How to get workers to stick around

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Just when I was feeling overwhelmed post COVID I’m losing people again. What should I do differently?

– Culinary Director


While post-COVID is an appealing notion and we may not be masking and distancing ourselves in the dining room like we used to, we are still very much in COVID times, with many lingering questions as we embark on another vacation , a trip and other issues come across flu season. The labor disputes that we have seen in recent years are not going away.

People leave restaurant and foodservice jobs for a variety of reasons: generalized inflation, making today’s even higher wages still insufficient for workers; higher demands for a positive workplace culture and environment for employees; availability of jobs in other sectors that may be less demanding, better paid and have more predictable schedules; a challenging guest service environment (aka difficult guests); leadership challenges (aka bad managers); and reprioritization, to name a few key causes.

The advantage for ambitious and committed employees is that there are many opportunities. Rather than jostling with peers for infrequent promotion opportunities, it’s now important to stick around long enough while still being competent to advance in the food industry.

For me, companies with low turnover and full staffing are more interesting than the wailing of departing employees. I asked industry professionals what works in their operations:

  • better pay.
  • Clear explanations of the ascent routes.
  • Meetings where employees have their say.
  • Popular managers.
  • “Management has the back of the employees and is not always on the side of the guests.”
  • Bonuses, perks, rewards and recognition for employees.
  • Optional paid training courses.
  • Communication.
  • Shared vision and goals.
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No single solution will stop churn. Business as usual with the added bonus of throwing more money at the problem isn’t going to make it. Instead, engage employees in the conversation and work to change the culture so employees still want to contribute. Ask your best employees what you have to do besides money to keep them. Ask departing employees to give you an honest exit interview about why they are leaving. Close the communication gap.

After all, this is an industry-wide challenge that requires an industry-wide solution. Use the programs offered by your restaurant association and suppliers to celebrate your employees. For example,

Sterno‘s “Bring the Heat” award would like to honor those foodservice workers who show the resilience to step up to the industry’s “new normal” with a $5,000 award. Even if your employees don’t win, show them you deserve it by sharing the nomination you wrote for them.

More on employee retention here.

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