Boosting Employee Engagement in the Restaurant Industry
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Employee engagement – specifically increasing engagement to reduce turnover rates – is a frequently discussed topic that concerns businesses in all industries. However, when it comes to the restaurant industry, employee turnover is all too common for most operators. An honest evaluation of your employee engagement approach is a key step in understanding the root causes of employee turnover.

Restaurants that have a highly engaged workforce are more successful in nearly every way. The National Restaurant Association estimates that the cost of turnover is $2,000 per employee. For restaurants that are consistently losing employees, this puts operators in a bind financially and forces them to find new employees in an already slim talent pool. Engaged employees are more committed to their jobs. They care about the success of their restaurant and their co-workers, in addition to their own personal success. When restaurant employees care deeply about their jobs, they contribute more to the overall success of the operation.

An engaged restaurant staff provides better service, creating unique and memorable guest experiences that result in customer loyalty. If you’re looking to improve employee engagement in your restaurant, here are three ways to get started. 

Evaluate Your Hiring Strategy

Hiring new employees is challenging at this time, due to a number of factors. Many people are hesitant to work in highly interactive settings because of COVID-19, while some have found new careers during quarantine and others are hesitant to return to work due to elevated unemployment benefits. While current circumstances make employee retention difficult, now is a perfect time to reevaluate your hiring strategy.

Most customers are returning customers and they like seeing – and generally receive better service from – employees they know and who know them. This same notion applies to those seeking new job opportunities. People looking for work trust the input and recommendation of friends or acquaintances who already work for the company. 

“Restaurants generally operate on thin margins, so they can’t afford to put a lot of money toward large bonuses, which makes referrals a great way to hire,” said Natasha Benda, Human Capital Management Consultant at Adams Keegan. 

Restaurant owners can use this tactic to provide small bonuses for successful referrals. Plus, there's an added benefit of the employee being able to work with somebody they know and trust.

Reinforce Your Mission, Vision and Values

When evaluating your employee engagement strategy, it’s helpful to reinforce why you exist, what you’re trying to accomplish and what your values are. Even if you don’t have a written mission statement, most organizations have values by which they operate. Remind your employees why they work for you. They probably share your company’s values, and it might even be the reason they joined your business. 

Try incorporating team-building exercises. For example, before a restaurant opening, gather your staff together to share a meal and celebrate, or provide breakfast and coffee as you review company grand opening procedures. Of course, be sure to observe social distancing best practices as you do so. Reinforcing your mission, vision and values can provide a renewed optimism among your employees for the future of the business.

Provide Opportunities for Incentives

There are many tactics you can implement to reward your staff for their hard work and help them feel valued in the company. Here’s an idea: Start a tip program in QSRs that might not have handled tips previously. Even customers adding $1 per order adds up, and depending on your POS software, this might not add any cost for you. For operators with several locations, provide contest-type incentives for managers. Even if it is difficult for them to meet larger annual bonuses in a COVID-19 world, small ones here and there are appreciated. Additionally, adding a customer survey can allow those who’ve provided great service to gain recognition. This could apply to managers or customer-facing staff. Employees welcome even small rewards, such as $10 gift cards.

Most restaurateurs understand just how difficult improving turnover can be. No matter what stage your business is currently in, having a refreshed employee engagement strategy is a great way to boost morale and help you reduce the costs associated with turnover. When your employees share your values and can share in the success of your business, even in difficult times, you will both reap the rewards.

*This article originally appeared in Modern Restaurant Management and was written by Joe Ruzicka, Director of Business Development at Adams Keegan.