How to Reduce Employee Turnover in a Restaurant

How to Reduce Employee Turnover in a Restaurant
Ana Cvetkovic

By Ana Cvetkovic

Retaining employees is a major problem for the restaurant industry—with the annual employee turnover rate sitting at a staggering 73%, the average employee tenure is just one month and 26 days.

Because employees come and go so quickly, it’s natural for restaurateurs to feel like they have to make quick hiring decisions to avoid lapses in service and quality. However, hasty hiring is at the root of the turnover problem.

When you hire someone who doesn’t share your team’s values, no amount of training will make them engaged in their work. When values match, employee satisfaction increases and turnover decreases.

At 7shifts, we put our values front and center during the hiring process. We’re open about what we expect from candidates, and we integrate our core values into our interview questions and evaluation process.

So how do you find star talent that shares your restaurant’s values? Read on to find out.

The restaurant industry’s turnover problem

Between productivity loss and the resources spent on hiring and training a new employee, turnover costs restaurants $3,500 per employee. For a restaurant with 15 employees, that’s almost $40,000 down the drain each year just because of turnover.

Remember that 73% annual turnover rate in the restaurant industry? Unfortunately, this figure has increased sharply from 56% in 2010.

So what’s to blame for the restaurant industry’s high turnover rate? Several factors are at play here. According to our study on workplace happiness in the restaurant industry, some of the top reasons why restaurant workers are unhappy with their jobs include a lack of team-building activities, dissatisfaction with pay, and lack of recognition.

While these problems are simple to resolve, there is one factor that takes more introspection to fix: hiring the wrong people.

The solution to successful hiring, firing, and promoting is to follow a set of core values that define your company’s culture. According to Danny Meyer of New York’s Union Square Hospitality Group, “90% [of the battle] is hiring, 10% is training.”

The skills required to work in a restaurant aren’t rocket science. Work ethic and attitude, however, are innate and can’t be changed. When you find someone who shares your restaurant’s values, everything else falls into place.

Discover your restaurant’s values in five steps

There are five steps to uncovering your company’s values to help you define your culture and start hiring the right people. Here’s the tried and true formula we use at 7shifts.

1. Choose who to “clone”

If you had the capability to infinitely clone three people on your restaurant’s team, who would you choose? Consider the factors that are most important to your business and team:

  • Who makes customers the happiest?
  • Who brings in the highest tabs?
  • Who makes their team members smile?
  • Who’s most reliable to cover a last-minute shift?

If you need help, use your employee scheduling software to compare employee performance. With 7shifts, you can base these decisions on actual data by using the Engage dashboard to track qualities like "most eager" and "most reliable":

2. Identify your MVPs’ key traits

After you’ve selected your top performers, figure out what makes them so great at their jobs.

  • Are they team players?
  • Do they always have positive attitudes?
  • Are they passionate about the menu?

Determine your top performers’ key shared traits and write them down.

3. Get your team involved

Ask the people who you would clone to help you come up with admirable traits that their colleagues exhibit. Then, vote on the traits that you value the most as a team.

You can use a number of methods for this. The simplest would be to list traits on a whiteboard or notice in the back office and have your staff each choose their top three. If you're using 7shifts, you can send a team message out and have people vote in their replies.

Once you come up with your top list, rank these traits in order of importance to your restaurant.

4. Refine and define your values

When your list of company and team values is succinct, they’ll be more powerful and easier to remember. Condense ones that are repetitive (ex: team player and collaborative) and get to the true meaning of the values.

Next, make them action based. This exercise converts intangible traits into directions. For example, the trait “team player” would be converted to “helps team members.” “Customer-focused” becomes “puts the customer first.”

5. Company-wide roll out

Communication of your company values is the most important step in the entire process—if your company has values but only management knows about them, they won’t be followed.

Unveil your restaurant’s values in an all-staff meeting. Explain why they are important to drive the concepts home.

Instead of just reading a list of values to your team, why not create a game out of the presentation? Make staff guess the values, or have them put on skits to act them out. By turning the meeting into an interactive presentation, employees will be more engaged and will therefore memorize the values more easily.

Create t-shirts, stickers, pens, or mugs with your restaurant’s values on them to give out to employees. The more your team sees these values, the more they’ll embrace them.

After the all-staff meeting, make the new values easily accessible. Put them on posters in the break room and kitchen. Add them to the employee handbook. Share them in your employee communication tool.

Through a collaborative effort, you can develop your restaurant’s key values and the company’s culture in a matter of days.

