Your workforce is the lifeblood of your business. Because of that, more and more restaurants are finding that the key to a great business is to put your employees first.
We all know the restaurant and hospitality industry has a notoriously high turnover rate. To be the kind of restaurant that keeps its staff for the long haul means doing the right things to keep your employees wanting to work for you. And if you can get your staff to stick around, it means less time and money spend on the hiring process — and an stronger, more consistent work culture.
Maintaining that consistent work force is about engaging your employees, seeing them as people, and investing their their futures at your company and beyond. We’ve assembled some ideas to consider incorporating into your restaurant to boost motivation and productivity — and assist in lowering that costly turnover.
One of the easiest ways to increase morale and company loyalty is to recognize good work within your organization. This can be your managers pointing out top notch work (a focus on accomplishment) or celebrating work anniversaries (a focus on longevity), or both.
Something fun like a gift certificate or other practical gift, along with an acknowledgement in front of the staff, is appropriate and relatively inexpensive by comparison to its effect on productivity. Or maybe the reward for one’s one-year anniversary is a paid day off, and at five years, a family card they can use once a quarter at any of your restaurants.
To pull off this kind of program, you need structured reward goals and consistent shows of appreciation. This can’t be something you do a couple times and forget about, or else your employees could easily assume you stopped noticing or caring when they did good work. How would an employee feel if one of their coworkers got a paid day off for their one-year anniversary, but they didn’t?
You need to make this kind of engagement an integral part of your work culture in order for it to stick.
Employee Assistance Packages
Investing in your employees staying healthy physically and emotionally is more than just a perk — it’s an investment in your workforce. After all, a staff person that is feeling sluggish and stressed outside of work will be feel that way on the job. You want to give them the best shot at being able to balance their work and personal lives – offering employee assistance packages (EAP) could be the solution.
An ala carte service offered by EAP professionals, these packages can include health and wellness support, telephonic counseling, financial wellness (like budgeting education), education on identical theft, legal support, guidance in child/elder care, and grief counseling.
Employee assistance packages are generally very reasonable for restaurants to fit within their budget, while bringing much needed (and appreciated) services to your employees. Ultimately, having these services available can be a big help with individual stress management and your overall retention. And the fact that their boss is providing it to them can mean a great deal in how positively they see their job.
But the biggest hurdle in this system is the stigma of using mental and emotional health services through a work program. Make sure you talk to your employees and encourage them to take advantage of the programs in ways that make sense for their lives, without fear of repercussion.
Free Flu Shots
You don’t have to just go through an EAP program to help your employees stay healthy. Why not offer flu shots to your employees, free of charge?
Yes, it’s a short-term cost to you, but think of the long term: this is really an investment in keeping both your employees and your guests healthy. After all, you want your servers here for their shift and you want them to be healthy during every shift.
With that in mind, consider extending the flu shot program to your employees’ families, too. For just a little more cost, you can decrease the likelihood of an employee calling in to say they need to care for a sick child or spouse. Plus, it sends the message that you care about them, and that you want to make sure everyone who works for you feels the best they can — at home and on the job.
Training for the Job and the Future
When we think of investing in employees, so often we think of work training. But the pitfall so many new restaurants fall into is assuming that training simply means a couple hours of explaining someone’s job to them when they first get hired. When training isn’t ongoing, it immediately disengages the employee from the learning process down the line.
Instead, incorporate the idea of moving up within your organization into your training program. Sure, right now you’re training a new employee to be a dishwasher, but emphasize that there is a short track to getting onto the cooking line, if they’re up for it. Have consistent training sessions for both the job an employee is hired to do and cross training for other jobs on the floor.
Don’t get stuck in a communication disconnect – it’s easy to get so focused on telling an employee what to do, but not why they’re doing it. If you explain the context for why they’re being trained a certain way (and why certain rules exist), they’ll understand the business better and won’t feel like just another cog in the machine.
This goes beyond in-house training. Consider partnering with a local college to offer your employees business and career development courses. Many colleges are partnering with restaurants and other businesses to provide employees with discounted (or even free) enrollment fees for them or their kids.
That encouragement for them to learn more about business management beyond their current job in the restaurant can be a huge boost to company loyalty, because what you’re really doing is tapping into your employee’s value, sending the message loud and clear that “you have a place here.”
Scheduling, Charity Events, and More
What other benefits can you offer to bring more focus to the employee experience in your restaurant? There are so many options!
Do you have online scheduling options? This doesn’t seem like a benefit at the outset, but it can give employees a month’s snapshot at a time, allowing them to trade shifts with other employees. Needing to request times off either verbally or in writing can be stressful for everyone involved. Completing a request digitally can immediately bring peace of mind. This is an investment in the way your business is run and in your employees’ comfort.
Also consider hosting fun events for your team that have wider social effects, like raising money for local charities with prizes for the employees who sell the most tickets. In fact, have your staff choose the charity themselves so they feel engaged from the start. It connects your group back to the community but also totally works as a team building exercise.
What about doing something for your managers? They’re employees too, and can benefit from camaraderie among their peers. Suggest a book club, or a once-a-month movie night. Connecting your managers with each other in fun, low-stress ways can build a culture in your business from the very top.
As far as other job perks, set clear “comp” rules for your workers: allow employees a meal before or after their shift and allow them a certain amount of other comps meals a week. These extra comp meals could be for friends, family, or a server’s favorite customer.
You will be pleasantly surprised as to how many employees do not use the comps regularly but how much they appreciate the opportunity. Offering comp meals could end up being a good way to keep your food cost in control (versus the employee helping themselves).
When in Doubt … Ask
Yes, there are a lot of options to explore in terms of employee engagement. What will work (and are the most important to try first) in your restaurant depends on a lot of factors. But a great way to get a sense of what to try first is to simply ask your employees what they’re looking for when it comes to an investment from management.
Put together a roundtable of employees from various areas of front and back of the house (including those who handle the more difficult shifts) to initiate a feedback discussion. As you ask them questions about what would help them in their home-to-work balance, take note of their biggest concerns and then build benefits and engagement programs that can start to address them.
Listening to your employees for input will a) make them feel good about being heard and b) allow your benefits programs to be as effective as possible. Employees are smart, and you can be sure that they’re already thinking of how their time on the floor could go more smoothly.
Employees want that engagement, and want to believe their effort is going to something bigger — and worth more than just a paycheck. Make them part of the decision making and you make them part of the bigger picture. And then you’ll retain more employees and get the greatest return on the investment you’re putting into them.
Want some more tips on how to invest in your employees toward your own success? Check out our free eBook on Hiring, Training, Retaining, and Disciplining Your Employees: