How Restaurants Reverse Turnover Rates with These 4 Scheduling Strategies

How Restaurants Reverse Turnover Rates with These 4 Scheduling Strategies
Mehek Seyid

By Mehek Seyid

Recruit, train, employ, lose, repeat.

If this cycle sounds even a little bit familiar to you, you know about the pain turnover inflicts on running a restaurant: the process and rate of losing and replacing an employee.

Unlike other industries, restaurant employees interact with customers in often short-term, high-pressure, demanding time periods. Staff and managers alike need to provide service that reflects well on the business and satisfies customers. Keeping kitchen orders—and employee morale—up, means finding ways to keep employees happy, and helping them grow.

Increasing compensation is one way to motivate employees. But it may not be the most sustainable, scalable or effective over the long term.

In this post, we'll review another method to keeping your employees engaged and retained: scheduling.

Table of Contents

Understanding the Restaurant Turnover Rate

Between 2013 to 2015, restaurant turnover rates increased by nearly 10%, and have since remained around 70% for 3 years. Employee turnover likely contributes to the 59% of restaurant owners who say that staffing is one of their biggest challenges. This problem isn’t going anywhere, and neither is the demand for more employees: the National Restaurant Association projects that there will be 1.6 million new restaurant jobs in the United States by 2028.

With the tail-end of millennials and Generation Z entering the workforce comes new sets of employee needs for positive culture and relationships, as well as training and development opportunities. To address these changes, restaurant owners need to start making changes to their business operations so that they can improve retention and stay competitive.

First in, first out: it’s time to exchange some old habits like paper-based administration and staying strictly customer-focused, for some new strategies, like adopting technology into your restaurant’s operations and embracing seasonality to stay ahead of turnover trends.

Getting out of your comfort zone can feel pretty scary. But if you make small changes to the way you run your business, you can guarantee that every change will help you learn how to keep your business thriving, your employees invested in their work, and your customers happy.

Here’s a small but mighty step you can take to keep your restaurant bustling: scheduling.

Prioritizing effective scheduling can improve your staff retention, free up more of your time, and help deliver the exceptional experience that you customer love. Let’s explore why scheduling is one of the best ways to overcome high staff turnover, and how using an app can have an immediate impact.

What Influences Employee Turnover in the Restaurant Industry?

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You probably follow a short but important checklist to help you get new employees on your team, fast. You’re looking for enthusiastic, energetic people who can start right away and have flexible availability. They can stay on their feet for long hours, and are willing to do a bit of everything, from bussing tables to keeping the washrooms tidy, because they want to learn.

So, who exactly are these people?

7shifts recent survey of over 1600 restaurant employees across North America shows that 31% of restaurant employees are between 16 to 20 years old, and another 31% are between the ages of 21 to 25. And only 5.8% of employees are over 40 years old.

Teenagers and young adults are the people that keep your business running, but they are probably also the ones that regularly come and go. It is easier to find new employees amongst this age group because they are readily available, and if needed, can easily be replaced.

But here’s the thing: if you still approach your hiring practices and management style based on short-term retention, it will always be easier to find employees than it is to keep them. Take a closer look at some of the major factors that influence an employee to leave, and listen closely to what today’s generation want from their workplace. In the space between, you can build a new retention cycle by creating long-term, fulfilling relationships with your employees.

How Seasonality Shapes Your Staff

Seasonality contributes to staff turnover rates because restaurants see a spike in customers and require more staff to provide service for a short period of time. Young people are also the biggest talent pool during these seasonal periods, since many seasonal employees are students.

In 2017, 34% of all teenagers employed in the summer worked in the restaurant and accommodation industry. This group makes up 30% of all seasonal roles across the industry as well.

While many will eventually choose school over keeping their job, you should still treat these individuals the same way you would treat your long-term employees. For example, if you hire a dishwasher for the summer who spends a lot of time in the BOH, give them the opportunity to shadow FOH staff and interact with customers directly, even if they’re just checking in to see how guests are doing. You can help them find purpose in the challenges of dishwashing by showing how it leads to roles with more responsibility and increased earning potential.

Be a fortune teller. Invest time and interest in seasonal employees by training them for future opportunities. If you can create positive work experiences, staff will leave with fond memories and better skills. When the next patio season approaches, you will have a readily available, trained group of employees who will want to work for you again.

You’ll spend less on training and onboarding, have a strong team from the get-go that provides service that keeps customers coming back all summer long. You don’t need a crystal ball to see the fortune in that.

Engaged Managers Get Engaged Employees

You can’t talk about workplace culture without talking about employee engagement: the idea that employees can be emotionally committed to their work and the business they support. To create a culture worth investing in—and to get employees engaged—you need to first be engaged yourself.

Employee engagement directly reflects the managerial style and behaviour of their supervisors. Studies show that employees supervised by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged with their own work.

