Improving Employee Retention in Your Restaurant

Ask any restaurant owner about something they struggle with, and the problem of keeping good employees will make the list almost every single time. The real issues begin when employees don’t stick around very long, leaving owners understaffed and scrambling.

The restaurant industry offers a unique flexibility of schedule that appeals to many. Whether it is the student looking to work when not in class, or the performer looking to subsidize their passion, the industry attracts all kinds of people with unique scheduling needs. That also means that those same employees might not see their job at your restaurant as their top priority. The restaurant industry has an above-average turnover rate. In 2016, the general industry employee turnover rate was 46.1%. In the restaurants and accommodations sector, the turnover rate was at a whopping 72.9% in 2016, up from a rate of 72.2% in 2015, that is a pretty big difference.

Now you might be saying to yourself, ‘Well everyone in the industry has a high turnover rate, that is just how things are. Why should I make changes to improve my retention rate?’

Good question. Other than the immediate struggles of being left understaffed, every time you lose an hourly employee it can cost upwards of $3,500 to hire and train a new one. Now imagine every time someone walks out the door, $3,500 of your dollars are walking out with them. Really puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

Hiring Employees

A great way to improve your employee retention is by starting at the very beginning, and by that, I mean the hiring process. The first thing is having patience. You may feel like you are in a rush to make sure that all your shifts are covered, but in the long run you will thank yourself for selecting the right candidate and not just the first person to walk in the door.

One of the most common practices in the industry, when looking at a potential employee’s resume, is to hire someone with experience and not consider your company culture. An employee with a positive attitude can be trained to do things the way that you do them, but a bad fit for your culture will always be a bad fit. An employee that is a poor fit usually leaves and ends up costing you money. In that case, you’ll be back to square one, typically with a few bad stories to tell.

Another thing to look at while you have their resume in your hand, is the frequency at which they move jobs. If someone switches places of employment every few months, that is a red flag that they won’t have a problem doing that to you. Take time to consider why they might need to switch jobs so much.

Hiring Managers

If you are seeking a manager, consider hiring from within your restaurant. Let employees know that you are looking for someone to help with special projects, you may be surprised by the response. Employees you would not have originally considered may be looking to take on more responsibility, while those that seem more likely to jump at the opportunity are happy to stay in their current position.

Through these special projects, you will be able to determine who is good at doing the work of a manager. If they are not good at the special projects, don’t get upset with them, don’t fire them, simply move them back into the current position without participating in any more different projects. This way you don’t lose an employee, but you are able to determine who can handle the role of manager.

For those that excel, approach them with the idea of becoming a manager-in-training. If they are onboard, start training them for the position. Some will do well, and some might not. For those that don’t, you now have a well-trained supervisor that can handle things on occasion and those who do wow you can now become a manager.

There are many benefits that come with hiring within your company. When you hire from within the company you know the person already fits your company culture, they won’t have to deal with your other employees testing them as a newcomer, and they know how to do things your way.  Another benefit is that current employees will see that you promote from within and will have something to motivate them to continue to do their best in hopes of advancing.

You will need to consider the best ways to transition an employee to the manager roll in terms of their coworkers. During your special projects, be sure to observe how they handle having authority over their coworkers, and probably friends. You don’t want them to be a doormat, but you also don’t want them to overcompensate and become too harsh. It is a fine line that needs to be observed.

Training

The training process is a critical time in helping to improve employee retention. It is tempting to pair your new employee with a veteran and leave them to it with minimal supervision. The problem is, if the veteran employee has developed bad habits they could be passing them on to your entire staff.

Train your employees on the correct way to do their job and when. When training, it is also critical to remember that people have different ways of learning. Some learn by seeing, some by hearing, and others by doing.  Try to incorporate all aspect when doing your initial training.

If your new employee makes mistakes, don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that they are a bad fit. When something is done incorrectly, retrain them on the proper way to do it. After the third time they make a mistake, you might want to sit down and evaluate whether they don’t know how to correctly complete the task or they simply don’t care.

A consistent orientation process and ongoing training will help to keep all your employees on the same page with the way you do things, creating an overall more pleasant work environment.

The Competitive Edge

There is always the concern that a well-trained employee might simply decide to work for a different restaurant. A few things can be done to try and convince your staff that your business is the best fit for them.

The most obvious way to keep employees is by offering them competitive pay with the opportunities for increased pay. Nurture long-term goals and provide the opportunity for advancement. Pay for classes and training, an example of this would be to pay for ServSafe certifications.

