How to get staff to stick around

Engage employees in the conversation and work to change the culture to get staff to want to continue contributing, Advice Guy says.
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Just when I felt staffed up post-COVID, I lose people again. What should I be doing differently?

-Culinary Director


While post-COVID is an appealing notion, and we may not be masking and distancing in the dining room the way we were, we are still very much in COVID times, with lots of lingering questions as we come up on another holiday, travel and flu season. The labor struggles we’ve seen through the past few years are not disappearing.

People are leaving restaurant and foodservice jobs for a variety of reasons: across-the-board inflation, making today’s even higher wages still inadequate for workers; greater demands for positive workplace culture and positive environment for staff; availability of jobs in other sectors that may be less demanding and better paying with more predictable schedules; a challenging guest services environment (a.k.a. difficult guests); leadership challenges (a.k.a. bad managers); and reprioritization, to name some leading causes.

The upside for ambitious and dedicated staff is that opportunities abound. Rather than jostling with colleagues for rare promotion opportunities, hanging around long enough while being competent is what it takes to get ahead in the food business these days.

More interesting than the bemoaning of departing staff, to me, are operations where turnover is low and staffing is full. I’ve been asking industry pros what’s working in their operations:

  • Better pay.
  • Clear explanations of pathways for promotion.
  • Meetings where employees get a say.
  • Well-liked managers.
  • “Management having staff’s back and not always taking the side of guests.”
  • Bonuses, perks, rewards and recognition for staff.
  • Optional paid trainings.
  • Communication.
  • Shared vision and goals.

No single solution will stop attrition. Business as usual with the addition of throwing more money at the problem will not get it done. Rather, engage employees in the conversation and work to change the culture to get staff to want to continue to contribute. Ask your best employees what, apart from money, you will need to do to keep them. Ask departing employees to give you an honest exit interview about why they are leaving. Close the communication gap.

Finally, this is an industry-wide challenge that demands an industry-wide solution. Take advantage of programs offered by your restaurant association and suppliers to celebrate your staff. For example,

Sterno’s “Bring the Heat” award is looking to honor those foodservice employees who show the resiliency of rising to the industry’s “new normal” with a $5,000 prize. Even if your employees don’t win, show them you think they deserve to by sharing the nomination you’ve written for them.

More on employee retention here.



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