When you first start a restaurant, one area you need to pay careful attention to is the environment you create for your new staff. Your staff are the lifeblood of your restaurant. Without them, you’d struggle to make the business work. Everyone, from the waiter to the dishwasher, matters to your restaurant's success and has needs to consider.
A Word on Restaurant Employee Turnover Rates
It’s a well-known fact that the restaurant industry has very high turnover rates: in fact, 42% of front-of-house employees will leave within three months.¹ While you can’t completely obliterate high turnover in your restaurant, putting some energy toward creating a welcoming work environment that fosters a sense of community and accountability can go a long way toward keeping staff working hard for you, and sticking around longer.
1. Start with Training
It would seem like starting new hires off with a robust and in-depth training program would be a no-brainer, and yet 43% of restaurant owners don’t offer a training manual, and 52% don’t bother with safety training (!).² Maybe they don’t bother because they know they’ll be hiring replacements for these employees soon enough, but that’s a bit of a Catch 22: don’t bother training employees well, and they’ll leave.
Spending more time ensuring that each new hire, whether they’re destined for the kitchen or the patio, knows how to do their job inside and out can increase the odds that they’ll stick around longer.
If you take the time to create processes and procedures for each position, training will get easier. And having an employee handbook takes the pressure off of you to explain everything since the basics are covered in a handy reference book.
But to take training even further: consider creating online or mobile training resources that allow new hires to study and learn at their own pace and time. These tools can include quizzes to reinforce what they are required to know (ingredients in dishes, wine list, cocktails, etc.). Also, have new employees shadow established ones so they can watch how things are done and have an experienced colleague to ask questions.
Follow up with each new hire a week or so after they’ve started to see if they are comfortable with their role, or have any questions or concerns.
Technology is a real boon when it comes to creating a positive and productive work environment at your restaurant. For example: using a team communication tool means you don’t constantly have to update contact lists for everyone as staff comes and goes. If Ted is sick and needs someone to take his shift, he can post a message and find a taker.
And for that harried hostess who spends more time answering the phone than seating guests in the restaurant, invest in an automated answering service that can provide common answers to questions callers have (when do you close? What’s your happy hour special today?) and then route callers who want to make reservations to the best person.
For servers, using a point-of-sale system that includes order-taking apps for a tablet or phone can ensure that the kitchen staff never misinterprets a hand-scrawled order on a paper pad. The order gets input digitally and pops up on the kitchen’s screen. Closing out the ticket doesn’t require a degree in rocket science, either.
3. Be Like an Octopus
Restaurant owners and managers must be like an octopus and have their hands in every aspect of the business. That means knowing what’s going on day-to-day, from a late produce delivery to a squabble between two employees.
Employee engagement is of the utmost importance in your restaurant, and that means you need to know your staff well.³ Check in at least once a week for a five-minute chat (take them off the floor so they aren’t distracted by tables or tasks) so that you can take the pulse of each employee and understand whether he’s experiencing any obstacles that you can help clear.
Get to know them on a personal level, too. Knowing that Beth is working on her Accounting degree, you can cheer her on when she finally graduates (and hey, maybe offer her a promotion to handle the restaurant’s books!). Ask Jose about the baby that’s on the way. Showing a personal interest in your staff makes them feel like you care, which makes them want to work harder for you.
Even if you aren’t a chef, you also need to know what’s happening in the kitchen. Meet with your chef weekly to discuss changes to the menu, decide what needs to go on special so you don’t waste ingredients, and understand his vision for the future.
4. Consider Staff Like Family
There’s a reason many restaurants hold a “family meal” for the staff before a shift (beyond letting them sample the menu so they can make recommendations): it brings employees together to bond. To become a family.
When you spend 40+ hours a week with coworkers, you form an important connection. You learn one another’s rhythms, quirks, and habits. Sometimes that makes work easier, sometimes not. But from a manager’s perspective, this bond is essential for the success of your restaurant, so nurture it.
After closing up for the night, invite staff to stay for a drink at the bar (or go to a nearby bar for a change of environment). Hold team-building activities like escape rooms or hiking excursions to break away from work talk and get to know one another better.
Consider yourself the head of this family. Be available when an employee wants to talk, whether it’s to vent about a coworker, cry over a breakup, or share something she’s excited about. The way you treat your employees will guide them to how they treat one another, so be mindful of this fact.
5. Practice Asking for Feedback
It’s one thing to say you’ve got an open door policy, or that you are open to suggestions, but if you don’t actually act on it, employees will get the idea that you aren’t sincere.
Your staff interacts with customers more than you do, likely, and they may have ideas about how to improve customer relations. Or a busboy might have a great suggestion for a new dish. No idea is stupid. Be open to all, and act on ones that are in the best interest of the restaurant. You could even hold a contest to encourage staff to submit ideas, rewarding one employee a month with a gift card or day off for the best idea.
Listening to your staff, even if the feedback is about your management techniques, shows that you take them and their ideas seriously.
If you value your restaurant, you also value the people you hire. Give your staff a reason to feel invested in the success of your company, and you will thrive.