[Study] The Great Resignation is here. What 3,700 Restaurant Employees are Looking For To Stay Engaged

[Study] The Great Resignation is here. What 3,700 Restaurant Employees are Looking For To Stay Engaged
D. J. Costantino

By D. J. Costantino

Executive Summary

  • Restaurant Workers Say Sanitation Is Important for their Satisfaction

    46.5% of employees rated sanitation efforts of ultra-high importance, with an average score of 4.1 out of 5.

  • Employees aren't satisfied with their current wages

    Nearly half of all restaurant employees are hovering in the range of $11-15/hour (45.8%). 73% of those employees still receive tips. It's the main factor behind why restaurant employees quit their jobs, with 34.6% citing wages as a reason for leaving a job, or a reason for why they are planning to.

  • Employees want schedule flexibility

    56% of employees say that flexible scheduling would greatly affect their happiness at work.

Restaurants, among the hardest hit industries during the pandemic, are in the midst of a labor shortage. Employees who left during the pandemic aren't coming back, and it's increasingly difficult to find people to work in restaurants.

As we look to hire new team members and keep existing ones, restaurant operators have to ask them what they're looking for—because what we thought it was clearly hasn't been enough to keep restaurant employees around.

So, what affects restaurant employees satisfaction in the workplace the most, right now? Why do they decide to leave jobs? And what can operators do more (or less) of to make hospitality into a long-term and viable career?

We could assume that we know based on our own experiences. Or we can ask employees directly—so we did.

Here's what 3700 dedicated restaurant industry workers had to say:

The State of Restaurant Employee Satisfaction in 2021

In broad strokes, restaurant employees are fairly satisfied. Employees ranked their happiness on a 1-10 scale, with an average of 7.8. This hasn't changed significantly since our last survey in 2019—only dropping by 0.2 points (which can be explained by a sample size twice that of 2019).

Here's what one anonymous employee had to say:

“I have huge respect for my coworkers and managers for the extra efforts they have put into ensuring our guests are safe and comfortable. The pandemic has made me appreciate (even more) how special dining and going out with your loved ones can be. I have genuinely enjoyed returning to my serving job because people are so thankful to be back out having fun.”

What Affects Employee Satisfaction the Most

Across all roles, employees report that the areas that are most impactful when it comes to workplace satisfaction are:

Their team—Coworkers, Managers, and Communication

Despite the social distancing requirements of the two years, team camaraderie remains strong. Given that many restaurant employees are around the same age, too, helps foster a sense of community. The people that restaurant workers spend their most time with have a huge effect on whether someone is satisfied at work.

  • Your coworkers 4.16/5,
  • Your managers 4.10/5
  • Communication 4/5
What affects employee satisfaction the most

“Working in a restaurant felt unstable when the pandemic started, but after quarantine and reopening, my coworkers and I quickly realized how valuable we are to the community. People will always go out to eat. They love eating different foods. They want to celebrate publicly. They desire real human interaction.”

Despite what a vocal minority may want you to believe, restaurant employees show strong signs of happiness and satisfaction with their management teams, too.

Communication is a huge part of this—and it has a huge impact on employee satisfaction. With an average of 4 out of 5, 72% percent of employees ranked team communication as important to their satisfaction at work.

2% percent of employees ranked team communication as important to their satisfaction at work.

As for communication styles, restaurant workers overwhelmingly prefer text (70%) and chat (54.3%) as their method of communication. Social media messaging (Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, etc.), fell towards the bottom of the list— with less than 10% of employees preferring the DM to getting in touch.

Restaurant communication styles ranked by popularity.

Sanitation efforts

Sanitation has always been significant for restaurants, but the events of the last two years have put it under a microscope. Masks, disinfectants, more frequent cleaning, and protection measures against the coronavirus have been top of mind for employees and diners. Three quarters of respondents rated sanitation efforts as a 4 or 5 out of five for how it impacts their satisfaction at work.