How to incorporate values into your restaurant’s hiring process

Formalizing values helps your current employees adhere to company standards, but how can they help you hire new talent? When you incorporate your restaurant’s values into the hiring process, you’ll find people who perform better and are more likely to be engaged in their work. When employees are successful and engaged, they’ll be less likely to leave.a

At 7shifts, we put our company values at the forefront of our hiring process. “It’s important for us, as the company grows, to maintain what was so special about the culture our early employees put in place,” says Director of People & Culture, McKenzie Hamp. “Now, our core values absolutely inform what we’re looking for. For example, when we’re hiring for our Customer Success team, we’re actively looking for candidates who embody our core values of “Solve with Simplicity” and “Make Every Experience an 11”. If those qualities don’t shine from the get-go, we know it’s not the right fit.”

Here’s how to use values to find rockstar talent to add to your team.

1. Share your values in the job posting

Give job candidates insight into the company culture in your job listings. At 7shifts, we share our values on our careers page. This transparency helps us attract more of the right candidates and discourages some of the wrong candidates from applying.

2. Filter candidates

Before you know it, you’ll have a pile of applications in your hands and in your inbox. Sift out the candidates who are outrightly unqualified for the role.

If you require a cover letter, you can use it to determine whether or not a candidate is a good fit in terms of values. However, most of the value matching will happen in the next part of the process.

3. Screen for values

Once you’ve identified a select group of candidates you want to learn more about, conduct screening calls with them. Ask questions that will reveal whether or not the candidate shares your restaurant’s core values.

At 7shifts we value radical candor. We ask job candidates to tell us about a time when they screwed up really badly at work. We want to know how they dealt with it.

If an interviewee is frank, they’re a good fit for our culture. If they pretend that they’ve never made a mistake, they probably won’t be a good fit for our team.

4. Conduct in-person interviews

If a candidate passes the screening call, invite them to an in-person interview. Use the interview to gain more insight into the candidate’s values, experience, and potential.

The interview is also an opportunity to see how a candidate gets along with their potential team members.

5. Extend an offer

After you’ve found a job candidate who shares your restaurant’s values and gets along with the rest of the team, it’s time to make them a job offer and celebrate!

How to keep employees engaged after they’ve been hired

Hiring the right people is just one part of the turnover battle. Seventy percent of restaurant turnover comes from employees quitting (versus being fired), which is an indicator of low engagement at work. When you monitor engagement, you’ll be able to identify which employees are in danger of quitting and can prevent it from happening.

Employee engagement can be measured quantitatively and qualitatively. Examples of quantitative engagement measurements include seeing which employees come in on time the most consistently, which take the most sick days, which pick up the most shifts, etc. Engagement can be measured qualitatively by asking employees to evaluate how they felt about a shift using a tool like 7shifts.

So you’ve identified that several of your team members aren’t as engaged as the rest of their colleagues. Here are some tips for making them more interested in the workplace:

  • Get to know your team members outside of the restaurant. What are their hobbies and passions?
  • Incorporate employee hobbies into work. If a server is passionate about photography, can you find a way to incorporate that skill into his work?
  • Get employees involved beyond their roles. Is your restaurant unveiling a new cocktail menu? Make staff part of the process. Have them vote on new additions to the menu.
  • Recognize your teammates. Thirty-five percent of restaurant workers say that they don’t get enough kudos from management. Solving this problem could be as simple as complimenting your team for a job well done.

When team members share values and feel like management sees them as more than just workers, they’ll be happier at their workplace and therefore less likely to look for another opportunity.

Employee turnover is a huge problem for the restaurant industry. It drains resources and puts a strain on employees who are left to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, most restaurateurs think that they key to reducing turnover is hiring quickly and training a lot. However, the key to fixing this problem is hiring the right people from the outset.

When you find people who share your restaurant’s values, they’ll be more engaged at work, will perform better, will get along with team members, and will be less likely to leave.

Weed out the wrong candidates by identifying your restaurant’s core values. Look to your star team members for inspiration. Incorporate questions about your values into the hiring process. Keep employees happy after they’ve been hired by actively monitoring engagement. 7shifts makes this easy by allowing you to monitor employee tenure and Shift Feedback scores.

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Ana Cvetkovic
Ana Cvetkovic

Ana Cvetkovic is a freelance writer for 7shifts. She is also the CEO of BLOOM Digital Marketing, a creative marketing agency that helps the hospitality and tourism industries reach millennials online.