Turnover has long been a pain point for restaurants, but low unemployment rates, coupled with the rise of the gig economy, have added a new sense of urgency. Finding, hiring, and training new employees is a costly, time-intensive endeavor, so operators who go through the process less frequently have the luxury of more resources to invest in other matters.

In the spirit of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” a growing legion of restaurants are taking steps to invest in their workforce. Some are implementing new initiatives that spotlight standout workers, while others sweeten the pot with competitive benefits. The methods may vary, but the brands that succeed in retention all seem to share one key characteristic: a positive work environment with potential for growth.

Jen Jaffe / Chief People Officer, El Pollo Loco

Turnover at El Pollo Loco is significantly better than the industry average; we’re 11 percent below the average quick-service turnover at manager level (60 percent) and 15 percent below benchmark for crew.

Our new tagline, Feed the Flame, points at the aspirational passions for life our employees share. We know that our employees are our greatest asset, and with our transformation agenda, we’ve just begun simplifying operations and are seeing initial positive results.

We provide employees with the opportunity for growth and take calculated risks on them, while also investing in their benefits in a big way to differentiate ourselves and show we care. For example, we recently implemented a new bonus program for both field and support center employees that rewards them based on sales, profitability, and customer satisfaction improvement.

Additionally, we launched our first employee appreciation month this year. Week one was about recognizing our employees for all they do and launching a new, dedicated service award that recognizes long-term employees. Week two focused on investing in our employees’ professional development and personal well-being. Week three showcased our staff’s unique talents by having them help us come up with our next new product. The final week was devoted to bringing employees, franchisees, and even customers together to give back to the communities they serve.

Josh Kulp & Christine Cikowski / Cofounders, Honey Butter Fried Chicken

We don’t see employee turnover as a challenge, but more as an opportunity for fresh perspective. It’s great to get a new team member who may bring some valuable experience to the restaurant.

We’ve always offered our employees PTO and sick leave, but we added health insurance and paid parental leave a little bit afterward. Many of our team members could probably make more money at other restaurants in the city, but I think that a lot of them stay because of our employee benefits and because we make Honey Butter a welcoming place to work. We offer each employee a living wage, so while they don’t make money from tips, I think they value the work environment that we’ve created more than that.

I think the industry is definitely doing a better job of investing in and keeping talent. People are much more conscious these days, and it shows. Treat your employees well, and they’ll convey that care in their work. Make your restaurant a safe and welcoming place to work, and your employees will enjoy working with you.

Thom Crosby / CEO, Pal’s Sudden Service

As of April 1, Pal’s turnover rate for the previous 12 months was 23 percent. It is overall stable, but the long-term trend is one of improvement. We believe our rate is low because we invest in every individual at Pal’s, because we engage all team member and keep them informed, and because leaders lead from the front by example.

It is easier to hire now than in the 2003 to 2008 time period, but harder than it was five years ago. Recruiting, hiring, training, and retaining the right individual will always be a high-effort job, and that will be more challenging in the future.

We keep all individuals at Pal’s in the loop and part of the overall dialogue of how we are doing and how we can improve. People perform at high levels when they are valued and are engaged with making the customer experience a success and the company a success.

The biggest misconception is that having and holding individuals to high standards causes high turnover. We have found it to be the opposite. When we hold individuals to high standards and provide the right tools, training, and development, they thrive and stay.

Business Advice, Employee Management, Story, El Pollo Loco, Honey Butter Fried Chicken, Pal's Sudden Service