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The Right Program Helps Reduce Employee Turnover

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The restaurant industry has a clear turnover problem.

Topping 70 percent annually in recent years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employee departure rates leave eateries, bars and other commercial kitchen-driven businesses challenged to find the best workers in a tight labor market. And throwing money at them isn’t always the answer: Upserve’s 2018 State of the Restaurant Industry report found little correlation between base pay and restaurant staff retention.

On the flip side, according to a study done by the prestigious Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) at Cornell University, the cost of staff turnover could be as high as $5,864 per employee.

The answer to keeping your best people might be encompassed in two simple words: Employee training. From service expectations to commercial kitchen cleaning standards, the right training program can boost retention and serve your bottom line. 

Even experienced restaurant workers may have trouble understanding what is expected of them without proper training, says restaurant consultant and coach David Scott Peters, also known as The Restaurant Expert. This can lead to poor performance and job dissatisfaction. And variations in customer experience can lead to lost business, he says.

“Most of our turnover is because they don’t know the job. They’re embarrassed. And they’d rather leave than ask for help,” Peters says.

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Train the Right Way

  • chef training junior kitchen staff

    Training is a simple solution, but one that many restaurant owners and managers often overlook. Typical training may include a few days of shadowing servers or frenetic commercial kitchen workers. That’s simply not enough to make workers proficient, says restaurant strategist Martha Lucius. Instead, you need to take a more holistic approach to restaurant training. Here are six ways training and culture can help.

    One: Systematize Each Job

    You know your restaurant better than anyone. But have you stopped to truly think about what you expect of your staff? “It’s not just: ‘take an order.’ It’s ‘take a food and beverage order with accuracy for all tables with less than 2 percent mistakes of food in the POS [point of sale] system.’ It's being that specific and clear,” Peters says. You may expect your chef to periodically greet tables, but if you don’t say so, the chef may not understand that’s a job requirement.

    To hit those goals, start by crafting a complete job description for each position in your restaurant, including the standards and metrics that you expect. In addition to cooking and prep, kitchen staff may need to learn everything from how to clean a greasy floor to how to clean an electric griddle. When you map out the specifics of each job, you understand each area your staff members need to learn.

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Two: Write It Down

Create a training manual that includes the areas in which employees need to be trained, including other parts of the restaurant, Lucius says. The front of the house and back of the house should be able to understand the demands placed on each other, she says. When you create a manual that has training instructions, trainers can ensure that they’re covering each area properly.

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Three: Choose the Right Trainers

  • chef and manager examine a case in a restaurant environment

    Everyone needs to be trained, but not everyone is a good trainer. “Often, your best employee in that position isn’t your best trainer—they’re your worst,” Peters says. What they do may come so naturally that they get impatient with others who can’t do the job as well. Identify detail-oriented people who are patient and familiar with your expectations to be trainers, he says. Get feedback from trainees so you can work with the trainer to improve their approach.

    Four: Give Constructive Feedback

    Feedback is essential for new employees to grow and learn. Trainers should be attentive to details like how quickly the new employee does what’s expected, whether it’s learning how to use the POS system or using the best sponge for the job. Be sure to reinforce what they’re doing right, too, so they don’t get overwhelmed with negative feedback. Constructive feedback helps new employees learn the ropes and perform to expectations, he says.

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Five: Test . . . and Then Test Again

A new hire can do the most damage in those first days working independently from the trainer, Peters says. So, testing and checking in on your new hires periodically and retraining when necessary are also important steps. You may quiz them on menu items and issues like how to address food allergies or practices to prevent food-borne illness. Collecting feedback from customers about where the employee may need improvement is another way to identify additional training needs.

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Six: Foster a “Retention Environment”

Work environments that are free of negative conflict and where workers communicate openly with managers and owners go a long way toward keeping workers. Good training opens the door to that kind of communication, Peters says. By creating an environment where employees know that you care about helping them and where they feel free to ask questions, communicate, and get better at their jobs, you help retain the best talent.

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