How to improve retention and business results.

The restaurant industry accounts for a whopping 10 percent of the entire U. S. workforce. With its 14.7 million employees nationwide, the sector is projected to add another 1.6 million jobs within the next 10 years, according to National Restaurant Association. Yet, while the forecast is promising, the industry remains more vulnerable to high turnover rates than many of its counterparts. And with national unemployment rate at around 4.1 percent, it’s worth considering how restaurant operators can better address the perennial challenge of attracting and retaining a solid workforce.

“With unemployment being so low, the competition to hire and retain top talent is as aggressive as it’s ever been,” says David Eha, director of national accounts for Restaurant Technologies, a foodservice industry leader in kitchen automation services.“People have been talking a great deal about how guest experience is the next competitive battleground, and companies recognize they can’t win at this game if they’re constantly turning over employees.”

In other words, restaurants will not succeed in delivering an optimal guest experience if their workers are on the prowl for better opportunities. Reducing the risk of injury in the workplace is one of the most important ways employers can instill a sense of loyalty in their staff, not to mention reduce the potential for costly workers’ compensation claims. An oil management system can reduce the risk of back injuries and burns, while non-slip shoes can prevent slips and falls. A strong fire safety program can help ensure staff is prepared while minimizing danger.

Of course, there are a number of other simple and cost-effective ways restaurant operators can keep their teams satisfied, including employee recognition and involvement in operational decisions. Whether wait staff are recognized through an “employee of the month” program or line cooks are honored at franchisee conferences.

“Nothing makes an employee feel more valued than soliciting their input or ideas on ways to make the business more efficient,” Eha says. “Empowering employees to create a more efficient workplace doesn’t just positively impact the bottom line, it eliminates non-value-added tasks employees dread and allows them to focus on more important jobs tasks, letting them become more creative in their work. This can ultimately lead to better satisfaction and reduced turnover.”

Additionally, restaurant operators can reduce turnover by incentivizing employees through awards, such as gift cards or cash prizes. Some companies award employees for longevity, encouraging them to stay by offering added vacation time, one-time bonuses, or even automatic raises after specified durations.

Lastly, Eha encourages employers to invest in their team’s future. “Pay for classes, seminars, or online education opportunities,” he says. “These investments will improve their skills—which of course will improve your business—and it shows a commitment to their future with the company.”

Ultimately, such investments represent a relatively small price to pay given that turnover can cost employers as much as $5,800 per person in recruitment, selection, and training, according to Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research.

With the industry’s projected growth and increased competition for labor over the next decade, restaurant operators would be wise to take the long view in terms of investing in their workforce, as the old industry adage will become even more salient: if you hire great people and take care of them, they will take care of the customer.

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