New fixation for foodservice employers: Engagement

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Never mind recruitment and retention. The labor issue of the moment for foodservice employers appears to be how well current hires understand and fulfill their role in bringing success to the overall operation—or what the experts call “engagement.”

The term was cited repeatedly during the Global Best Practices Conference, an annual mind meld held by research firm TDn2K for restaurant executives that focuses on their market’s labor straits. Although the event is intended for the commercial sector of foodservice, the concerns and potential solutions aired by presenters were readily applicable to noncommercial operations.

No strict definition of engagement was aired, but speakers indicated it’s the mindset that drives managers and line-level employees to excel in their roles. They described it as a shared sense of mission or purpose that makes an employee feel like an important contributor to the operation.  They may have a limited role, but that role is essential.

When employees are engaged, the presenters repeatedly attested, a foodservice facility is far more likely to operate smoothly and deliver on its financial and service objectives. With a shared focus instilled in the team, absenteeism drops 41%, accidents fall by 70%, turnover is curbed by 24%, productivity rises 17% and sales are 20% more likely to rise, according to GM Connect, a collaboration between Gallup and TDn2K.

The biggest benefit may be the commitment it fosters in a workforce. Among foodservice employees who indicate they’re engaged, 92% say they plan on working for the same employer a year hence. For those who don’t report a connection, the figure drops to 56%.

Yet research from GM Connect shows the restaurant industry does a lousy job of fostering engagement. Only 27% of managers in the business are engaged, compared with a level of 67% for the business world as a whole, according to the partnership.

That disconnect trickles down to hourlies, the data show. When their boss is engaged, employees are 59% more likely to be engaged themselves, according to GM Connect. 

It pegged that engagement-instilling leader as a manager exhibiting five attributes:

  • An ability to motivate and engage every employee by vividly painting a common goal and vision.
  • A refusal to let obstacles deflect the operation from success.
  • Decision-making based on productivity and outcome, not political considerations.
  • A commitment to instilling clear accountability in a culture.
  • An adeptness at building relationships that foster trust, dialogue and transparency.


The engagement fostered by a manager fitting that bill translates not just into more effective employees, according to GM Connect, but also into far better ambassadors for the operation—persons with enough pride to promote their facilities as a great place to eat.

At present, only 26% of restaurant employees would encourage friends or family members to visit their place of employment for a meal.

“You want to make sure that everyone leaving your organization is leaving as a brand ambassador,” said Ed O’Boyle, global practice leader for Gallup.

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