Employee turnover is both expensive and a disturbance to the workflow of a restaurant. Unfortunately, turnover is also particularly rampant in the foodservice industry.
In a recent webinar sponsored by HR software company People Matter, human resources consultant and writer Laurie Ruettimann said a focus on culture helps reduce turnover and makes for a happier and more effective staff.
Some key takeaways to improve the culture of an organization include:
1. Invest in your biggest asset. Ruettimann says Texas Roadhouse, with 430 units and 45,000 employees (or “Roadies,” as they’re called) keeps investing in recognition events and celebrations, even when times are tough. The company also invests in in-store coaches to train teams. Their philosophy is: “If we take care of our people, they will take care of our guests,” Ruettimann explained. If you, like most operators, say people are your biggest asset, “how can you expect a return if you don’t invest in them?” she asked.
Ruettimann also recounted the story of Boloco, a burrito concept with 350 employees and 20 locations, whose c.e.o. John Pepper once found himself mopping a floor when an employee failed to show up for work. He found himself thinking, “Who would do this job, and why would they do it for a long period of time? What would help people in this job?” That led to the offering of:
• comfortable staff lounges for break times
• transportation discounts
• English classes for those who wanted them
• increased wages of $10-17 per hour—up from $8 per hour
“They doubled down on perks and salary to retain people,” said Ruettimann, and the risk paid off in decreased turnover.
2. Choose to shape your culture. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is led by founder and c.e.o. Jeni Britton Bauer, who makes no bones about what she values from the employees at her 23 locations. Her well-known mantra: “Talent, Hustle and Guts.”
Ruettimann said directness is key, especially with younger workers. “Plain-spoken organizations are doing better than those that get bogged down in buzzwords or legalese. You’re not hiring people who are inspired by corporate jargon.” And be honest and transparent, she advised. “Clarity and transparency are important to Generation Z and Millennial [employees],” Ruettimann said.
3. Commit. “Every great company in America that’s noted for having an excellent culture has a strong culture of promoting from within,” Ruettiman observed. Exemplary of this is 17-unit Tender Greens, whose simply stated mission is “to be a place for people to eat great food and do great work.” Tender Greens enrolls homeless teens in a in a six-month paid culinary internship program, and then gives them the opportunity to apply for full time positions upon completion of the program. The organization sends a clear message: This is a special place for people to work.
4. Show your authenticity. All restaurants’ websites should have a culture page through which an organization can relay its values. “It doesn’t have to be flashy, but it does have to be true,” Ruettiman said. Are you farm-to-table? Show pictures of your farmer partners. 15-unit Cava Grill does this beautifully. In addition to profiling its producer partners on its website, Cava also tells the story of their charitable partners. Proof of your culture should extend to social media efforts as well. “Social media is your secret weapon,” Ruettiman noted. “You don’t need to be proficient, you need to tell your story visually and authentically.”
5. Hire the like-minded. Want to preserve your amazing culture? Don’t settle for a warm body, Ruettiman advised. “Figure out what makes your awesome workers awesome, and then hire for fit.” There are companies, such as People Matter, who will help you identify those benchmarks and set hiring standards based on the traits you find important. Finally, hold focus groups with your staff, engage them in casual conversation about what they like and don’t like about their jobs, and really listen. “Be vulnerable and willing to accept feedback,” advised Ruettimann.