Employees Are Leaving. Why?

Despite an overall sense of satisfaction, employees are still leaving restaurant jobs at a higher than usual rate. 60% of restaurant employees surveyed have left a restaurant job in their careers' before, and some are planning to make moves sooner rather than later—Nearly one-third of employees don't see themselves working in the same place this time next year.

one-third of employees don't see themselves working in the same place this time next year.

Call it the impact of the “Great Resignation,” but we can't see what needs to be done without understanding what is driving restaurant employees to leave. The labor market is getting competitive—and restaurants have to adapt to what employees want. Of employees surveyed who have quit a restaurant job or are planning to in the next 3 months, these are the contributing factors:

For employees under the age of 25, the top listed reasons why they've left jobs (or are planning to) are wages, schedule, and school.

For those outside of school ages, the first two factors—wages and schedule—remain constant. Manager recognition takes the place of school.

Top reasons restaurant employees leave their jobs.

Let's take a closer look at these factors:

Wages and Pay

Nearly half of all restaurant employees are hovering in the range of $11-15/hour (45.8%). 73% of those employees still receive tips.

Wages and Pay breakdown for restaurant workers.

Schedule Flexibility

One of the best parts about working in the restaurant industry is how flexible the schedule can be. It enables employees to work while in school, raising families, or other life circumstances. On the employer side, however, this flexibility can be wielded in a way that has a negative effect on an employee's lifestyle. Many times, it's unavoidable as people graduate and move on—but that doesn't mean school-age employees should be treated as expendable employees. There are almost certainly points when a little schedule flexibility is the difference between them staying or finding somewhere that will meet their needs.

School, or other life circumstances

For those that call into the 16-25 demographic, we can expect many to be in high school or college. Seasonal breaks, internships, and ever-shifting class and club schedules have an impact on a young employee's availability. While we can do our best to make the schedule work for everybody, circumstances change. Things can only be moved around so much. But when they can be, employees' happiness increases.

An engaged, young group of workers has been the bedrock of the hospitality industry for decades. It's important to remember this as a strategy to effectively retain team members going forward.

Manager Recognition

While wages and schedules are both points of dissatisfaction across all age groups, manager recognition is a point of contention for the older set of hospitality workers aged 25 and above. By this point, many in that demographic may have a career in the business. This is where the dissatisfaction with manager recognition comes—and why it may drive those seeking a solid career away. As for what kinds of manager recognition—more on that below.

Has the pandemic affected how employees view hospitality careers?

It would be hard to talk to restaurant employees without addressing the elephant in the room: the pandemic. The industry has been hit harder than most, and has had far-reaching effects.

Despite this, more than half of respondents stated that the pandemic has had a neutral impact on their job happiness—meaning that we can't attribute everything to pandemic-related changes. As evidenced by our 2019 employee survey, a lot of what employees want in 2022 has been brewing for a while.

Anecdotally, the pandemic has cast a cloud over job security. The result of mandatory lockdowns and closures has left employees unsure of hospitality as a career choice. Here's what employees are saying:

What Will Make Restaurant Employees Happier in 2022?

Pay increase

It should come as no surprise, but a pay increase is the item that survey participants ranked as #1 for what would make them feel more engaged at work. Across the board, less than a fifth of employees surveyed said they made more than $16 dollars an hour—which is about in line with the median living wage in the USA. This means close to half of all restaurant employees are either at the line or below it.

Here's what employees are saying:

But we are seeing signs in the market that some restaurants are raising wages far beyond $16 an hour. In New York City, one of the most expensive places in the country to live, Amanda Cohen raised the minimum wage at her restaurant, Dirt Candy, to $25 an hour.

Some workers are seeing low wages becoming less common:

“Restaurants paying low wages to hard-working individuals has changed. I feel more appreciated now that good workers are hard to come by.”

When it comes to manager recognition, too, a whopping 69.5% of respondents said they'd like for that to come in the form of paid bonuses.

