how to motivate restaurant employees
by Laura-Andreea Voicu

Quitting is quite normal among restaurant employees. Some restaurant jobs might seem easy to get into but are in fact difficult to manage and survive. As a result, retaining restaurant employees by keeping them motivated is a top priority for managers.

To make things even worse, the pandemic whipped everything into a frenzy. Restaurants were among the industries hit the hardest during the pandemic’s staff layoffs and the staff shortages afterward.

Today, although the industry is recovering, restaurant employees are still quitting at a faster rate than other industries according to the latest US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In this article, we’ll analyze some of the reasons why restaurant employees quit. Then, we’ll look at how to motivate restaurant employees to increase employee retention.

Top 4 Reasons Why Restaurant Employees Quit

1. Non-competitive salary

Let’s cut to the chase. Restaurant servers are not paid enough.

The restaurant industry operates on thin profit margins as working on a low budget is part of the job. It’s common for owners to cut costs where they can, and this includes salaries.

According to Adzuna, the average salary for a server job in the United States is $60,712; however, many restaurants do not offer competitive salaries to their employees, making it difficult for them to stay motivated and committed to their jobs.

Employees should be paid a salary that matches their qualifications, experience, and performance. If the payment does not match their expectations, it will be difficult for them to stay on the job for an extended period.

2. Lack of job satisfaction

Job characteristics, stress, and participative decision-making have a significant impact on job satisfaction. Employees are less satisfied when they can’t:

  • Understand primary duties
  • Perform well without close supervision
  • Effectively deal with customers and co-workers without help
  • Manage work-related stress

Keep in mind that supervision should not supersede one’s autonomy in the workplace. Restaurant employees not only want a certain degree of autonomy in their own space, but they also want to feel heard when it comes to important decision-making. When they feel micromanaged or ignored, they tend to look for a better work environment.

High levels of work-related stress also force employees to quit. Stress becomes unmanageable when supervisors don’t have a system in place to assess the level of pressure employees feel.

Without regular one-on-ones and informal events, managers fail to assess workers’ needs and identify sources of stress.

3. Relentless training environment

In many restaurants, training mostly means job shadowing for a short while. Job shadowing is basically following someone around to understand how they do their job. Once the training is over, employees are put on the floor working full-time.

It may seem practical at first, but this method imposes stress on new hires. It implies that employment depends on learning very quickly. This pass-or-fail style training design is likely to increase employee turnover.

Add to that the fact that some restaurant owners’ perception of training is strictly limited to the onboarding process. Employees go through a one-time training program when they first arrive and are expected to keep up with the changes in the menu and restaurant policy.

When customers ask for a recommendation, for instance, they either have no information or can’t recall what the food/beverage tastes like.

Poor training design hurts employee retention.

4. Inefficient hiring strategies

Given the nature of the restaurant industry, multitasking is a much-appreciated skill for restaurant workers. Since time allocation is important, owners look for people that actually prefer multitasking. Their strategy is often based on hiring ‘polychronic’ employees who prefer taking up several tasks at a given time.

Yet polychronic-oriented workers constantly need more challenging work, which is not always easy for TMs to provide. Plus, more competitors seek to recruit these employees.

That’s why researchers suggest that hiring polychronic-oriented servers should not be an end goal. Instead, restaurant managers should consider conducting tests to assess candidates’ level of polychronicity when hiring. It’ll help you better place candidates with jobs that will capitalize on their abilities.

Because of their numerous skill assessment features, recruiting software can help you in the hiring process. And don’t forget that even after you hire high-performers, you should continue to make efforts to challenge them.

How to Motivate Restaurant Employees to Stay

1. Find ways to reduce stress during onboarding

Job shadowing as an onboarding training method seems to fall short of meeting new employees’ expectations. It’s necessary to some extent, but not sufficient.

New team members may hesitate to ask questions or raise concerns during onboarding. Restaurant managers often have a busy schedule. When a new employee wonders how the tip is distributed, for instance, they may hesitate to go to their manager.

