In the second half of this series (check out the first here), we’ll get right to the employee proposition. Well more than half (64.3 percent) of respondents in 7shifts’ survey rated “more recognition from management” as something that would increase engagement at work.

Naturally, the result being so high is both aspirational and a reflection of what’s far more common—when asked how often they currently receive feedback (positive or constructive), a quarter of all employees said they rarely get any. So 25 percent of workers are actively asking for mentorship from managers.

How often do you receive positive feedback or recognition for your work from restaurant management?

  • Weekly: 32.28 percent
  • Daily: 28.78 percent
  • Rarely: 24.32 percent
  • Monthly: 14.61 percent

The restaurant workforce, taken on a broad stroke, is also unique from much of the country in that it’s not going to go remote. Analog communication remains an essential cog in the learning and feedback experience.

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Many employees in the survey showed preference for in-person conversations, pre-shift meetings/lineups, written notes, and even bulletin boards. It’s worth spotlighting, though, more than a third (36 percent) said they gravitate toward some form of team communication app for updates delivered digitally, such as schedules and shift changes. This preference, 7shifts said, underscores the practicality and efficiency of digital labor tools in the sector.

What methods do you find more effective for team communication and coordination in a restaurant setting?

  • Pre-shift meetings: 57.57 percent
  • Text or email: 46.11 percent
  • Bulletin boards: 37.36 percent
  • Team communication apps: 36.31 percent
  • Written notes: 27.12 percent

7shifts also asked employees how their restaurant employers could elevate engagement.

How much would the following impact your engagement at work?

More recognition from management (scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being higher impact)

  • 1. 7.4 percent
  • 2. 6.8 percent
  • 3. 21.2 percent
  • 4. 27.1 percent
  • 5. 37.4 percent

Opportunities for growth

  • 1. 6.2 percent
  • 2. 6.2 percent
  • 3. 16.5 percent
  • 4. 27.4 percent
  • 5. 43.7 percent

Same-day pay/tip payouts

  • 1. 12.1 percent
  • 2. 8.6 percent
  • 3. 18.2 percent
  • 4. 19.3 percent
  • 5. 41.9 percent

Perks (staff meals, discounts, etc.)

  • 1. 8.6 percent
  • 2. 5.1 percent
  • 3. 18.6 percent
  • 4. 21.1 percent
  • 5. 46.7 percent

Focusing on the growth ladder bucket, there’s no denying one of the restaurant industry’s hallmark traits is its step-gap nature. Incalculable numbers of people enter the workforce through hospitality or use the industry as a bridge to somewhere else, whether that’s a summer gig, or a place they can work while they build toward a different path (why so many brands offer educational assistance programs, from Taco Bell to Chipotle to Yum, and more).

But it’s also true employees make a career of the business. Using this reality to build talent and drive prospective growth can be a powerful tool, 7shifts said. Jason Smith, contract and design manager with US Foods, suggested trying “station certification” for back-of-the-house employees. Here an entry-level worker is offered base pay and the opportunity to earn a marginal increase for each station where they demonstrate mastery. “Your management team should be agile in applying this testing/certifying practice,” he said in the report.

In 2023, Chipotle’s internal promotion rate was 87 percent (the percentage of individuals promoted into an apprentice position versus all apprentice and general manager hires). CEO Brian Niccol noted the dynamic would play a crucial role en route to 7,000 North America restaurants since the company would, in practice, need to double the present number of field leadership positions. At 90 percent internal growth, the majority of those roles will be held by current GMs and “apprentices” working in the company. Not too long ago, it created a Restaurateur” title employees could reach in as little as three and a half years and earn about $100,000 per year.

CAVA, as it heads toward 1,000 units, had a 2023 target to place 75 percent of new restaurant GMs internally. CAVA’s “Academy GM” network is as a farm system of sorts for future leaders.

In the same vein of Smith’s point, Academy GMs at CAVA are employees certified to develop and train new GMs and lead training restaurants. The goal being to have at least one of them in each of CAVA’s “gardens,” or groups of eight restaurants. In addition to stuffing the talent pool from the inside out, it minimizes pre-opening costs by creating training hubs in growth markets.

Concerning some of the other engagement options, 7shifts pointed out same-day pay/tip payouts could be a solid counter to some of the market’s gig options, like rideshare. Sometimes referred to as “Earned Wage Access,” restaurants offer employees the ability to receive their checks at the end of shifts. “This can boost employee financial wellness, helping them avoid predatory payday loans. While it may not be suitable for every restaurant, one thing’s for sure—employees are all for it,” the company said.

So what’s less important to employees? These tactics, while still desired, aren’t as likely to significantly bump engagement and satisfaction without more effective practices.

How would the following impact your engagement at work?