Do your best to schedule your employees well. Don’t always give the same employees the slower shifts, and give the occasional shift choice. That being said, we all know that sometimes you can’t make everyone happy, occasionally some people won’t be happy with their shift and that is okay.

Also, don’t underestimate the value of free incentives such as offering a shift meal. It will cost you a little but pales in comparison to the costs of constant hiring and training new employees.

Leaving

Sometimes no matter what you do, an employee is going to leave. This is a great opportunity to have a candid conversation with them about why they are leaving and if any changes could be made to your process to encourage employee retention.

One thing you can do is conduct an exit interview and ask them a few questions about their time with you.  A few questions you might like to ask are:

  1. Why are you leaving?
  2. What could we have done better?
  3. What does your new company offer that made you decide to leave?
  4. Were you comfortable talking to your manager about work problems?
  5. Were you given the tools to succeed at your job?
  6. What did you like most about your job? And what would you change about it?
  7. What was your best or worst day on the job?

Keep in mind with an exit interview that the employee might say some things you disagree with or don’t like hearing. Try to keep an open mind. Don’t argue with the exiting employee. It won’t do either of you any good to end your relationship on bad terms. Most likely you won’t seriously consider making all the changes they suggest but they might be able to give you some insight into a problem or educate you on a problem you didn’t even know was happening.

Retaining good employees is a struggle across the restaurant industry. By taking the right steps during hiring, training, and doing your best to remain competitive as an employer, you can give your restaurant a great foundation for creating a stellar staff and a happy work environment.

A Seasonal Hiring Guide for Restaurants

We all remember our first jobs; usually a summer gig to make a little bit of extra cash while school was out of session.  We can still feel the nervousness of putting in our application and anxiously waiting to hear back about an interview. Then, after securing the job, there was that first day of work and the intimidation of training. Finally, that first paycheck made it all worth it. You’ve dreamed for the past two weeks about what you will spend your hard earned cash on. That is until you rip open that first envelope and confirm with your parents that, yes that really is the right amount of taxes to be taken out. Seasonal jobs are a lot of people’s first introduction into the workforce. But what about the other end of it – that of the employer?  Being on the other end can be just as stressful as being the job seeker.

Hiring seasonal help is often necessary to the restaurant industry. Whether it is for the summer season or the holiday rush, seasonal hires can help businesses handle the extra workload that isn’t present during other times of the year. Being well staffed has its advantages. Your business will be able to easily adjust to the workload fluctuations that come along with the change in seasons. If customer demand increases, a well-staffed restaurant will be able to respond positively and ensure a good customer experience. When restaurants have the right employees and enough employees, customer service goes up along with customer satisfaction and 86% of consumers are willing to pay up to 25% more for a better customer experience.

Don’t forget that having enough seasonal help leads to shorter wait times and faster service; with faster service comes a quicker turnover rate of customers, which in turn leads to higher profits. Finally, offering seasonal help will help to give your full-time employees more flexibility in their schedules during the holidays/summer season. Keeping your regular help happy is crucial in retaining them during the months when you don’t need the seasonal help.

People remember their first job and they also remember if it was a good fit for them or a total disaster.  To ensure that you find yourself in a well-staffed, pleasant work environment this season take a look at a few pieces of advice to help secure the best employees for your restaurant.

  1. Know What You Want

The best way to start your search is with a solid idea of who you need and what you want them to do. Be clear on the responsibilities of the position. Are you looking for previous experience in the industry? Or are you willing to train them completely? Something to keep in mind is that you can always train someone but you cannot adjust their personality to fit your business or to mesh well with your current employees. You want quality over quantity. A few characteristics to be on the lookout for are:

  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Great personality
  • Good customers service
  • Smile, make eye contact, communicate well
  • fits with your full time staff
  • Don’t have a lot of prior commitments
  • Don’t need a lot of time off
  1. Revisit Job Descriptions

It can be tempting to reuse the job descriptions that you created in years previous but don’t. Check your descriptions and requirements for accuracy before posting anywhere. Oftentimes, jobs change over time and you don’t realize how much until the needs aren’t met. Ask any employees currently performing that job for a list of their duties and requirements so you can accurately present the position and reach the best candidates.

  1. Promote the Benefits

Attract the best candidates and convince them that your establishment is a good fit for them by advocating the best parts of your workplace. Is it a fun place to work? Do you offer a discount on meals? Are you willing to work around vacation schedules? Mention perks like that in your job postings or during the interview process to show good candidates why they should choose your business over another. Most potential employees have put in applications to multiple businesses in hopes of being sure to secure a position, so what you put in your description can make all the difference.

