As many economic sectors move steadily towards full recovery, the hospitality industry is facing an epic battle; how to retain top restaurant staff. In fact, research shows a recent increase in the industry’s turnover rates by 90% for restaurants.  

Employee retention is complex and requires consistent efforts. However, the more staff you hold on to, the stronger their connection will be with your customers. Research has shown that businesses that create an emotional connection with their customers can grow their bottom-line exponentially. 

Read on to learn more about employee retention in the restaurant industry and discover strategies you can use to retain the best restaurant employees.

What Is Employee Retention?

Employee retention is the ability of an organisation to retain its workforce for a longer period. Typically, they are the techniques, policies, and the overall strategy an organisation uses to ensure its most valuable employees remain on board.

Effective retention methods typically entail preventing undesirable voluntary exits, rather than the departure of a poor performer. In the hospitality and tourism sector, employee retention is a critical aspect of the customer experience.

This is because diners are likely to return to a restaurant that continually meets or surpasses their expectations. Employees who have worked at a resort or restaurant for longer are likely to deliver such an experience, usually better than new hires. 

Why Employee Retention Is Important?

In an increasingly competitive operating environment, it is essential for hospitality leaders to establish why some employees leave and others remain. This is important, not just for your business’ bottom-line, but also in establishing what works and what doesn’t.

Retaining your top restaurant staff is critical because they understand the restaurant operations better than anyone else. They’ve grown to become enviable hospitality industry experts, and you’ve already invested heavily in them.  

The United Kingdom hotel industry is the third-largest private employer, but is staring at tough times with staff shortages exacerbated by Covid-19 and Brexit. According to a 2017 KPMG report, it is estimated the hospitality industry will require 62,000 new EU migrant workers each year to maintain current activities. [1]

Managing employee turnover is also prohibitively expensive. Research by Gallup estimates the cost of voluntary turnover in the U.S. to be $1 trillion. Hiring and onboarding new employees takes time, which is compounded when you factor separation costs. An effective retention strategy will save your restaurant money and time.

When your key employees quit, it hurts the morale of an entire team. [2] The workplace will be a much more pleasant environment when staff morale is high. Employees who are happy and motivated are more inclined to stay, and can become powerful advocates for your company. This can also be an excellent way to attract top talent from the job market.

What Makes Hospitality Employees Stay Longer on the Job?

There are many types of benefits and perks hotel industry employees look for in an employer, which can determine if you retain top restaurant staff or not. These include:

  • A competitive salary
  • Annual leave
  • Career growth opportunities
  • Recognition
  • Paid time-off
  • Flexible working hours
  • Free meals on-shift
  • Health insurance
  • Covering childcare costs
  • Wellness programs
  • Vacation/cruise discounts
  • A positive company culture
Creating a combination of these benefits can ensure low turnover rates. The good news is that some benefits, such as recognising the best performers, may not involve additional cost to the restaurant. 

5 Strategies to Retain Top Restaurant Staff

Here are 5 strategies you can use to retain top restaurant staff:

1. Hire Employees Aligned With the Industry

Retaining your best restaurant employees can be determined right from the moment you hire them. It’s essential to hire job candidates who are passionate about service and whose career path aligns with the hospitality industry.

Hiring such candidates increases the likelihood of them staying with you for longer. The Union Station Hospitality Group, for instance, uses a hiring method that looks at a job candidates’ technical skills and Hospitality Quotient. Job candidates who lack passion for the industry may only stay with you for a while as they plan their next career move.

2. Invest in Employees’ Experience

Your existing employees are your greatest brand ambassadors. Treating them well enhances your hotel or restaurant's reputation in the job market, making it attractive to prospective job-seekers. Also, creating a positive employee experience reduces your hiring costs and lessens the time new hires need for getting up to speed. 

Executive chef Paolo Neville observes that treating chefs with respect, listening to them, and balancing being a kind and strict leader has enabled him to retain top chefs for longer. [3] In essence, a great employee experience creates a circular process where you keep your most valuable employees for longer and attract the best.

3. Create a Stable Work Environment

Restaurant employees cherish stability in their personal and professional lives, so restaurant owners and managers need to invest in stable working environments to enhance staff retention rates. A study published in the Harvard Business Review concludes that employees in an unstable environment are less productive, and spend more time worrying about their future. [4]

Clearly communicating business objectives and sharing strategies to meet those objectives is a good starting point to improve stability. Giving timely feedback, addressing employee concerns, allocating adequate resources to restaurant plans, and clarifying employees’ roles also foster a stable work environment.

4. Listen to Exiting Employees

No matter what you do, there will always be employees who will leave the company, either voluntarily or involuntarily. When an employee leaves, it’s essential to conduct an exit interview with them to find out what they think about the company and what made them leave. 

Be as specific as possible to get honest answers. You can use different methods, such as face-to-face interviews and questionnaires by third parties. Conducting exit interviews allows you to identify trends and patterns that may require management action to halt future departures.

5. Train, Train, Train

Training restaurant staff is another way to improve your restaurant’s employee retention rate. There are different types of training, such as onboarding training, ongoing training and professional training. 

The way you onboard your employees determines how they perceive the business. A report by Brandon Hall Group/GlassDoor shows that companies that invest in a robust onboarding process enhance their retention and productivity by 82% and 70% respectively. [5] Proper onboarding ensures hospitality employees are up to speed with the restaurant’s operations, culture, and values.

When these employees finally join the workforce, ongoing training enables them to learn new skills. This shows you value employees, and you take their professional growth seriously, which makes them more likely to stay.

Encouraging restaurant employees to undertake professional training courses may also make them stay longer. Your hospitality business can do this by subsidising or refunding tuition fees and allowing study leave. 

→ 🤔 Want to offer your employees continuous training used by some of the world’s leading hospitality brands? Discover how they can gain access to Lobster Ink's Online Hospitality Training right on Hosco’s platform!  

[1] Labour migration in the hospitality sector by KPMG in association with the British Hospitality Association (BHA); March 2017
[2] Surviving the Great Resignation by Wyrick Robbins
[3] Five Keys to Retaining a Strong Kitchen Staff by Chef Paolo Neville (Medium)
[4] If You Want Engaged Staff, Offer them Stability by Marla Gottschalk, Harvard Business Review, 2019
[5] The True Cost of a Bad Hire by Brandon Hall Group, 2015