Keys to Retaining Good Employees

Your employees are not only the lifeblood of your restaurant. They are your restaurant. It’s not the menu, walls, tables, or anything else in the building when you’re not open. It’s the employees. They make the food on the menu, clean and set the tables, serve the guests inside the walls, and make sure those guests aren’t looking around wondering why they didn’t go elsewhere.

Unfortunately, I think our industry treats people like lemons – cut ‘em up, squeeze out all you can, discard what’s left, and move on to the next. Unless you want to try seating, serving, cooking for, and cleaning up after hundreds of guests each night by yourself, you need to retain staff members that other restaurants are competing for.

So how do we retain the good employees that build repeat guests?

Compensation

Let’s start with the obvious. While money isn’t everything, someone that’s not making enough to pay bills (or making enough to make it feel worth their time) is going to leave and find a restaurant that meets that primary goal first. But assuming that need is being met, “more money” isn’t always the answer to making employees happy.

Sometimes the same money in less time becomes equally important, so keeping your shifts and schedule efficient can help keep morale high. To achieve loyalty among your staff, you must think beyond the money and think “compensation” (vs. “pay”). You then have to address the needs we all feel when deciding where we want to spend our time and energy for work.

Professionalism

I’ve found that every employee wants to feel like a professional. I’ve also found that the more I treat them like one, the more they perform like one. What does it look like to treat restaurant employees like professionals? The same as it does in any other industry – they want to:

  • Feel like their contribution makes an impact
  • Feel developed and set up for success
  • Feel heard and as though their opinion matters (even if it can’t be catered to every time)
  • Know what to expect out of their job – what schedule can they expect, how much money will they make? (They are budgeting based on expected sales/guest counts just like you are).
  • Work for an employer who appreciates them and lets them know they are appreciated. It can be in the form of verbal affirmation, concert tickets, or comped dinner for their family – the “perks” or “fringe benefits” that make them feel recognized.

Relationships

Your employees are people with their own ambitions, concerns, interests, etc., and they are voluntarily entering into a relationship with you and your restaurant. If you want the relationship to be mutually beneficial, you need to treat them like human beings. Find out what their ambitions are. Can you help them achieve those goals, even if it means you become a stepping stone along the way? It should be okay for a bartender to have zero interest in being a bartender four years from now.

If you want to be their last bartending job, helping them get where they want to be is a great way to strengthen that relationship. Maybe you can provide a schedule that lets them work a coveted internship without losing income. Maybe you can introduce them to a colleague or regular who’s in the industry they want to join. Or, and this is key, maybe in talking to them, you both realize the best way to help them is to run a great restaurant where they can make the money they need to chase their dream on the side. If this is the case, tell them that’s your commitment to them until they think of something else more helpful.

You’re probably thinking, “So it is just about the money.” It only stays just about the money if you don’t take the time to get to know them as people. But having those conversations takes it beyond wages and lets them know that in your professional relationship, you are each doing your best to contribute to the other’s success by doing what you do best. And that is how professional, long-lasting relationships – and restaurants – are built.

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