do you upsell your customers if you never do employee training? How do you get to other topics like marketing your business or doing store projects? Trained employees give you the freedom to level up on the next projects. Trained employees give you the freedom to grow your business. 

Reduce Employee Turnover

Avoid these Common Mistakes

Even the most successful restaurateurs have made and will continue to make mistakes. The trick is to identify them, learn from them, and strive to do better. One of the most common mistakes is having a poor onboarding experience for new team members. Don’t push this off on another team member, handle it yourself. Make a point to lead and train new employees personally – you’ll be surprised at how much this will mean to someone just starting out.

Another common mistake is putting new employees in front of your customers before they’re ready. It’s not good for the employee, it’s frustrating for your customers, and it can damage the reputation of your restaurant. 

Here’s something else to consider: is all of your training word of mouth, or is it written down somewhere? Everyone learns differently and having your processes outlined on paper is important for people to read and study. Don’t just say, “Oh, Jake’s working tonight. Just follow him around for a bit and he’ll show you what to do.” Training needs to be structured. There needs to be a curriculum.

So, how do you know when someone's ready? Well, first of all, if you don't have a standard in place, you'll never know, right? So it starts with you putting a training program together and being able to evaluate them against it. Once you do that, and after you've done enough of those, you'll have a pretty good idea.

Why Positive Employee Morale Is a Key to Your Restaurant Success

Morale is more than just being happy. To us, employee morale is the attitude of the team and the environment in the store. This includes things like employee satisfaction levels, the outlook they have of their jobs, and how they perceive their future at the company.

Ideally you want great employee morale because that leads them to deliver outstanding service to your customers. Happy employees lead to happy customers, which in turn will drive the success of your business. And that’s true across the board regardless of what industry you’re in. 

We've all been in restaurants that are clearly struggling with morale. In great restaurants, the front of the house and the back of the house are communicating with each other. They get along and respect each other. It's up to the manager to make sure that everyone gets along. 

When we talk with our employees, the quality they value most is employee morale. Anytime there are issues in a restaurant, it more than likely ties into morale somehow. And there could be a number of reasons for that. 

For example:

  • Someone isn’t pulling their weight and it’s frustrating for their colleagues
  • Someone takes too many “suspicious” sick days
  • Drama in the restaurant
  • Disruptive outbursts at work

These can all take a major toll on your team’s morale!

As a manager, it’s your responsibility to be aware of how your employees are interacting and to pick up your team when things are down. With turnover rates being so high in the restaurant industry, it’s important that employee morale factors into your retention strategy!  

For more tips on keeping morale high at your restaurant, read our blog post, 11 Ways to Keep Employees Positive and Productive!

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Why Flexible Work Schedules Are Critical to Retention

Over time, flexible work schedules have gone from a differentiating benefit to something that employees expect with every job they have. These days, it’s pretty much a requirement if you want to keep your workers, isn't it? 

We all know how frustrating it can be if you want to work the early shift from 6:00 AM to 2:00 PM but were scheduled from 2:00 PM to 10:00 PM. Everyone has things they want to work around, whether it's social events, school or family time.

It’s a challenge that all restaurants are tasked with, but it comes down to how you hire people and what expectations you've set. If you're hiring the right people and have enough people on staff, then it can be pretty easy to allow people to work the hours they want.

How often do you ask people what hours they want to work during the interview process? If someone tells you they want to work Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, what’s stopping you from accommodating them? Meeting them halfway from the beginning sets a wonderful precedent that you value them and empowers them to take ownership of their job. If you engrain that into the culture, you’ll be amazed at how people respond. Of course, there will be times that you're understaffed and you can’t be as accommodating. But people know that and they will understand.

If you had to guess, what percentage of restaurants embody this philosophy?

A recent study was performed to ask people if they felt like they were allowed to decide their own work hours or not. Only 15% of them felt that they were allowed to decide their own hours. 

On the other hand, 50% thought they had no control whatsoever and the remaining 35% felt like they had a semblance of control where they could ask for certain shift hours, but they weren't guaranteed to get it. 

Do these numbers surprise you? It’s alarming to hear that a lot of people are forced to work at times when they're not wanting to. That’s going to have a huge negative impact on employee morale, and high morale leads to higher employee satisfaction and retention.

Why Good Employees Quit Restaurants and How to Keep Them

It should be obvious as to why it's important to keep your best employees on your payroll. You want your customers and all your team members to have a good experience when they’re in your restaurant. Good employees impact just about everyone in your restaurant, whether it’s a customer enjoying outstanding service or your team members interacting positively with each other.

BLOG POST: 11 Ways to Keep Employees Positive and Productive

What Makes a Good Employee?

There are probably a thousand answers to that question, each meaning something different to everyone.  Maybe it’s someone who is always on time and prepared to work. Maybe it’s the person who delivers the best customer service. Maybe it’s someone who follows the rules and procedures you’ve established in the restaurant.

There are a lot of different measures that would go into deciding who's a good employee and who isn't. And it comes down to you for how you want to manage your restaurant and your business.

For example, someone may provide the best service and get the biggest tips, but if they always show up 45 minutes late then you probably won’t consider them the greatest employee. So you need to figure out what values are important to you.

Why Good Employees Leave

There are many reasons why a good employee might leave: they’re underpaid, they don’t enjoy their work, work isn’t fun for them, they don’t get along with management, or there’s a better opportunity elsewhere. Then there are things that are a little out of your control: they’re moving or returning to school.

As we’ve discussed, there’s a labor crisis happening in the restaurant industry and the costs to restaurants are substantial. This could be because most people are hired into entry-level positions that are not the right fit for them or your business.

However, the number one reason that good employees leave comes down to one thing: bad management.

That’s a pretty broad statement, so what do we mean by that? If you’re not practicing the right leadership methods and procedures, specifically as it relates to restaurants, it’s going to hurt your chances of retaining your best employees. It starts at the interview and needs to be enforced every single day.

Here’s an excerpt from our checklist, 6 Ways to Decrease Employee Turnover at Your Restaurant:

“By creating a culture where your employees feel valued and appreciated, you’re going to see those employee turnover numbers dwindle. One thing we see quite often is that many entry-level employees, especially millennials, don’t believe that the work they’re doing matters. Make them feel good by catching someone doing something right every day, and never devalue the entry level jobs with the staff.”

For more information on why employees quit and strategies to improve retention, download the free checklist!

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