Pay Increase affect on job satisfaction.

Promotions

Next on the list of what would improve employee engagement the most is promotions. While our above data shows that employees are, for the most part, satisfied with their role and tasks—that doesn't mean a promotion wouldn't be welcome. Promotions are a way to hit two of the things employees are looking for: higher wages and more manager recognition.

A promotion is an excellent signifier that a manager recognizes the work an employee does, and that they're trusted to lead in some capacity. More responsibilities come with a pay raise, too, which is another employee desire.

In fact, our survey showed that 33% of respondents would like to see manager recognition come in the form of Promotions.

Effect of a job promotion on job happiness in restaurants.

While you certainly can't promote everybody, you can create a career path for everybody as your business grows. This can also go a long way in showing current and potential team members that a career in hospitality is possible.

Here's what one employee had to say:

“[The pandemic] showed people how much work has to be done on making this industry a more stable career option! People with tenured positions didn't feel that their incomes were secure”

More schedule flexibility

The last core tenet of what will increase employee engagement and happiness is a flexible schedule. It's already a strength of the industry. 56% of employees say that flexible scheduling would greatly affect their happiness at work.

More Schedule Flexibility

They don't want to worry if they'll get enough hours in a week, and be unable to balance their lives with time for themselves. It's important to ensure that employees are getting the flexibility they need.

7shifts own internal data shows that the average restaurant location has 4.5 shift swaps every week.

4.5 shift swaps every week.

One anonymous employee found the silver lining in flexible scheduling, even through a pandemic:

“Made me love the flexible scheduling even more - more time with family!!”

“It has been different with the pandemic working at any job. However, with this specific job as a server it hasn't been too much of a change because having a flexible and paying job is what I need at this point in time.”

What they aren't looking for

It's significant, too, to understand what employees aren't looking for as much.

  • More 1-on-1s and meetings with management, 2.97/5,
  • More training, 3.20/5
  • More team-building activities/events, 3.32/5
What they aren't looking for.

Focus on the right factors when it comes to your employees' satisfaction. Things like wages, promotions, and flexibility are table stakes - the rest are nice to have.

Closing Thoughts

One respondent summed up many of the feelings that the data shows:

“Prior to the pandemic, I worked a job and a half. (50-60 hours/week) In the mornings I would cook for a fine dining establishment and at night I would bartend.

Society as a whole underappreciates what the service industry does yet demands so much from the experience of going out.

Post-pandemic I'm no longer working more than 45 hours a week—and I think that the industry needs to change the expectations that they of have of workers. [We are looking for] Paid time off, health insurance, and living wages.”

Historically, the restaurant industry has failed to offer enough workers a flexible schedule, living wages, and paths for a career. The labor shortage and retention problems that we're seeing are a direct result of that. In order to continue in creating an industry where workers are happier and more willing to work than they are now, we must address where they say hospitality is falling short.

Appendices

Appendix A: Data Methodology

Data is taken from internal 7shifts employee engagement platform data from over 18,000 restaurant locations and 500,000 restaurant employees and users across the world, 90%+ from North America.

Employee data is taken from an anonymous survey of 3,800 restaurant workers in North America, both Canada and the United States, from November 12 to Dec 7, 2021.

Appendix B: The Restaurant Employee Persona

To understand what drives restaurant workplace engagement, we must understand who restaurant workers are. This survey excludes managers, assistant managers, owners, and other leadership positions.

The restaurant industry still skews very young—nearly half of all respondents were between the ages of 15 and 25.

Of older respondents, 16.2% percent are under 30, and a third older than 30.

This puts a majority of restaurant employees squarely into Gen-Z (and the tail end of the younger Millennial generation. Many people in this age range are currently attending high school and college.

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D. J. Costantino
D. J. Costantino

Hi! I'm D.J., 7shifts' resident Content Writer. I come from a family of chefs and a background in food journalism. I'm always looking for ways to help make the restaurant industry better!