8 Reasons Why Restaurant Workers Quit (And How to Retain Them)

8 Reasons Why Restaurant Workers Quit (And How to Retain Them)
D. J. Costantino

By D. J. Costantino

We don't have to tell you that the restaurant industry has a turnover problem.

As of 2019, hospitality had a national average turnover rate of 75%, and that's only grown since the pandemic.

Restaurants are a transitional industry for many—but many of the reasons that workers quit are entirely preventable.

8 Reasons Why Restaurant Workers Quit — And How To Prevent It

1. They aren't making enough money

While money isn't everything, it's one of the biggest pain points for restaurant workers right now. According to our latest survey, 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 are 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.

The Solution: Adjust your compensation

While the simple solution is to pay more, it's a lot easier said than done. But there are a number of ways to adjust compensation without cutting into your profits.

Look for efficiencies in productivity

According to Jim Taylor, a restaurant coach at BenchmarkSixty, restaurants can afford to pay employees more by looking for efficiencies in their productivity.

Jim says that just a 2% increase in labor productivity offsets a 50 cent wage increase. For the average restaurant, that means serving four more customers a day. Getting there depends on your restaurant, but it could just be the difference of retraining to turn tables faster or adding a few more tables outside to accommodate increasing demand.


Implement a tip pool

Tip pooling is another way that restaurants are changing up compensation more fair across the board. A tip pool eliminates some of the downsides of tipping like inconsistent wages, an emphasis on “good tables,” and an individual mentality among serving staff.

Tip pool report
7shifts Tip Pooling and Distribution Software for Restaurants

Learn more about tip pooling and how 7shifts can help.

2. Schedules aren't flexible

One of the best parts about working in the restaurant industry are the hours. Whether they're in school, have kids, or need time for auditions, restaurant workers can live the lifestyle they want outside the traditional 9-to-5. On the employer side, however, this flexibility can be wielded against employees. Irregular hours, “clopens,” and not enough lead time can quickly have an outsize impact on an employee's life. More than half of restaurant workers say that flexible scheduling would greatly affect their happiness at work.

The Solution: Schedule with empathy

Don't let the schedule become a list of names. Everyone on your team has life circumstances that must be accounted for when building the schedule. Mike Bausch of Andolini's in Tulsa calls this “scheduling with empathy,” and it helps maintain a happy and healthy team. Here are a few ways to ensure you're scheduling with empathy:

  • Get the schedule out in advance

    Get the schedule done ahead of time and send it to employees with enough lead time that they can plan out their lives. In general, two weeks ahead is a scheduling best practice, and in some cities, it's the law.

  • Two days off in a row

    If possible, give your team their days off back-to-back. This allows them to get enough time to relax and recharge. Or perhaps even take a short trip to visit friends or family.

  • Create a shift swap program

    Even when you give lead time, things come up. Give your employees the flexibility to swap shifts with their coworkers in the event of last-minute changes.

  • Use scheduling tools to your advantage

    Scheduling software like 7shifts can help your team create, share, and change schedules easily and on the go.

3. They don't feel connected to the larger business

Restaurant workers aren't just going to work for the sake of it. The younger generation especially want to be a part of something bigger—something they can get behind.“What we're seeing now, particularly with Gen Z, Is this continued focus on what's under the hood...what does this company believe?” says Andy Hooper, former President at &pizza.

It's become essential for restaurant employers to have a strong mission and values that attract and retain employees. This can be as large as supporting a social mission or as small as a commitment to creating a great place to work.

The Solution: Check your culture

Take a close look at your restaurant culture. Does your restaurant have core values that guide the customer and employee experience? If not, it may be time to sit down and establish some.

“Core values are that guiding light and vision for everybody to lead the way,” says Kelly McCutcheon,“ VP of People at Hopdoddy Burger Bar.

She and her team created their core values with a simple two-step process that involves looking at who your difference makers are and identifying their key traits and values. Learn more about how Kelly McCutcheon and her team established Hopdoddy's core values in our blog post guide, and listen to Kelly on the podcast here.

It's not enough to just say what your values are—you have to walk the walk. Showcase your core values in your employee handbook, in new-hire training, on your company careers page.

4. Lack of recognition

Restaurant work is tough. And hard work should be recognized. Among the over 25 set, manager recognition (or lack thereof) was one of the top three reasons that they've left restaurant jobs. Recognition, especially public, also reinforces what “good” looks like at your restaurant, and creates an example.

“If you want something done, find time to recognize when it's being done and scream it from the rooftops,” says Chris Williams, Director of Brand at Walk-On's Sports Bistreaux.

