by Marylise Fabro
Anyone in our industry can relate - hiring and retaining good employees has to be one of the most challenging aspects of our role as a restaurant manager. Employee loyalty seems to be non-existent in our line of work, and sometimes, you get the feeling that nothing can be done and we just have to learn to deal with it.
That’s simply not true. I have had conversations with restaurant owners who’ve had the same pastry chef for 35 years and others who’ve been quite successful at retaining their staff. So what are their secrets?
Many of the suggestions I’ll make will revolve to some extent around company culture. But that’s beside the point; you need to be actively and consciously thinking about your company’s culture. You want your employees to feel energized and happy to come work at your restaurant. Talk to them and find out what they value, what their concerns and priorities are, then make a plan and act on it.
Let’s get this one out of the way. Even if the trend among younger generations is to build a life full of meaning, at the end of the day, they work to make a living. And if Suzie can earn 20 percent more at the restaurant down the street, doing the exact same job, chances are, she is going to take that job. Be well aware of the ongoing rate for each role in your restaurant and make sure you offer competitive pay.
Granted, your finances might be in the red already, so do the best that you can and read on...
Everyone values the feeling that they belong, that they are part of a team. Sure, they spend their day working side-by-side, but building a team that works well together requires a bit more effort. Organize a trip outside your restaurant. Take them to another inspiring dining location where they won’t have to work, take them bowling, organize a picnic. In other words, take them outside their working environment, invite their families and get them to spend time together so they can get to know each other.
Communicate, communicate and communicate some more. Employees can see or sense problems; not sharing openly what’s going on can only hurt you in the long run. Provide information to them on the health of the business, tell them what might be keeping you awake at night. By including them in those conversations, employees can actually help you solve some of those issues. As the restaurant manager, you understand the big picture, but your employees know exceedingly well everything that revolves around their work. Not only can they make suggestions, but they will feel valued and like part of the solution; and guess what - that can increase their commitment to you and your restaurant.
Nothing damages relationships faster and more profoundly than the feeling of unfairness. While a favorite employee will surely appreciate the extra benefits, it won’t help you keep those valuable employees in the long run. But one thing is certain, favoritism will slowly destroy the working environment. Soon enough, you will find yourself in a very toxic work environment. We all have people we more easily relate to and feel closer to. However, make sure you treat everyone the same: same chores, same scheduling rules and same pay scale.
We tend to mimic observed behaviors. If the dishwasher calls in sick, jump in and help wash some dishes. You will lose no one’s respect by showing that you are part of the team and that there’s nothing you would ask someone to do that you’re not ready to do yourself. Respect is earned, and respect will help you in more ways than you can imagine. Be courteous to everyone: employees, guests and suppliers. Be available, be present and be the best team player at your restaurant. Don’t be just a manager, be a leader.
We all want to learn, and we all want to grow. If your employees can see a future at your restaurant, they will be enticed to stay. To refer back to a previous point: communicate and be available, learn what their dreams and expectations are. The host wants to become a server? Let him wait on a table so he can learn. The dishwasher wants to become a chef? Make sure the chef knows, and make sure the dishwasher can observe. Every once in a while, give him the opportunity to help out. And when he gets that offer to go wash dishes at the neighbor’s restaurant for few more dollars, he might just say no, knowing that you are helping him to reach his dreams.
The final point I want to make is about hiring intelligently. Don’t just look at a resume and your desperate need for staff. One bad apple can rot the whole basket. Many of us have had that bad experience. That chef looked perfect on paper, but at the interview, he sounded like an arrogant know-it-all. Soon enough, you’d see your entire kitchen staff fleeing and would deeply regret that decision. Beyond just skills, attitude is equally important because it will define your restaurant’s culture. Don’t ignore that gut feeling; as hard as it is to hire staff, just make sure they will be the right fit for your place.
Hiring and retaining staff will remain one of the main challenges for restaurant owners and managers for the foreseeable future. Short of working with robots, there are no easy turnkey solutions available. Respect and value your employees, and in return, they will respect and value you. Remember, your success is tightly linked with theirs.