The Million Dollar Question Answered – How to Keep Good Restaurant Employees

  May 15, 2014   Fred


When the opportunity arose to interview restaurant employees, I jumped at it. After all, who could explain why restaurants have such high turnover rates more than the people who are leaving a restaurant to go to another one? They gave me insight, not only on what it takes to keep good employees, but also on how hiring a great management team affects your restaurant. In our last blog, I interviewed restaurant employees about inappropriate manager/employee relationships and how it caused high turnover. For this blog, I asked them about the great restaurants they worked in and how this affected staff turnover.

Good managers seemed to be at the top of the list when it came to restaurant retention. Erin talked about her best manager:

“I really enjoyed the restaurant team when I first began my employment. The management team consisted of 7 solid members - 1 operations manager, 1 bar manager, 1 kitchen manager, 1 banquet manager, and 3 floor managers. They all got along well inside and outside of work. They worked well together because they respected each other. They held daily management briefings to share new ideas, concerns, and plans for the day's sales. They also held daily server briefings to inform us of their plans and expectations. They helped us during busy shifts, they encouraged us, and they thanked us. I've never felt more appreciated in a job as when I worked for this group of managers. “

Another server spoke about his favorite manager and how consistency plays a part in managing a restaurant successfully:

“Actually to be honest he was not the nicest guy, but he was consistent. The problem I had with most restaurant managers I ever worked for was that they had different rules for different people. You always knew where you stood with him and if you did a good job you got rewarded. I’ve worked for a lot of managers and was one myself. I’ve always strived to be consistent and by doing so, had a low turnover rate.”

The one point all the servers agreed on, was that if the restaurant treated them with respect and trust and, made work fun, they stayed! Here’s what Erin said during the interview:“Here are a few things that I really enjoyed when I first starting work at the restaurant...

The management team was dedicated to hiring great people. They formed a strong, dependable and cooperative team from the outset and that definitely made working at the restaurant more enjoyable. The later management teams (the ones that drove the restaurant into bankruptcy) were more concerned with hiring anything that walked through the door just to fill an opening.

Also, the great managers really seemed to care about us. When they asked how our day was going, they really seemed to be interested in our answers.

They made work fun. We constantly had contests - - who could sell the most dinner specials, who could get their customer to laugh the loudest, who could sell the most side dishes...etc. We also had bingo nights! The board squares were made up of things like side of mushroom, side of gravy, dessert, coffee/tea, etc...all the extra things that added to a customer's bill. It really got us to upsell and it made for an entertaining and slightly competitive night. We had a lot of fun with these silly games and believe it or not, sales flew up when we played them. Winners got a variety of things...not having to do side chores or end of the night duties during the next dinner shift, a free dinner, choice of serving section during the next shift, a free pint of beer at the end of the night, etc. ...all good things to a server”

They also arranged a ton of get-togethers - - and not just the usual Christmas party. We had dinner parties, dancing parties, beach parties, boat cruises. I loved hanging out with this group!

Also, one of the biggest things that made me enjoy work at the restaurant and I think really prevented staff turnover...they thanked us.

Simple as that. I never felt I was being taken for granted and I always felt appreciated.

When I interviewed Jason, his comments were very similar to Erin’s interview regarding a positive relationship with great managers.

“I’ve had some great years with The Keg restaurants. They always seemed to include the staff in their successes. We worked hard but they also made it so we could play hard. Through the playing they really created a great bond between the staff. Most restaurants I ever worked for had a huge issue with turnover but not The Keg.

They rewarded you all the time. After a busy night they would buy the kitchen some beer to say thank you. They had softball tourneys, ski getaways, would rent a hot tub put it on the patio and throw a party after a hard week. If you sold the most of a feature wine they'd send you to the vineyard as a reward (if it was local that is, no trips to France or anything!). They always seemed to be doing things for their staff.”

Since Jason had done every job in a restaurant from the kitchen to manager, I asked him about retention. Here’s what he had to say.

“As for retention that is the million dollar question. I truly believe it's a fine balance between making money, allowing people to have a lifestyle and making them feel appreciated. Like in any industry it's not always the same from individual to individual but I think if you use those 3 things as a base, you can have good staff retention.”