An engaged team reduces turnover and can boost the bottom line.

Why Restaurants Should Focus on Employee Engagement

As turnover grows across the industry, retaining talent is vital to restaurant success.

Employee turnover hurts. Not only does it create staff shortages, but it also costs restaurants significant amounts of money each year to advertise, interview, and train new employees, in addition to the cost associated with decreased efficiencies when new crew members are learning the job. In fact, Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research estimates that it costs businesses $5,864 for every employee lost.

With hospitality turnover rates topping out over 70 percent for the second year in a row, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ “Job Openings and Labor Turnover” report, these costs can dramatically cut into restaurant budgets. Additionally, with increasing job mobility, the labor pool for foodservice continues to shrink, making it harder to compete for great employees.

Today’s market makes it vital for restaurants to engage the employees they have and retain them. Job satisfaction greatly impacts the way team members feel at work, and one of the biggest influences is empowerment, especially as it relates to scheduling.

Many workers choose the hospitality industry because of scheduling flexibility, which often allows them to attend school or care for family members, but this flexibility can pose a challenge for employers. Working around availabilities, as well as shift swaps and no-shows, can be a headache for management and can lead to frustrations for employees when they are scheduled incorrectly or do not realize they are scheduled due to shift changes. Additionally, the nature of restaurants means that it is difficult to communicate vital messages to team members at the right times, which can make employees feel unimportant or underprepared. 

Two years ago, these were some of the issues facing Travis Leaming, director of store operations at Andy’s Frozen Custard. The brand was using Excel spreadsheets to create schedules. Not only did managers have to collect and retain paperwork regarding when employees could work, they also had to spend valuable time in the back office building the schedule. Additionally, the lack of visibility into the scheduling process did not improve employee engagement.

“Communication and expectations from both sides are critical, whether it’s a manager meeting employee expectations for availability or the manager’s expectations for employees to work shifts,” Leaming says. “It’s vital for us to communicate business needs to everyone.”

For this reason, he, like many other restaurant operators, turned to technology. In today’s connected world, Excel spreadsheets no longer fulfill the needs of restaurant operators. Employees now expect mobile engagement and more insights into the business than ever before. Meeting these expectations is critical because employees stay where they feel valued, and providing them with more access to vital information can give restaurants boost over other brands competing for the best employees.

Andy’s Frozen Custard adopted 7shifts, employee scheduling software made specifically for restaurants, because it offered all the tools the brand needed. Once signed up for the service, not only did each location reduce paperwork and make smarter, more consistent schedules, but Leaming also estimates that managers were able to reduce the time it took to build schedules by 75 percent. The scheduling time reduction allowed leadership to focus efforts on training, performance management, and employee engagement.

“The system helps us make schedules more quickly, plus the endless amount of paper for requests off and availability changes was streamlined,” Leaming says. “It makes it much easier to manage performance, too, since our HR department has complete access, and we have the manager log book where we can take notes and communicate to other managers for specifics of the business.”

The system also puts schedules in the hands of employees who can access it on mobile devices. They also receive text notifications when schedules post, as well as shift reminders two hours before start times. Because the system also includes communication tools, each Andy’s Frozen Custard store can send employees weekly announcements that help ensure consistency throughout the chain.

“Customers don’t see lapses in service levels, and we feel like we’re able to communicate at a high level and focus on our mission,” Leaming says. “The newest people on our team didn’t always understand expectations of service, and now they see it daily and weekly through our communication.”

Improved communication and empowerment have gone a long way to keep customers happy, as well as employees.

“Engagement has increased and it really has a great effect on turnover rates,” Leaming says. “We feel like we have one of the lower rates in quick service at 28 percent, and that’s a bottom line saver.”

Additionally, 7shifts usually saves restaurants 1–3 percent on monthly labor costs by helping managers and operators make more efficient scheduling decisions.

The restaurant market is a challenging place; brands fight for every sale, and labor expenses are always in flux. The key is to find the tools to help you adapt to make—and keep—your customers and employees.

Keeping employees happy creates a long-term, engaged workforce and ensures that guests get the best service with every visit. Not only can scheduling and communication technology help restaurants keep employees and reduce hiring expenses, but these happier employees can also help drive sales and customer loyalty.