How to retain your restaurant’s best employees


  1. Listen to your team.
  2. Give employees the resources and training they need.
  3. Show appreciation for good work, but don’t hesitate to let toxic employees go.

Yes, the restaurant industry is renowned for its high staff turnover, and while not every employee will be outstanding, there are a number of little things you can do to foster employee retention and to retain those exemplary team members that you don’t want to be without. 

Listen to your team.

Hold regular staff meetings and encourage frank, honest discussion. Invite team members to make suggestions and give feedback on what they feel is and isn’t working within the restaurant and how it could be improved.

Your team is right in the thick of it during every shift, so they are the first ones to be aware of problems and potential pain points. Therefore, their insight is invaluable. Just remember to brace yourself for the possibility of some criticism, and don’t make an employee feel bad for being honest. People like to be listened to. It makes them feel valued, and it fosters a sense of loyalty to make them feel invested in the business.

Create a cohesive team.

One primary pain point for many restaurants involves the kitchen versus the front of house. This “them-versus-us” mentality causes friction, and results in stressed and unhappy employees who are more likely to seek employment elsewhere. Instead, encourage team unity with staff events and carefully chosen words and phrases that eliminate divisive thinking.

Employees should have a healthy respect for other roles and at least a basic understanding of what those other roles entail. Give every team member a chance to experience a different role, either through shadowing or fully participating in an alternate role. If every employee has performed every role in the restaurant, they’ll know the stresses under which everybody else has to work. They’ll be more patient with one another and work as a more cohesive unit. It also means that if someone is out sick or on leave, another employee might be able to step into the breach without difficulty.

Give them the right resources.

Not having what you need to do your job to the best of your ability or being forced to work with faulty or inappropriate resources are huge issues for employees and cause a great deal of anger and frustration.

Keep employees happy, and let them perform to their full potential by ensuring that they always have the right resources. It results in loyal staff, better food, better service and a better customer experience. Everybody wins.

Use an honest approach.

Be open with your team. Don’t make promises and then not follow up on them. Don’t promise someone an extra few days of vacation time then renege on the promise or claim that you don’t remember saying that. It’s bad business practice, and it destroys your team’s confidence in you.

Instead, if you simply cannot provide something your team member requests, like extra vacation time, tell them upfront. Clearly explain why. Although they won’t be entirely happy, they will appreciate and respect you for your honesty. This should be applied to simple promises, too. For example, if you promised to stock up on premium coffee in the break room, make sure you do it.

Lead by positive example.

Be a positive leader. Don’t rule through fear. You want your employees to respect you rather than fear your wrath. Be strong, but be fair. If you rule over your restaurant like a tyrant, you’ll create a palpable atmosphere of fear and stress. This impacts your employees and will encourage them to look for work elsewhere, and it impacts your customers, too, who also pick up on the tension.

Set clear expectations for your team but be fair and approachable. Garner their respect, and they’ll be loyal and always perform to the best of their ability.

Offer training.

Aside from the basic essential training an employee needs to perform their current role and the health and safety training required by law, offer other training opportunities. You can purchase training courses from external services, sponsor employees to take courses at local or online education establishments, or create your own in-house training.

Offer advanced first aid training or training in supervisory and management roles so that suitable employees have room for growth within your business.

Assign mentors.

Restaurant jobs are often mistakenly thought of as simple. The truth is, there’s a lot to learn. Nuances can improve productivity, customer satisfaction and retention. Nation’s Restaurant News recommends assigning each new employee a mentor who helps them learn the ins and outs, and makes them feel valued.

Offer advancement.

According to FSR Magazine, the restaurant industry can offer lots of opportunities for advancement. Promote employees for higher-level jobs whenever possible, instead of hiring someone new. Encourage employees to dream big and support them in their goals. Offer training or suggest classes that can help them get to where they want to go. 

Promote a team mentality

A team mentality is essential in the restaurant business. Everyone must work together to keep things running smoothly. When someone doesn’t pull their weight and act as part of the team, it can discourage even the best employees.

Show your appreciation.

According to Forbes, companies that show appreciation to employees have a 31% lower turnover rate. One way to do this is through peer appreciation. One effective way to do this is verbal praise. In addition to management praising employees for a job well done, you can hold a weekly meeting where employees talk about the strengths and successes of their peers.

Employee discounts are common in the industry as well. You may offer free or discounted meals or drinks as a standard, or provide them for exceptional work or covering a shift.

Don’t be afraid to let go of toxic employees.

It might seem counterintuitive, but letting go of the wrong people will help you retain the right ones. According to Rezku, bad employees are more detrimental to the work environment than being understaffed. If an employee doesn’t make an effort to do their job correctly, frequently has issues with co-workers, or creates a negative work environment, consider letting them go.

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