Open book finance/seeing the numbers

  • 1. 25.6 percent
  • 2. 12 percent
  • 3. 30.9 percent
  • 4. 16.4 percent
  • 5. 15.1 percent

More huddles and meetings with management

  • 1. 18.3 percent
  • 2. 13.6 percent
  • 3. 29.2 percent
  • 4. 21.6 percent
  • 5. 17.4 percent

More team-building activities or events

  • 1. 14.6 percent
  • 2. 13.6 percent
  • 3. 23.1 percent
  • 4. 26.5 percent
  • 5. 22.2 percent

Friendly competition and games

  • 1. 14.4 percent
  • 2. 10.4 percent
  • 3. 25.9 percent
  • 4. 24.3 percent
  • 5. 25 percent

Here are three action steps from 7shifts on all the above:

1. Facilitate regular career conversations between employees and managers.

2. Consider your internal talent before looking externally for management talent.

3. Be clear about the competencies you look for in managers and give your team opportunities to build these skills.

The benefits arms race

Historically, this has not been an industry rife with traditional benefits. But that’s started to evolve in the wake of COVID’s rebound, when restaurants worked to compete with adjacent low-wage opportunities. Employees today demand options more aligned with what you’d expect in a 9–5, things like health insurance, paid sick days, vacation, retirement accounts, and more. “It’s a culture shift,” 7shifts said, “but one the industry must embrace.”

Elizabeth Tilton, founder and CEO at Oyster Sunday, pointed out in the report 68 percent of the hospitality industry does not have health insurance. “Even for restaurant owners who want to offer health insurance to their employees, the monthly premiums are so high compared to larger groups with more negotiating power that many employers cannot afford to make a significant contribution to their employees,” she said. “This results in low opt-in rates by employees who cannot afford the high monthly premiums, and for those that do opt-in, they often experience a significant annual price increase.”

Simply, many restaurants find a jigsaw approach to benefits more effective than your general rollout. 7shifts explored which benefits, as reported by employees, presented the biggest opportunities.

What benefits or perks would you like to see in your restaurant job?

  • Paid-time off: 49.61 percent
  • Health insurance: 38.15 percent
  • Retirement savings/401(k): 32.63 percent
  • Growth opportunities: 28.35 percent
  • Daily pay: 23.88 percent
  • Professional development opportunities: 18.11 percent
  • Employee discounts/free meals: 18.02 percent
  • Flexible scheduling: 17.94 percent
  • Commuter benefits: 15.49 percent

Three points to consider:

1. Examine the basics first when it comes to benefit offerings.

2. Remember flexibility is important when it comes to schedules.

3. Don’t underestimate the power of a few days of paid vacation.

Train to gain

The preferred length of training in 7shifts survey was between one and two weeks, with 46.6 percent picking that option. Some preferred even shorter—”less than a week” came in at 38 percent. A quarter of respondents wanted to jump right in. As crisscrossed as the map was, the clear finding was employees do not want their training period to lass more than two weeks.

What is your preferred duration for the initial training period when starting a new job?

  • One to two weeks: 47 percent
  • Less than a week: 38 percent
  • Two to four weeks: 11 percent
  • More than six weeks: 2 percent

As for how to go about doing so, 70 percent said they prefer hands-on programs from managers, and 44.5 percent listed shadowing senior employees. Twenty-eight percent put training videos among their preferred methods, while only 18 percent chose reading training materials as their top choice.

Irene Li, owner of Mei Mei in Boston and founder of consultancy PrepShift, said in the report providing a clear syllabus or agenda for training is “slightly less important” than the medium itself. At Mei Mei, the restaurant has a system called a “Passport.” Employees see the entire training roadmap in front of them and know in advance how much material they’ll need to learn today versus tomorrow.

“Providing that context is important so that people are training throughout and consistently and know where they stand,” Li said in 7shifts’ report.

What kind of training would you like to receive at work?

  • Hands-on from managers: 69.50 percent
  • Shadowing senior employees: 44.48 percent
  • Watching training videos: 28.93 percent
  • No training: 22.15 percent
  • Reading training material: 18.42 percent
  • External courses: 18.07 percent

Three tips from 7shifts:

1. Embrace hands-on training as the first option wherever possible.

2. Provide employees with clear expectations and an outline of the training process ahead of time.

3. Don’t draw it out—keep training programs efficient.

As noted, running into a career wall often drives employees elsewhere. Twenty-four percent cited a “lack of opportunities” as a reason they left a restaurant job. About 75 percent said a clear trajectory and growth ladder were either important or extremely important for job satisfaction. And this is a topic with potential. One in four restaurant workers aged 24–35 said they see themselves as “lifers.”

A third of employees surveyed had been at their current restaurant for more than three years. Another third were between one and three years. “Creating viable career paths through training, upskilling, and promotions can enable operators to keep top talent around— while growing their business with them,” the company said.

Consumer Trends, Employee Management, Fast Casual, Fast Food, Story