Employee turnover is one of the biggest challenges quick service restaurants face in delivering consistently outstanding customer experiences. For many, the cycle of recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and training amounts to a revolving door. Almost as soon as the business can get a new employee settled in, they’re gone and need to be replaced. At that rate, it’s especially challenging to cultivate a culture that prioritizes customer experience excellence that consistently delivers memorable wow moments. 

This has been a longstanding struggle within the quick-service industry, which has had a history of over-the-top turnover rates, sometimes even as high as 150 percent, but it’s an even bigger problem in the post pandemic world where those rates have ballooned to 173 percent. Yet some companies have deftly bucked this turnover trend, and employee appreciation is one of the key tools that has helped them to do it.

The good news is that any quick-service restaurant that wants to improve employee retention can tap into the power of employee appreciation to help them accomplish that objective. Below are five proven practices that will help jumpstart that process.

1. Pick a day of the week for C-suite, divisional, and regional leaders to send out thank you notes to restaurant employees to recognize them for something they have done to obsess over customers, to support their colleagues, or to deliver outstanding business results at their location. Make this a weekly habit and employees will look forward to seeing who will be recognized next and will be encouraged to practice behaviors that lead to getting those thank you notes.

2. Choose a week each year to celebrate your employees. During that week, plan for C-suite leaders as well as their directs and skip levels to spread out and visit restaurants across the network to thank employees in-person. Have them come prepared with background information about the staff that will be on duty during their visit and plan for them to recognize the team as well as specific employees for key milestones or achievements such as work anniversaries, birthdays, performance awards, goals attained, etc. Plan special appreciation activities for each day of the week and ensure they are cascaded throughout the organization. Do this annually and employees will come to realize that they really are appreciated and will be energized to deliver exceptionally for the business. Depending on the number of restaurant locations, this practice could be expanded to semi-annually or quarterly to ensure critical mass coverage. The idea is not to cover every location every year but to cover enough annually that employees recognize that their location will ultimately be in the rotation. 

3. Deploy programs that support employees’ hopes, dreams, and aspirations. That includes benefits such as tuition reimbursement, scholarships, affordable childcare options, structured pathways for career mobility, and profit sharing. On the surface none of these is earth shattering. Many companies have some of these in place already. et the companies that have gotten the most mileage out of programs like these have also managed to raise the bar for how to implement them. For example, some companies are partnering with Guild Education to enable employees to pursue higher education opportunities without making out-of-pocket outlays. Chick-fil-A has started selling its popular dipping sauces in retail stores and is donating 100 percent of the proceeds to its scholarship fund for employees. Trader Joe’s exposes employees to various roles in the store to prepare them to take on expanded responsibilities.

Employees need to know that the business isn’t just interested in what it can get out of them but that it is also interested in what it can invest into them. This inspires employees to recognize that they can achieve their hopes, dreams and aspirations at that company and will give them a reason to commit to the business long term.

4. Introduce a system that enables employees to appreciate one another and then celebrate them for doing so. Companies should think in terms of the three, five, or seven company values they want to emphasize and build the mechanism around those so that rank-and-file employees can shout out their peers whenever they see one of them exemplifying one of those values. Pair it with something physical that employees can display with pride in the workspace or on their work clothes. Provide generous examples of what qualifying behaviors look like so that it will be special when an employee gets one of those shout outs from a peer. This will help to cultivate a culture of appreciation across the entire network.

5. Make it a huge deal whenever an employee suggestion is turned into a new product, policy, or practice. Broadcast it through every channel the company uses to communicate with employees. This will get employees to recognize that they are being heard, that their input is appreciated, and that they have an opportunity to make an impact in the business. Imagine being the one who suggested a new menu item that is being served in every restaurant across the chain, or being the one who suggested a food preparation technique that improves the tastiness of the food. For many that opportunity to make a lasting impact in the business is even more important than monetary bonuses and creates a lasting bond with the business. 

Individually, each one of these practices can make a powerful impact on employees’ emotional connection to the business. As a combined unit, they can have a transformational impact on the organizational culture. When employees feel like they’re valued, like their feedback matters, like they’re part of a mission that’s more than just collecting a paycheck, they buy in and they’re more likely to stick around for the long haul.

Marbue Brown is the author of the book “Blueprint for Customer Obsession” and founder of The Customer Obsession Advantage (customerobsession.net), a firm dedicated to helping companies achieve extraordinary business results through Customer Obsession. He is an accomplished customer experience executive with a track record of signature results at JP Morgan Chase, Amazon.com, Microsoft Corporation, and Cisco Systems.

Employee Management, Fast Casual, Fast Food, Outside Insights, Story