Outside Insights | November 2016 | By Guest Author

3 Ways to Keep Top Talent at Your Restaurant

Turnover is a major problem in this industry. Here are some tips to retain your best employees and strengthen your brand.
One of the top catalysts of disengagement on the frontline is dissatisfaction with the management chain. Thinkstock

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Good employees are scarce and precious assets, yet all too often they are taken for granted by leadership across all levels. With attrition rates at 100 percent, veteran staff are constantly being pushed out of the revolving door as inexperienced workers flow in, sucking up funds with onboarding costs and reducing efficiency. Rinse, repeat.

The quitting psychology of employees is frequently opaque to management. What causes workers who seem content one day to leave the next? Is it deep-seated dissatisfaction? A proliferation of more appealing opportunities? If so, how can managers ensure that their stores remain desirable employers?

Some of the mistakes that cost businesses their top servers—lack of recognition, overworking, failure to provide sufficient pay—are obvious. Others are less so.

I spoke to 20 GMs at heavily trafficked fast casual locations about what it takes keep hold of their best talent. Answers were nuanced, but almost always fell within one of a few distinct realms. These best practices are what top managers are using to prevent turnover of quality talent and keep staff engaged.

1. Allow employees to be creative

Your frontline employees are on the floor interacting with product offerings and customers 24/7. Quick-service environments are inherently hands-on, and there are no greater experts when it comes to the technical aspects of business than servers and food handlers. Even junior employees who demonstrate service acumen should be trusted to brainstorm new ideas, promotions and sales techniques. One exceptional example of this strategy comes from Starbucks, which recently launched an initiative where local baristas create their own unique beverages and market them at individual locations. This “specials” best-practice adopted from the full service playbook ensures that customers have diverse options while simultaneously engaging staff in innovation. Sales challenges are another excellent method of encouraging cashiers to develop unique tactics for upselling products.

2. Challenge and invest in your talent

Training is a constant facet of any fast-casual workplace. There are always more skills to master, but as every manager is aware, this mastery comes more easily to some employees than to others. Inevitably, members of the staff will be at different places in their learning experience. When your finest have mastered the basics, it’s important not to prevent them from advancing just because some peers are behind. Quickly allow them to scale up their skills by setting more ambitious goals and encouraging them to expand their expertise. Potential for growth should never be squandered or put on hold—otherwise servers risk becoming under stimulated.

3. Recognize leadership potential from the start

One of the top catalysts of disengagement on the frontline is dissatisfaction with the management chain. Numerous employees complain that leadership tracks are arcane, and that workers who are not most qualified are promoted to management positions that they’re ill-equipped to handle. Leadership qualities—charisma, passion for excellence, willingness to do what it takes to make the store successful—are frequently evident even as early as the job interview, so there is little excuse for failing to recognize and nurture nascent potential. Ensure that quality candidates are groomed for management, and make doubly sure that employees who don’t demonstrate the right leadership qualities are never put in charge.

Ashish Gambhir is an entrepreneur and 15-year veteran of the restaurant and hospitality industry. He is the co-founder of MomentSnap, a mobile-first frontline employee engagement platform optimized for quick service and fast casual environments. He previously co-founded NewBrand Analytics, a social media listening tool that was acquired by Sprinklr last summer.

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