Ask any restaurant operator and he or she will tell you that turnover in the industry is high.

But it doesn’t have to be. Employees who feel engaged by their job tend to stick around and be better staff members.

A study, Optimizing Employee Engagement, released by Technomic last week, revealed that mutual trust between employers and employees was the highest rated component of engagement across multiple casual dining chains.

Trust received a composite score of 73, followed by clarity (60), common purpose (57) and growth (49).

“This really emphasizes the impact and importance of good leadership at the unit level,” says program principal Teresa Siriani.

Two restaurant chains know this first hand.

“Companies often say their most valuable asset is their employees then they lay them off, and there’s an inconsistency,” says Kenny Moore, founder and president of Mount Olive, North Carolina-based Andy’s Burgers, Shakes & Fries, a 1950’s-style restaurant chain with 100 locations across the state.

“We haven’t laid anyone off and there’s a trust level there. Everybody from our district managers all the way down to the 17-year-old fry cook, trusts us and the reason is that if you want them to engage, talk to them, and listen. We try to get their opinions, their feelings on things. We want to hear that; their opinions do matter.”

And that’s why turnover at Andy’s is low, he adds.

“Our employees buy into why we serve people the way that we do. We also tell them why we do things the way we do them, instead of just telling them to do it. Everything has a reason. There’s always a why. If they buy into the why, they’re engaged.”

But it’s not just that—Moore truly cares about his employees. Over the 20 years he’s been in business he’s promoted many of them through the ranks from minimum wage jobs to owners of their own franchises. He keeps in touch with others once they leave—via Facebook or email—and hears about the careers they’ve moved on to.

Levi Goode is the president of Goode Company Restaurants, a seven-unit Texas chain that includes four brands—Good Co. Texas Bar-B-Q, Goode Co. Taqueria, Goode Co. Seafood, and Armadillo Palace.

Begun 35 years ago, the company has 400 employees, many of who have celebrated their 15th anniversary with the brand, and several who’ve hit the 20-, 25- and 30-year marks.

“Our biggest secret to success in retention is having mutual respect and appreciating what our employees add to our organization,” Goode says.

“We take a lot of pride in the food we serve and that’s what we look for when we hire people—that they take pride in their work and putting out a good product.

“We also allow employees to take ownership in their responsibilities and we don’t kill them with five-inch thick manuals. We give them the basics and the techniques on how to prepare our food and manage our restaurants and we allow them to grasp the ownership aspect no matter what position they’re in—from dishwashers to executives. So that makes them feel important.”

The Goode Company, he explains, appreciates its biggest asset—its human resources. “The manuals and the dos and don’ts only get you so far. It’s a culture that we cultivate to have people take ownership and take pride.”

The company also highlights its best employees with quarterly awards at each location and the quarterly Jim Goode Circle of Excellence Award, given to the best staff member of all of the restaurants.

But on top of that, it takes care of each individual. If someone wants to take on more responsibility, the company has a candid conversation with him or her about how to make that happen, Goode says.

It also provides benefits that are second-to-none. Any employee who has worked for the company for four years has healthcare insurance, fully paid by the company. They also have 401ks.

Says Goode: “It’s a tough thing to do in this environment but we want to make sure our employees are taken care of.”

By Amanda Baltazar

Industry News, Labor & Employees, Andy's Burgers, Shakes & Fries, The Goode Company