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How to keep restaurant employee turnover in check

How to keep restaurant employee turnover in check

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Once the recession ended in the spring of 2009, the hospitality sector began to see a slow recovery. While everyone welcomed the end of the recession, a trend toward declining turnover rates at restaurants reversed, increasing from 56.6 percent in 2010 to 62.6 percent in 2013.

One way to turn the situation around is a process called a “retention dialogue.” This is defined as a brief, yet planned, discussion between a supervisor and an employee used to identify the means necessary to facilitate that individual’s continued employment.

As a starting point you will need to develop a series of questions that will directly address your concerns and the concerns of your employees. You should generate at least a dozen questions, which you should pare down to approximately six. Too many questions will overwhelm the process, and you will most likely be interrupted or pulled away to handle some operational concern (guest or otherwise). You want to keep the discussion to approximately 10-15 minutes per employee.

During the dialogue itself you should play off answers from the employee to customize your suggestions. Additionally you should have one question that is customized for each individual, and this question should always focus on the positive. Don’t be afraid to ask a follow-up question. Also don’t be afraid to touch on taboo topics such as pay, vacation and benefits. As long as you are prepared for these questions there will be no cause for alarm when the employee asks about them. 

Throughout this process there are always those crewmembers who want more: more responsibility, more of a leadership role, more empowerment, more career opportunities. Some of these individuals will be your star players; some will require a more delicate conversation. Remember, in addition to being operations managers, we are leaders. We need to develop our team members, through training, mentoring, coaching and counseling. 

In addition to learning more about your crewmembers, you should have garnered a good bit of information that can be analyzed. Use this data to determine if there is anything you can do to impact the staff positively as a whole. Whether this includes a holiday dinner, new sales incentives, shorter shifts or simply an employee of the month plaque; it will boost morale.

Tips on applying the process

As for the actual scheduling of the interviews, I suggest a less formal process. When you are writing your schedule, adjust the targeted employees in time by 15-30 minutes to allow for a brief discussion prior to the shift. Not only is there inherent value derived from these brief talks, but it also sets the employee up for a very positive upbeat shift.

As a rule, retention dialogues should not be conducted in close proximity to a performance appraisal. The latter can be very critical of the employee’s performance, so we want to distance ourselves from that process. A best practice is to set up a schedule to perform these dialogues several months out from a review.

At the end of the day employees want that positive one-on-one time with management, it makes them feel empowered. After a successful dialogue they will walk away feeling like they are important to the organization—which they are. Thoughts of leaving the restaurant will be replaced with positive thoughts about the company. Employees also may have gained valuable insights into how they can develop themselves, thereby adding value to the specific unit or perhaps even the company as a whole.

While we are all guilty of getting caught up in our day-to-day operations, this is a fairly simple to address problem. The high cost of turnover no longer has to be a “cost of doing business.” With a little planning, and a lot of communication, we can improve retention within our respective restaurants.

Loren Burns has worked in restaurants for more than 17 years and is pursuing a master of human resources degree and working as a manager at a Rainforest Cafe in Orlando.

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