Keep your restaurant’s top talent with a new approach to company culture

By Matt Parkin

In the ever-evolving landscape of the restaurant industry, one thing has remained constant – the importance of a strong workplace culture. As we look into the future, it’s crucial for restaurant owners and managers to understand that the old ways of retaining staff, like the occasional pizza party, just won’t cut it anymore. In this article, we will delve into the significance of workplace culture, the reasons behind employee turnover, and, most importantly, how to improve staff retention with innovative strategies.

What is culture?

Workplace culture is often described as the shared values, beliefs, attitudes, and practices that shape the behaviour of employees within an organization. It’s the invisible force that guides decision-making, interactions, and the overall atmosphere of your establishment. Culture can be influenced by leadership, traditions, and the day-to-day interactions among team members.

Think of it as the unique flavour that sets your restaurant apart – it’s the warmth and hospitality that greet guests at the door, the camaraderie among staff, and the unwavering commitment to culinary excellence. In short, it’s the soul of your restaurant.

Why is culture important?

Culture is the foundation upon which your restaurant’s success is built. It plays a pivotal role in staff retention, customer satisfaction, and overall profitability. Here’s why it’s so crucial:

Employee engagement: A positive workplace culture fosters engagement among your staff. When employees feel connected to their work and their colleagues, they’re more likely to go the extra mile, provide excellent service, and stay loyal to your restaurant.

Customer experience: A great culture directly impacts the customer experience. Happy and motivated staff members are more likely to create memorable dining experiences, leading to satisfied guests who return again and again.

Recruitment and retention: A strong culture attracts top talent and keeps them onboard. In a highly competitive job market, restaurants with a positive culture are more likely to retain their staff.

Innovation: A culture that encourages creativity and innovation can lead to new menu ideas, improved operational efficiency, and staying ahead of industry trends.

Why employees leave their jobs

According to recent reports, the top reason employees leave their roles is due to management-related issues. This finding underscores the significance of effective leadership in retaining staff. To address this concern, consider the question posed by Brené Brown and shared by Hospitality Leadership Coach, Matt Rolfe: “What does support from me look like for you?” This question invites employees to voice their needs and preferences, fostering open communication and trust, while improving leadership.

While management is a crucial factor, it’s essential to understand that other elements contribute to employee turnover, such as:

Lack of growth opportunities: Employees seek growth and development in their careers. If they perceive limited opportunities for advancement in your restaurant, they may explore other options. If advancement opportunities aren’t possible for you, consider ways you can broaden the scope of their roles to allow for stretch assignments where employees can continue to learn and grow.

Poor work-life balance: Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is vital for employee well-being. Overworking your staff can lead to burnout and dissatisfaction. Consider an anonymous survey with your current employees to gauge energy levels and share these findings transparently with new hires so they know what they’re getting themselves into before they start work.

Low compensation: Competitive pay is essential to attract and retain talent. Employees who feel undervalued may seek higher-paying positions elsewhere. If you can’t pay competitively, consider adjusting your experience expectations to align with the budget for your role.

Inadequate training: Proper training and ongoing skill development are critical for employee satisfaction and confidence in their roles. Ask your employees what they want to learn and where you can provide support.

How to improve retention

Now that we understand the factors contributing to employee turnover, let’s explore strategies to improve staff retention:

Enhanced candidate experience: Retention efforts should start before employees even join your team. How does your candidate experience stack up against your competitors? Consider applying to other roles in your industry to see what others are requiring from their candidates. Improve your candidate experience by including compensation in the job posting, sending an automated receipt of application outlining next steps, and accelerating the speed of your hiring process.

Highlight growth opportunities: Exciting growth opportunities should be a focal point of your recruitment marketing efforts. Showcase career paths and advancement possibilities to attract ambitious individuals. If your team has a flat organizational structure, consider providing opportunities outside their regular duties to support the business. Some restaurants let their employees take the reins by making TikToks at work, generating a huge number of organic views for the business – a welcome boost to the company’s marketing strategy.

Personalize rewards: Gift cards force spending, with 60 per cent of people spending over the value of their card and 47 per cent having at least one unused gift card. Leveraging AI and tech tools to customize employee rewards can improve the personalization of your rewards program. Recognizing and rewarding employees for their achievements and milestones can make them feel appreciated, valued, and heard, leading to stronger retention.

Invest in leadership training: Equip your supervisors and managers with the skills they need to lead effectively. This investment will not only improve staff retention but also enhance overall restaurant performance.

It’s not goodbye forever

Parting ways with an employee doesn’t mean you’ve lost them forever. According to Harvard Business Review, 28 per cent of new hires are actually “boomerang employees” – individuals who have previously worked at the company. To make the most of this potential, it’s essential not to burn bridges when employees leave. Maintain open lines of communication, keep in touch via LinkedIn, and foster positive relationships even after an employee has moved on. You never know when they might decide to return, bringing their experience and newfound skills back to your restaurant.

Moving forward

 Retaining staff in the restaurant industry requires a shift from outdated methods like pizza parties to a more holistic approach that prioritizes workplace culture, effective leadership, growth opportunities, and personalized rewards. By investing in your employees and creating an environment where they thrive, you can ensure that your team feels motivated and appreciated for years to come.

Matt Parkin is a top HR, Sales and Marketing Voice on LinkedIn with 12,000+ followers. He’s been invited to speak to schools, companies, associations, and conferences across North America on personal branding, entrepreneurship and recruiting and his thought leadership has been featured by and LinkedIn News.