How 4 Restaurant Managers Hire, Train, and Retain

How 4 Restaurant Managers Hire, Train, and Retain
Samantha Fung

By Samantha Fung

Team management is a top concern for restaurants these days. 37% of restaurant operators say employee retention and productivity is one of their priorities for 2023. One in five operators report reducing labor costs as one of their main goals.

Given the circumstances, restaurants are looking for better ways to attract and retain good talent. The pandemic pushed a lot of people out of the industry. This new generation of workers has different values and expectations than the last.

As part of our Serving What's Next webinar series, four restaurant managers shared their approach to hiring, training, and retaining.

Hire the right people, especially managers

When you're short-staffed and in the weeds, it's tempting to hire the first person that walks in the door. But throwing bodies at the problem doesn't solve it. Ellesse Piper is the Operations Manager at 7 Leaves Cafe, a QSR franchise with 40+ locations in 4 states. She knows while it takes time to hire the right people, it ultimately leads to less turnover.

"Anytime we have to rush hire, we're setting everybody up for failure," says Piper.

For 7 Leaves Cafe, the right candidate embodies their core value: Be the change you wish to see in the world. They want employees who can make an impact on the team and the brand.

This is especially true for store managers, as their influence on the team is much larger. Piper admits that it's harder to hire for skilled positions, like management and BOH. That's why they intentionally spend a lot of energy and effort on store managers.

"[Store managers] are the most important people in our company because they're the ones that are impacting between 20 to 60 team members...Their job is more important than mine," says Piper.

Good people know good people. 7 Leaves Cafe uses a referral hiring program. Their weekly internal newsletter reminds employees of open job postings. A team member gets an incentive if the person they referred gets hired. This way, 7 Leaves finds staff who know the culture and who are excited to work for them.

Quote about hiring from Operations Manager at 7 Leaves Cafe

Invest in onboarding and training

Once you find a candidate who ticks all the boxes, you want to get them up to speed as soon as possible. The faster you collect their info and paperwork, the more you keep them engaged.

"The onboarding piece is probably the biggest piece for me in making sure that you're welcoming someone into the company on the right foot and making them want to stay and be invested in you," says Piper.

7 Leaves Cafe is still improving their onboarding process. Their perfect scenario is that the store manager acts as the main point of contact for new hires. Ideally, the same manager would do the interview, onboarding, orientation, and first day of training with that team member.

The reality is that sometimes managers have to stop orientation to cover for a no-show. Or sometimes they don't know about the new employee until they show up for training.

For a lot of 7 Leaves staff, it's their first time entering the workforce. The brand realizes how crucial onboarding is for employees to succeed in their current and future roles.

"We don't wanna be that company that's setting someone up for failure, where they think just standing there and being rude to someone or being unproductive is the norm. And it can carry on into the rest of their career," says Piper.

Roots Natural Kitchen serves grain bowls and salads across 11 locations and 5 states. During orientation, they dig deep into what employees want from the job. Are they just looking for a paycheck or do they want to move up? If they're great with people but don't want to manage them, becoming a trainer may be the right route.

Make compensation clear

Since Roots' leadership team realizes that some people are happy to stay where they are, their compensation structure recognizes tenure. Staff can also increase their compensation by cross-training on different positions.

"Laying out clear ways that people can increase their compensation is sometimes the simplest way to show people that you do value them. Like investing time into development and their own career," says Haley Lieberman, Senior Operations Manager at Roots.

Quote about clear compensation from Senior Operations Manager at Roots Natural Kitchen

bartaco takes this one step further. Before the pandemic, wages at bartaco operated the same as most restaurants in America. Front of house staff earned the subminimum wage and the kitchen earned a flat hourly rate. When dine-in shut down, staff stopped getting tips. bartaco was forced to reassess their wage model, and they implemented a new structure: Everyone earns a living wage and everyone splits the tip pool equally.

"It's like a big team project every single day. So everybody's on the same team and making the same amount of money," says Angela Burke, General Manager at bartaco.

Career pathing for bartaco staff
Clear career paths for bartaco front-of-house staff

Leadership positions at bartaco earn salaries with clear career paths and compensation ranges. Burke says 7shifts' labor budget tool has been a big help for scheduling hourly and salaried employees.

Offer incentives

Bonuses are additional forms of compensation that staff can earn for high performance. The Lancaster Smokehouse in Kitchener, Ontario offers incentives at multiple levels. Managers and supervisors have a tiered bonus system if they meet or exceed budgets. They also award staff free meals for helping fellow servers or selling specials.

"It's a way of being like, 'Hey, you're responsible for this certain area. You're being rewarded for hard work there. If you go above and beyond, you get creative and you can really drive sales, so it's beneficial to both parties, then you'll be rewarded.' And we found that that works really well, especially in our catering department," says Brittany Grande, General Manager at The Lancaster Smokehouse.

Roots Natural Kitchen gives GMs a discretionary bonus budget that they can dole out to employees who go above and beyond. Stores also get a quarterly budget for social activities to show staff appreciation.

Collect feedback from staff

Only your employees can tell you if they are happy with hiring, training, and compensation. That's why Roots sends an anonymous survey twice a year to assess how they are doing as employers.

It consists of 8 questions where team members rate if they agree with certain statements. For example, 'I feel I'm given the tools to succeed at my job' and 'I'm proud to work at Roots'. Taking a pulse on employee sentiment helps Roots discover why employees might quit.

Quote about engaged employees from General Manager at The Lancaster Smokehouse

"If your employees feel their managers or their coworkers aren't setting them up to succeed, generally that person might not be so likely to stick around. And chances are there's actually something very tangible you can do to actually reach out to that employee and improve that," says Haley Lieberman.

To encourage responses, they reward the store with the most survey engagement.

Collecting feedback can be as simple as asking the staff on shift. Lancaster Smokehouse checks in with their team during pre-shift meetings. The 7shifts app also sends a prompt after a shift so employees can give feedback and report issues.

Put your employees first

To manage a team well, you should focus on all stages of the employee lifecycle. Hiring, training, and compensation affect retention. Retention can also impact hiring if employees refer friends or leave Glassdoor reviews.

When you have strong staff who want to stick around, it improves all areas of the business. Brittany Grande sums it up nicely as she says:

"When you have engaged employees working at the front of your restaurant, your customers notice that and they come back time and time again."

7shifts is a restaurant team management platform that supports all stages of the employee lifecycle. From hiring and training to scheduling, paying, and retaining. Get started free today.

Watch the full recordings here:

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Samantha Fung
Samantha Fung

I've taken orders at a drive-thru and a golf course. I've quit a Thai restaurant after 3 shifts. I've done marketing at a Tex-Mex franchise. Now I create content about the restaurant industry.