The Solution: Give staff more recognition

The solution for this one is simple: recognize staff more! And there are a number of easy ways to do it:

  • Praise publicly on internal communication channels like email, group chats, or staff pages.
  • Shout staff out on company social media pages like LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok.
  • Give staff the opportunity to recognize each other. For example, Walk-On's has a corkboard where staff can write notes of recognition to one another in each of their stores.

5. Not enough opportunity for growth

Another facet of this is the growth that comes with recognition—such as promotions. A third of restaurant employees surveyed said that they'd like to see recognition come in the form of promotions. Without solid training and growth opportunities, you could be letting great employees go to the restaurants that already have them.

The Solution: Create a training program

Most restaurants train new employees, but oftentimes it stops there. Regular training is essential to make employees jobs easier and more productive, increasing engagement and decreasing turnover.

It's important to have training programs in place for regular team members to become managers. But growth isn't always a straightforward path from hourly to salary. The restaurant industry attracts a workforce with myriad interests. And restaurants need people to do things outside their four walls—from marketing to finance to graphic design.

When Kaldi's Coffee needed a new graphic designer, they looked within. They drew up a job description and posted it via 7shifts announcement.“Some people from the café; applied, and we hired one of them. They already know the culture, and it's easier that way to fit in,” says Keith Kildron, Kaldi's VP of Operations.

6. Communication is lacking

72% of employees ranked team communication as important to their satisfaction at work. With so many moving parts, miscommunication is all too common in restaurants. When conversations start verbal, go to text, and end up in an email, things get lost. This leads to frustration and a less than stellar work experience.

The Solution: Standardize team communication

There are a few ways to improve the communication flow in your restaurants—from in-person meetings to digital tools.

Create a dedicated place for work communication

For digital communication, dedicate one or two places, such as a group chat and email. And clearly state when to use email vs. text vs. calls. Restaurant coach Monte Silva has an easy method for determining when to use what:

  • Urgent & Important — Call
  • Urgent & Not Important — Text
  • Not Urgent & Important — Email

Use Manager Log Books

Manager-to-manager communication is as critical as whole team communication. Use log books to give your day and night manager a way to share notes with each other. This could be on anything from trainee progress to sales numbers to a broken lowboy. Log books also give your team the ability to look back and track progress.

Restaurant Manager Log Book Software Dashboard
7shifts Manager Log Book Software for Restaurants

Run pre-shift meetings

Pre-shift meetings are a great way to update the team, share recognition, and give staff the chance to ask questions. It also creates a space for team building and bonding. Here are tips on running a great pre-shift meeting.

Collect feedback

Make sure you're always collecting feedback—both directly and anonymously— from your team. This could be in the form of a shift feedback tool or simply just asking them how they're feeling.

Employee Shift Feedback
7shifts Employee Engagement Tools

7. No access to benefits

In addition to wages, benefits are a big component of an employees' total compensation. The restaurant industry doesn't have the best reputation for offering these kinds of benefits. As a whole, hospitality accounts for some of the highest rates of uninsured workers. Many employees left the industry during the pandemic in search of better benefits in other industries, and hospitality has to adapt to prevent more from leaving.

The Solution: Create an employee benefits program

When we think about employee benefits, health insurance and retirement (401k) are top of mind. According to a study from BlackBox intelligence, 63% of restaurants offered wellness benefits in 2021, up 25% from pre-pandemic levels. But benefits can go far beyond the basics and really give restaurant employees what they need to lead happier, healthier lives. And as wages come up across the board, they can be the difference maker for why an employee chooses you over the restaurant down the street.

Look to what your staff needs by talking to them, and create a benefits program that is tailored to them. Here are some examples of creative benefits that employers are offering staff

Rideshare credit for safe travels home after a night shift at &pizza

Real-time pay at many fast food restaurants like McDonald's and Dunkin'

Tuition reimbursements at Chipotle

Discounted tickets and memberships at Panda Express

8. Life circumstances

Lastly, many restaurant employees leave due to changing life circumstances. While there are a number of lifers, the restaurant industry is not for everyone and for all time. Whether they're working their way through school or looking to start a family, sometimes there is nothing restaurants can do to keep an employee—even if they're happy.

The Solution: Embrace it

The best thing to do is just embrace this part of what makes the industry so special. Recognize that the industry is temporary for some, but don't treat them as such. Give your team the best experience that you can as an employer. Lifelong memories and friendships are forged in restaurants. If someone leaves for life circumstances, hope that they're making the right decision for them and support them in whatever way they need.

Closing Thoughts

Many of the reasons that employees quit restaurant jobs are entirely preventable. By understanding the real reasons why—we can make meaningful changes about what it means to work in the restaurant industry. And one restaurant at a time, we can tackle turnover.

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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 have a background in food journalism. I'm always looking for ways to help make the restaurant industry better!