The restaurant industry continues to weather a staffing crisis as businesses ranging from small independent restaurants to national franchise chains struggle to hire and retain servers, chefs, hosts and other essential personnel.

In August, the National Restaurant Association reported that 78percent of restaurant operators say they dont have enough employees to meet customer demand, and 75 percent of operators listed recruitment as their top challenge—more than ever before. Also, according to a recent national survey, 44percent of restaurant operators believe it will be more than a year before business conditions return to normal, while 19percent of respondents believe they never will.

“The Great Resignation” is compounding the staffing challenges operators face. Where once there was shortage of applicants, now operators must address staff actively quitting. To end “The Great Resignation” retention is key. Happy, motivated employees are loyal, and essential to attracting new hires.

The retention process begins as early as the hiring process itself. In today’s competitive market, employers should make sure they are educating prospective hires about their employee value proposition—the rewards and benefits employees receive in return for their contributions to the business. This is where restaurant operators sell new hires on what separates them from their competitors in the marketplace—beyond compensation and benefits. Are there opportunities for career advancement? Is there a vibrant work environment?

Right now, two-thirds of employees in the restaurant industry are between the ages of 16 and 34. Recent data from Black Box Intelligence shows a younger demographic is closing the labor gap in the industry.  Over 17 percent of limited-service employees are under 18, up 7 percent in the third quarter 2021. For both the Gen Z and Millennial demographic, company culture is very important. Operators need to be conscious of their mission and if it aligns with employee values. Does the restaurant practice sustainability where possible? Does the restaurant give back to the community? What is the company’s social mission or purpose?

Once an employee is onboarded, it is important to keep them around. Here are four essential keys restaurant operators should consider in retaining quality talent:

Seek opportunities to recognize staff members for a job well done. Single out individual employees for specific praise, whether it’s upselling, keeping their workstation spotless during a rush or even just helping a disabled guest into and out of the restaurant. The reward can be financial, like a $10 gift card, or some other kind of value-add like a ‘Get Out of Side Work Free’ card.

Implement a process where employees can recognize each other. Set aside time in each staff meeting for shout-outs. Something as simple as a “WOW” card that can be hung on the employee bulletin board by their peers can go a long way.

Encourage staff members’ interests and goals, even outside the restaurant. Find out what they’re interested in and provide opportunities for projects and an increased scope of responsibility in their areas of interest. Consider matching those interests with educational initiatives, mentoring and training within the restaurant. Make student loan or tuition matching a flexible benefit in lieu of traditional 401(k) matching. Support their career paths, even if those careers ultimately are not in the restaurant industry.

Protect staff by creating an environment of tolerance and patience. Labor shortages and supply chain issues have worn down seasoned veterans in our industry, and reduced services and higher prices are creating a rise in intolerant guests. It is a stressful environment. Advocate for your team: maintain a calm work environment, communicate the reality to your guests clearly, ask for patience.

At the end of the day, the best thing operators can do for staff members is to make them feel appreciated, supported, and safe. Understanding their perspective, and connecting with their needs is an important first step. Meeting your team where they are will continually motivate them to do their best work and build a sense of loyalty to the both the operator and the restaurant Guests.

Lauren Fernandez is the founder and CEO of Full Course, a restaurant investment and development group created for operators by operators. Fernandez previously served as general counsel and head of franchise administration for FOCUS Brands, a multi-brand restaurant company with more than 4,000 restaurants (including Carvel, Cinnabon and Moe’s Southwest Grill) in over 15 countries, and was co-founder, president and operating partner for multi-unit franchise developer Origin Development Group, acting as a strategic growth partner for brands such as Chicken Salad Chick. She also is a frequent speaker in the areas of licensing, organic business growth and franchise operations across the country.

Employee Management, Outside Insights, Story