The challenges of day-to-day operations combined with the pressure of business decision-making can make your role overwhelming, stressful, and leave you feeling less committed. Afterall, with great power, comes great responsibility—and probably a few headaches, too. If you are feeling disengaged, you might be a part of the reason why employees want to leave your business.

There are a few ways that you can stay engaged with your work and positively influence your employees. On a higher level, map out business goals that tie every part of your operations together with a common purpose. Be transparent, and share how business decisions around scheduling, menu items, and even social media relate back to these goals. Employees want to understand how the business works, and will feel encouraged to make informed decisions and contributions once they know the bigger picture.

Open communication helps create a loop of constant feedback, builds trust and empathy, and results in more transparency. Make those daunting monthly performance reviews and downtime during shifts spaces where staff can express themselves honestly. Learn about their professional goals, strike up conversations about their lives outside of the restaurant, and give them the chance to give you feedback.

This way, you can make more informed decisions about scheduling, create learning and development opportunities, and improve your management style. Your employees will feel valued, supported, and encouraged to speak and make a difference.

How Can You Stay Engaged with Your Work and Your Staff?

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Staying engaged with your work sometimes comes at a cost. You end up spending a lot of time pushing papers, and lose opportunities to directly engage your staff. Functions like scheduling are difficult because they’re still manual, and tedious. You need a little bit of that je ne sais quoi, and a lot of patience, to sort through requests and accommodations on a weekly basis.

When you’re tied up in dotting i’s and crossing t’s, you resort to the short-term planning that got you into this messy cycle. This leaves you unorganized, and unable to anticipate and prepare for unexpected changes with demand or your staff. You may even miscalculate your staffing needs, thanks to the little hiccup in your programming—also known as human error. Instead of focusing on keeping your team and your customers happy, you might find yourself just trying to make it through the day, until you can finally flip the ‘Close’ sign on your door.

Offering flexibility helps attract and retain talent. Without it, you’re fostering a dissatisfied staff who won’t perform as well. Their shifts will feel more like an obligation than an opportunity because they’ll be tired and overwhelmed themselves. They will become frustrated by the lack of respect, and might even turn to other job opportunities like ones in the gig economy to fulfill their needs.

If you’re focusing on scheduling, a time-consuming process, instead of building relationships and training staff, you may end up with an unmotivated staff that feels unprepared to serve your customers. Nearly 25% of employees in the restaurant industry want to get a promotion and progress in their careers, but how can they achieve that goal if they don’t receive the right support? You need to avoid the trickle effect of disengagement by transforming certain operations to be less bureaucratic, and more efficient processes. That way you and your staff can feel less like robots, and more like the motivated, excited people that you are.

The Costs of Turnover for Your Business

Keeping the wheels greased and the business moving is no easy task. There is high turnover across the industry, and a closer look isn’t much more hopeful: According to National Restaurant News, FOH turnover is as high as 150%, and managerial turnover is anywhere from 40 to 50%.

If you’re tossing around in a cycle of losing staff, operating understaffed, recruiting and training new staff, only to eventually lose staff again, then you’re just a part of the new normal.

Your administrative work, from paperwork to the endless loop of recruitment, onboarding, and training new employees, is time-consuming and expensive: losing one FOH employee can cost you up to nearly $6000.

Balancing the frequent changes in staff, scheduling, expenses, and associated work leads to instability in the workplace. With employees coming and going, it makes it difficult to build rapport with and between your team members, creating distrust, low morale, and poor customer experiences. The high costs of losing an employee, and how often it happens, puts a strain on your profits and ability to invest elsewhere in the business. This leaves you in a constant state of flux, negatively impacting service quality, wait times, customer experiences, and revenue, and leaving little to no room to develop your employees or grow your business.

There’s only one way to break the cycle: stop thinking about short-term decision-making. If every part of your business functions on weekly decisions, you won’t be able to create or sustain long-term growth. You need to change your operations to address the long-term needs of your staff (by investing in their skill development), business (changing your offering) , and customers (creating relationships through positive experiences) so that your restaurant can grow, one step at a time.

Some areas that you can improve, like your training programs, may take longer to change because they require more evaluation and resources. But other processes, like scheduling, can be changed a lot faster and will immediately improve your time management, employee engagement, and workplace culture. It’s all about throwing out those papers, embracing technology to make the transition, and creating new communication paths that encourage more conversations.

4 Scheduling Strategies to Combat Restaurant Turnover

1. Effective Scheduling Can Improve Employee Retention

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There are some people who enjoy micro-managing details and planning out every minute of a schedule to a tee. And then, there’s everyone else.

Love it or hate it, good, efficient scheduling identifies what resources you need to support your customers and operations, while acknowledging the availability, challenges, and external responsibilities employees bear in their lives. This makes employees feel respected, valued, and excited about work because they have the balance that they need to stay focused and fulfill their responsibilities when they’re on the clock.

