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How to Battle Employee Turnover

Dear Restaurant Remedies,

I am a small fast casual restaurant owner. Our restaurant has been open for less than a year and I am experiencing high turnover. I only have 15 people on the schedule, I keep losing cooks, and I can’t seem to find any. This means I am constantly in the kitchen and can’t get out front to interact with new guests. What should I do?!?

--Over worked and Frustrated, Southern Ca

Dear Overworked and Frustrated,

I am sorry you are in this situation and I am glad to see that you are wanting to find some solutions. I have been in your shoes, and it is challenging to find employees these days who really want to work, particularly in the cook job code. But don’t worry, below are some tips that worked for me and my restaurants.

Reality of Employee Turnover

Let’s get some of the stats out of the way on restaurant turnover. Unfortunately, the restaurant industry reports some of the highest annual turnover rates of any industry with the average at 74% and fast feeders often show averages of 100% or more. This means the 15 employees that you have today on your roster, may not be there in one year! That’s the reality of the business.

Millennials make up the largest sector of the work force and they are known for frequently changing jobs. Restaurants like yours, that have less than 20 crew members, are hit the hardest. If you lose a couple of key employees it can be devastating and it is one of the largest causes for restaurant business failure during the 1st year. Now is the time to get the handle on it so you can grow your business!

If I were you, I would try these two strategies that I found help me to combat turnover in the kitchen and find replacements:

Hire for Cross Training:

Several years ago, I noticed the Los Angeles market started having difficulties with finding qualified kitchen help due to the increases in minimum wages and the increased level of sick leave days (up to six days annually) in the city of Los Angeles. In the restaurants I was operating, we did our best to keep a little above with the market wages, but because our menu had a guest check average of $13.00 – $15.50 we could not offer the highest wages of some of restaurants who had $50.00 plus tickets. The minimum wage increase also caused compression in wages. This occurs when the staff above minimum wage, usually the cooks and supervisors, expect to receive comparable lifts in their wages, too.

To combat the thin hiring pool for cooks, we changed our hiring strategy to focus on hiring people who we could develop into the cook position. Initially, some candidates were afraid to jump directly into a high-volume family dining kitchen, because of lack of skills, sensing more pressure, and some had language or literacy issues. We took baby steps by introducing the cross training of support positions in the back of house like Kitchen Gofer/Stocker, then to Prep so they got their feet wet first on the fringes of the kitchen. As they were willing to try new stations, their confidence and skills improved. Their progress was sweetened by increases in their wage for each station graduation.

This approach does require more initial coaching and manager involvement, but in the end, it created win-win results for both sides. We grew people who were eager to learn and were extremely loyal because of our investment in their growth. In addition, we enjoyed the fruits of our labors because they generally lasted two times longer than other hires and referred more qualified friends.

Resolving Issues Promptly:

Most people leave jobs because of what they perceive to be poor management. If you are regularly turning over people, try to identify what are the “pain points” that are causing people to leave and quickly correct them. Some areas not related to wage could be:

·        Not having enough tools to the do the job

·        Lack of on-boarding training

·        Failure to resolve personality conflicts with a manager or fellow crew member

·        Not making them feel part of the team

Once new employees are hired and there is time to breathe again, it is easy to slip into the trap of thinking our job is done, but that is far from the truth. Newly hired employees spend their first two months conducting their own "interview of the restaurant" to see if you are a good fit for them. Be on your best employer behavior.

You’ve got to stop the friction and annoyances they are experiencing to have a smooth operation and reduce the turnover. Don’t be afraid to survey employees to find out why there is turnover and find out what you can improve to keep your team committed to you. Involving employees in the solution process is also a good strategy as they will have more buy-in on making the solutions work. If your problem cannot be corrected over-night, communicate what you plan to do to rectify the situation, and do your best to fix the situation as quickly as possible. This approach also shows your team that you are empathetic to their situation and they will feel there is hope on the horizon and they may stick around through the turmoil.

Thank you for your question, Overworked and Frustrated. For you readers, we would love to hear if you’re going to try these strategies by commenting below and share solutions that worked for you.

Check back next month, where I will be sharing two more tips to reduce restaurant turnover.

If you would like to learn more strategies to retain your employees, please comment below or email us with your question to Restaurant Remedies at


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