“Providing them feedback every single day and not ignoring when they do something wrong [helps retain them],” Peters says. Coaching workers, holding them accountable for their actions, and showing employees how to improve are all strategies that inspire staff and lead to better retention.
Keeping skilled employees supports a restaurant’s bottom-line in two ways: it costs anywhere from $2,000–$15,000 to replace an employee and inspiring return visits often depends on having staff that knows their customers and invites them back. “The better the service, the more guests return. The keys to creating great hospitality are when customer needs are anticipated,” Peters says.
To keep employees engaged, they want three things, Makris, the Johnson & Wales professor, says: One, flexible hours; two, work-life balance, including some personal time and vacations; three, better tip structure so everyone shares in it, not just servers and bartenders.
The restaurant culture that maximizes retaining valued staff “appreciates employees. They’re your biggest asset, not the equipment or the building,” Makris says. Recognizing employees for their efforts sends a very positive, reassuring message to staff, he adds.
In smaller cities such as Providence, Buffalo or St. Louis, restaurants can’t draw from the pool of writers, photographers, and actors New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago can, and often attract students attending college. They need training, onboarding, and flexibility about their schedule to retain them.
At Union Square Hospitality Group, retaining staff is a priority
Retaining talented staff is a priority at Danny Meyer’s famed Union Square Hospitality Group, which includes 18 restaurants, including Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern, and Blue Smoke, says Erin Moran, its chief culture officer. It clearly states expectations in terms of skills, qualifications, knowledge, and experience, and describes the earnings potential at every level and what skills are required. “We try to attract people who are interested in having a career path rather than a job,” she says.
During staff recruitment, the group looks for core values such as integrity and entrepreneurial spirit and applicants role-play several behavioral situations, and meet with the team to determine whether there’s chemistry between them.
Once hired, its training encompasses cultural and technical issues and servers usually spend about a month “shadowing” a more experienced employee before being left alone on the floor. Servers learn where to put the knife and fork, which glass to pour specific wines, and learn about the menu, including any allergies in the food, Moran says.