If you have the right tool to change how you plan for your business and schedule your staff, you’re opening up new communication channels that directly and conveniently connect you to your team. It increases transparency and creates a positive, open culture, which helps engage and retain employees.

2. Proactive scheduling creates stability, security, and flexibility

Proactive scheduling is exactly like what it sounds like: scheduling ahead of time.

This trend is so important in the restaurant industry that now, cities are legally adopting the concept through predictive scheduling legislation. It basically suggests that you should organize schedules more than a week ahead, so that you can address the needs of the business and your employees.

This creates stability and provides flexibility for your employees. They can clearly separate their work life from their personal life, and balance the demands of both properly. If there are any schedule issues, you have time to adjust and avoid stressful curveballs that would otherwise send you spinning away from your staff.

Advance scheduling allows you to move away from the problematic, short-term scheduling that made it hard to invest in your employees. You can value their commitments and requests as much as they do, and create a positive, supportive environment where you can develop their skills and foster a loyal, dependable team. By creating balanced schedules, your staff feels engaged, motivated to help the team, and deliver the service that keeps customers happy and coming back.

3. Scheduling apps connect staff and management

Shifting your scheduling practices to a scheduling app is a sustainable way to improve your operations. You can stop printing, sorting, and wasting paper, and instead use a convenient system that your employees can easily access without ever stepping foot into the break room.

Scheduling apps also increase transparency. Everyone can easily evaluate how shift work is created and assigned throughout the team, know who they’re working with, and pick up additional work as needed.

Apps make starting and tracking conversations a lot easier for you and your team. There is a recorded history, which helps notes requests or special accommodations. It’s also a great feedback loop between you and employees, and eliminates coordination challenges between team members.

When there’s less work around organizing work, you can engage with larger strategies, goal setting, operation improvements, and other managerial responsibilities. At the same time, employees will have a better idea of what to expect from their shifts, allowing them to better prepare for work, collaborate with different peers, and learn.

4. Smart scheduling saves you time you can reinvest in your team

Whether you’re penciling in shifts or using Excel spreadsheets, scheduling is a tedious process. You have to pour over so many details that it’s easy to have a misstep. Backspace, delete, erase—at some point, you’re spending more time redoing weekly schedules than being out on the floor with your staff during the actual shifts.

Scheduling software helps reduce the time, stress, and human error involved in that process by connecting every step together in one place. It efficiently tidies up a broken communication chain of paper slips, side conversations, and phone calls, giving you your valuable time back.

Instead, you can spend that time with your staff and help guide their learning and development. You can strengthen your team by giving them more responsibilities, facilitating open communication through teamwork, and boosting morale through encouragement and constructive feedback.

Remember: you lead by example, and cultivate workplace culture by doing so. Use this newly available time to establish business objectives, engage in other functions like training, pursue your own professional development, improve communications, and connect with your customers. The more engaged that you are in your work, the more likely it is that your staff will follow in your footsteps. Keep them in the loop and involved in the business to improve your retention.

Combat High Turnover With Proactive Scheduling

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Turnover is a cyclical issue that impacts your restaurant staff from front to back, and eventually, your customers and revenue, too. It’s a consistently large problem for the restaurant industry, which means that you need to stop thinking about short-term fixes, and start pursuing long-term strategies and investments.

The workforce entering the restaurant industry today—a group of very enthusiastic, engaged Generation Z and millennial minds—have higher expectations for their employment experiences. Tapping into this young talent pool means appealing to their desire for growth, professional development, and making a tangible impact on the business. To attract these employees, you need to create a goal-oriented workplace that encourages skill development, transparency, and open communication. But if you want to keep these capable, talented individuals on your team, you need to start investing your time into learning about them as more than just employees, but as humans too.

Lowering turnover rates starts with you. The more engaged that you are with your work, the more likely that your employees are engaged too. But becoming an engaged manager and leader who can support their staff means changing the way your business operates.

A scheduling app, paired with proactive scheduling, is a great combination for you to use. By planning ahead and using an app to organize schedules, you can properly staff your business and delight customers. At the same time, employees feel more stable and excited to come to a workplace that shares their value for work-life balance. This way, your business, and everyone who supports it, will be right on schedule for success.

Find the Right Scheduling App to Improve Your Turnover

Turnovers are flaky, messy, and gooey...wait. That might be a different kind of turnover. Either way, your scheduling process will be a lot neater if you push those papers away, get organized, and use a powerful scheduling software to help keep things on track for your employees, business, and customers.

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Mehek Seyid
Mehek Seyid

Mehek is a content producer based in Toronto who frequents the arts, entertainment, and tech spaces. That’s why her favourite hobby is finding the next great Netflix binge.