  1. Know Your Audience

Who are you looking for and what do they like? If you are looking to hire millennials and iGens in your restaurant maybe look more towards social media to promote you job listings. Chances are that if someone is already a patron of your business and following your social accounts they might be interested in working with you. Especially if you offer a discount on meals! If you are considering hiring retirees perhaps go a more traditional route and put an ad for your job openings in the local paper or on the radio. Also, don’t count out the tried but true tactic of putting a “Now Hiring” sign in your window.

  1. Start Early

It may feel like you have all the time in the world, but summer will be upon you before you even know it. To be safe, start your recruiting process a solid two months in advance of when you need your seasonal employees to start. Keep in mind that your core demographic such as college students and high school students are going to need to make it through finals before they can even think about starting to train in your restaurant.

Starting early will also help you to get the process going before the summer hiring frenzy begins. A lot of college students put in applications during their spring breaks in hopes of securing a summer job.

When hiring, fill in your key positions first. That way you know that you will be covered and not scrambling at the last minute to find only a decent fit for a position that is crucial to your operations.

  1. Be Consistent

As it is with food, consistency is paramount. Make sure that your recruiting processes are consistent across the board. If all employees are required to go through the same experiences you have a better chance of a consistent work environment. Employees also spend a lot of time together talking; you don’t want them to be chatting and realize you hired the neighbor kid on the spot and made them go through 3 different interviews. Save time by having a process in place for interviewing, call backs, and onboarding so that the process can be smooth and efficient.

  1. Mind the Gaps

Once you do have your staff hired, be sure to have a system of checks and balances to track their progress and watch for red flags. Some people can seem like a perfect fit during the interview process but once they join the team they just don’t fit into the natural workflow. It’s not ideal but it does happen and it’s better to know that earlier rather than later when you can’t do much to amend the damage.

With the busier and more lucrative months comes a higher workload level and seasonal hires can be a great way to help distribute the demand. Even though they are temporary employees it is still important to determine if they are a good fit for your business. By starting early, knowing what you want, advertising your openings, and having a consistent hiring process you are on your way to finding seasonal employees that have the potential to mesh with your business and maybe even become a returning and trusted employee. Best of luck in your search!

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Tips for Hiring Millennials and iGens in Your Restaurant

Millenial server training with chef in a restaurant

Have you caught yourself saying it yet? Those words that made you cringe when your parents or grandparents used to say them to you? “I just don’t understand kids these days! When I was your age, I…” I’m sure you can finish that sentence. As the generations below us keep getting younger, we’ll likely catch ourselves saying those words that we dreaded hearing as a youngster, if you haven’t already.

In the restaurant industry, owners are experiencing a similar situation. They are trying to make sense of the generation that is now taking over the workforce as well as preparing for the generation that is currently and will soon be making their entrance. We’re referring to Generation Y, also known as the millennials, and the new and upcoming Generation Z.

Despite the comments that you may have caught yourself saying about these two generations already, they are both intriguing groups of people who have so much to offer the restaurant industry. They may have a different focus, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make great employees. Let’s explore the characteristics of these two generations followed by some tips that you can use when employing these young workers in your restaurant.

Generation Y or “Millennials”

Born between the early 1980s to the early 2000s, millennials are the most diverse generation ever. Generalizations surrounding this group typically include terms like entitled, optimistic, hungry, digital, social, global, and inpatient. They are tech savvy achievers labeled as wanting to be their own boss, have flexible schedules, but most importantly, doing work that matters. They are known as the most likely generation to volunteer and give back specifically for personal growth. They are engaged when allowed to work independently, when their creative input is valued, and when their thoughts and ideas are heard. Millennials are motivated when they see advancement in their positions as well as when they are given opportunities to earn more money. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is expected that by 2020, millennials will make up almost 50 percent of the US workforce.

Tips for employing Millennials

With their presence in our industry now, here are some tips that restaurant owners can use when employing millennials:

  • Best practices in hiring: tell your story about who you are and what’s important to your company, emphasize the culture within your restaurant, and maintain a strong presence on the internet as well as on social media. All of these practices will pull this generation in to want to work for you because of the connection that you have created with them.
  • Offer applications online.  These tech savvy individuals prefer to do everything online, even completing an application. Have a form they can complete and submit anytime from anywhere. Paired with this, be sure to offer a notification within 24 hours that you have received their materials. You can even ask the interviewee to submit a video application with specific questions they would need to answer like “why do you want to work for our restaurant” or “what makes you stand out.”
  • Interviews should stress what it takes for them to be successful in the position that they are interviewing for. If there is room for advancement, it is important to mention that. It would be helpful to use several decision makers during this process with open ended questions that offer the interviewee the opportunity to be heard by many.
  • When training, it’s important to know that in general, everyone learns differently. Embrace this idea, but make it interactive using creative avenues to appeal to this group. Ideas include using photo and video for training from your website, pairing the trainee with a trainer for mentoring, and/or demonstrating a task followed by the employee doing the task for the most impact.
  • Tips to help them succeed once they work for you:
    • Always encourage employee engagement and feedback. Millennials want to be heard and for you to really hear and understand what they have to say. Engage in conversations surrounding these topics in addition to giving them constructive feedback so that they can be successful in their position.
    • Offer flexibility with scheduling. You likely have a set schedule that you need employee coverage. Consider offering split shifts or alternate schedules to appeal to this crew.
    • Give employees more varied job responsibilities. Hiring an employee for a set position that you need to fill ensures that those tasks are covered. But, how about flipping around roles or changing things up? Can you distribute tasks in a different way to offer more variety on the job? Consider these things only if it does not complicate the routine and flow of your business.
    • Embrace social causes. This is the generation that cares for others. If you support any charities or give to any causes, communicate that. Not only to your employees, but also to your customer base.
    • Discuss short and long term goals. Millennials want to do well in the jobs they are working in now. But, they are also interested in the future. Be clear about any advancement opportunities and what it will take to reach those positions.

Generation Z or “iGens”

Generation Z is also known as “iGens”, a name they have gained through alignment with Apple products. Since this group hasn’t known anything other than a world with technology, their nickname seems appropriate. Born between the mid or late 1990s or from the mid 2000s to the present day, Generation Z is often labeled with terms like high maintenance, realistic, loyal, energetic, creative, curious, global, entrepreneurial, and technologically proficient. They are also seen as highly connected because they are the generation raised early on with smart phones, touchscreens, and tablets. They create the trends and share it on all of their social media accounts while loving that they have information at their fingertips. Because of this, instant gratification is extremely important.

Tips for employing iGens

Since Generation Z is the future of your restaurant, here are some tips that you can use when employing these young workers:

  • Best practices in hiring: incorporate technology, embrace a mentoring program, be quick to respond to their needs, and listen to their ideas.   All of these practices will pull this generation in to work for you because of the importance these play in their lives.
  • Go mobile. This group likely has a phone attached to their hip for instant…anything. If they can go to your website and find out what you’re all about from their phone, they will. If they can find an application on your website from their phone, they will.   If they can pull up that application and submit it to your restaurant from their phone, they will. Anything and everything can be done from a phone so it’s important for your restaurant to have a mobile presence to appeal to this group.
  • Interviewing practices are the same for this group as with Millennials above. But another technique to try is behavioral interviewing. This type of interviewing simply involves asking applicants to tell you a story and then listen to what they have to say. For example, ask them to “tell me a story about a time you solved a problem at work.” Or, “tell me a story about a conflict you had with another employee at work. How did you solve it?” You may already be using this action based interview strategy but if not, it can really tell you a lot about what kind of employee the individual will be.
  • Training should encompass multiple strategies. One of the most important is implementing mentoring programs. Pairing each new employee with a mentor will provide access to how the business is run as well as ongoing assistance for all those questions that come up in the first few months on the job. It’s also a great tool to encourage communication and build a sense of community within the culture of your business. Another strategy to offer is providing visuals with training. Visual representations and teachings show the step by step process of how something is done. Visuals will clarify any questions with your processes and when done with a mentor, can prove to be very effective. Both of these strategies are important to include in your training program to motivate this group of driven workers.
  • Other general tips that will be help them succeed:
    • Listen to these trend setters. If you want to make an impression on this generation because they represent the bulk of your customer base, ask your employees who are members of it. They are creative and know how to get the word out. Take the time to listen to what they have to say so that you can implement their ideas and make a statement. Not only will this help with your current customer base but it may attract some new customers.
    • Use rewards. This generation is used to getting a ribbon, trophy, or some kind of reward for everything that they do. Implementing an employee reward program that offers recognition will be motivating especially when you change it often.

Generation Y and Z are filling up the workforce that currently represents restaurant employees. As owners and managers of these establishments, learning more about how to motivate and retain these individuals are key to running a successful business in today’s world. With some adaptations and changes in the way we hire, train, and employ these future leaders, we’ll be saying “when I was your age, I….” much less than our parent

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