Seven Creative Ways to Improve Restaurant Staff Retention Rates

By Jason Bench May 17, 2023 Blog, Restaurant
restaurant employee using meazureup app

The COVID-19 pandemic changed so much about the way that we live and work. COVID restrictions have ended, yet the hospitality industry continues to deal with a ripple effect that feels more like a tidal wave, especially where staff retention rates are concerned. Even as local and national unemployment rates shrink and many restaurants are adding jobs, the rate of open positions in the restaurant industry is at an all-time high, with turnover at 75%. Open Table reports that a majority of restaurants are currently looking for staff. Other findings from their study include:

  • Early 2023 restaurant industry staffing levels were 3.6% below pre-pandemic levels.
  • 62% of restaurants can’t meet staffing needs.
  • 80% of restaurant operators report experiencing hiring challenges when a position opens.

The staffing crisis is impacting business. One Datassential survey determined that the average restaurant is open for 6.4 fewer hours per than it was before the pandemic, a decrease of 7.5%. Losing staff means less time to serve customers, causing a loss of income and impacting the bottom line. While many brands are noticing a rebound in application, hiring, and retention rates, the staffing shortage continues to ripple throughout the hospitality industry. Having grown accustomed to takeout and curbside service during lockdown, diners have not returned to restaurants at pre-pandemic levels. It’s unclear whether we are in the midst of a slow recovery or if, perhaps, full recovery may never come at all. In the face of difficult and unwelcome change, restaurant owners and managers must be proactive in finding creative ways to improve staff retention rates.

Here are seven ways for you to improve staff retention rates at your restaurants:

1. Do a Better Job of Hiring

Desperation can motivate poor choices in the face of staffing challenges. It can be tempting to hire just about anyone willing to fill out an application, but that’s not the right move. Look for potentially valuable team members who come with references, even if they lack experience. You don’t want employees who will behave erratically, lack dependability, or create a toxic environment in your restaurant. It’s better to wait for a more qualified candidate. Once you’ve brought a great employee on board, be liberal with praise. Everyone likes being told that they’re doing a good job.

“Appreciate everything your associates do for the business. Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free and worth a fortune.”

– Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart & Sam’s Club

2. Promise Competitive Compensation and Benefits

One of the most effective ways to improve staff retention rates is by offering competitive compensation and benefits. This includes offering salaries that are in line with industry standards and providing benefits such as health insurance, paid time off, and retirement plans. When employees feel that they are being fairly compensated for their work, they are more likely to stay with a company long-term. Competitive pay helps attract and retain top talent. It also encourages your existing employees to stay with your company and perform at their best. It improves employee morale. When employees feel that they are being compensated fairly, they are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs and to be invested in employer success. Competitive compensation packages also reduce employee turnover rates.

3. Implement a Flexible Scheduling System

Many restaurant employees value flexibility in their work schedules, as it allows them to better achieve a work-life balance and manage personal commitments such as education or child care. By offering flexible scheduling options, such as part-time or shift-swapping arrangements, you will attract a wider pool of potential employees and let your current team members know that they are appreciated and valued. Flexible scheduling accommodates employees’ personal needs and preferences, leading to increased motivation and job satisfaction. When employees have control over their schedules, they are more likely to feel valued and motivated.

4. Foster a Culture of Open Communication and Feedback

Creating a culture of open communication and feedback is crucial for staff retention and reduced turnover. When employees feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, they experience a positive work environment where their voices are heard and valued. Give staff ample opportunities to share their thoughts and ideas. If you hear something you like, take action. If you receive criticism that you feel is valid, use it to make a change. When an employee leaves, take a moment to ask why and remain open to that feedback. It will help you create a better workplace and retain staff over time.

5. Commit to a Positive Company Culture

Improve staff retention rates by fostering a positive company culture. This includes creating a work environment that is supportive, and inclusive. A positive, fun environment boosts employee morale and attracts top talent. Call a monthly or quarterly team meeting and take advantage of the opportunity to do more than criticize. Celebrate milestones like birthdays. Commemorate work anniversaries and achievements. Treat top performers to a meal on the house. Create opportunities for team building and socializing. Organize an outing or another fun activity. Increase buy-in by creating a team of employees to lead the way and plan the fun.

6. Provide Opportunities for Growth and Development

Everyone wants to be good at their job, and providing opportunities for growth and development is a win for everyone. It improves staff retention rates while improving your business. You can offer training programs, such as in-house food and alcohol training programs that will boost staff competency while protecting your business. Mentorship, especially of people belonging to groups that are traditionally underrepresented in hospitality, will not only be good for your business, but for the future of the industry as well.

7. Create a “Passion Project” Program

Invite employees to submit proposals for passion projects they would like to undertake within the restaurant’s framework. These projects can be related to menu development, special events, community involvement, or anything else that aligns with your company’s goals and values. Once you approve a passion project, provide employees with the necessary resources, budget, and support to bring their ideas to life. After you launch a passion project, promote it within the restaurant to create a unique dining experience and engage customers.

The success of your restaurant depends on the dedication of your team members, who are just as crucial as your valued customers. It is critical to ensure that they understand and feel this importance. Create a workplace that exudes positivity. Encourage personal and professional development among your staff, enabling them to flourish as individuals and members of the hospitality industry. Provide them with meaningful opportunities and demonstrate genuine appreciation for their contributions. By prioritizing your team’s well-being and growth, the benefits will extend to everyone involved.


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