Yet newcomers should feel comfortable enough to ask questions. Assign experienced team members to help out newcomers with their questions and concerns. This system will encourage new hires to resolve uncertainties before they become a stress factor during onboarding.

You can even create an employee handbook where you explain the details of:

  • The onboarding process
  • On-the-job training programs
  • Your organizational scheme
  • Brand values and positioning
  • Workplace safety measures
  • Workflow management and scheduling
  • Resource management

Google ‘restaurant employee handbook’ and you’ll find free templates and examples.

Having this information in one place can help new staff members understand how things work in your establishment. This way, you’ll set expectations straight from the go, prevent confusion, and reduce stress levels.

2. Invest in on-the-job training programs

On-the-job training is equally important as the onboarding process. Employees should regularly join training programs to stay informed about changing customer expectations, restaurant policy, and workplace operations.

Comprehensive and continuous training is the key to aligning your team with your brand identity and increasing employee retention.

Develop a multiphase training program that covers:

  • Food safety
  • Workplace safety
  • Serving and bussing quality
  • Cleaning and sanitation
  • Opening and closing
  • Storage
  • Cashiering
  • First aid

During training sessions, you can also cover industry trends, address current issues, and discuss changing customer expectations. Restaurant staff can calibrate their work with customer expectations and the brand’s identity.

Restaurant managers should also go through on-the-job training regularly. Management training plans provide a scheme for how to handle unexpected situations and customer interactions.

Management training programs should cover various subjects:

  • Employee management
  • Inventory management
  • Financial management
  • Safety
  • Recruitment strategies
  • Technology training
  • Understanding customer sentiment

Training management software tools can help you a lot in this process.

Trainers usually create a controlled environment where they expose managers to possible difficult or ambiguous scenarios. They guide management trainees throughout the process. As a predictive approach, this has a couple of benefits.

First, managers can create healthy work environments by knowing how to resolve stressful situations and how to motivate restaurant employees. This will increase employee retention. Second, it’ll increase service quality, by preventing minor issues from reflecting on customer relations.

3. Empower the staff

Research on Generation Y employees suggests that empowerment seriously affects job satisfaction. Allow your staff to try their own ideas and encourage them to participate in decision-making. Let them come up with new ways of doing their tasks.

Employee empowerment is not just about decreasing turnover though. When you make space for creativity, there’s no doubt that your staff will find more efficient ways to perform their jobs. It will foster growth and improve profitability.

Staff members can effectively contribute to decision-making in a lot of matters:

  • Experimenting with elements that make up your restaurant’s design: lighting, playlists, décor, and color
  • Experimenting with food and drink ideas
  • Understanding customer sentiment
  • Coming up with ideas for special restaurant events
  • Coming up with ideas for team events
  • Team performance improvement efforts

Your staff’s contribution doesn’t immediately translate into change. Don’t be afraid to take suggestions from your team. You can use the ones that make sense to you.

4. Create a seamless workflow

Keep in mind, Gen Y and Gen X employees’ education relied heavily on technology. When designing your restaurant’s workflow, you need to incorporate technology. Food automation technologies foster higher levels of job satisfaction and customer satisfaction.

A table reservation system, for instance, is essential for keeping customer and employee satisfaction at high levels. This technology allows customers to book tables online, which in turn, helps employees better manage their tasks and workload.

Free Table Reservation System for Restaurants Start taking table reservations on your website today

POS systems can help you plan and organize your employees’ time and tasks better. This will lead to greater efficiency and less time wasted. Online ordering systems also affect job satisfaction. Manual order-taking is prone to error.

Free Online Ordering System for Your Restaurant Website Boost sales by accepting orders online

Order errors can easily result in customer-staff confrontation and negative reviews. This kind of avoidable conflict is likely to cause stress. Using an online ordering system, you can prevent unpleasant situations and control work-related stress.

5. Communicate with staff and treat them fairly

Employers should never forget fair treatment is the key to building great teams. More and more industry workers explicitly say that they don’t want to work for people who behave without respect or understanding.

This has an impact on manager-level turnover rates too. If you want your staff to feel a sense of belonging to your establishment, you need to earn it.

It’s nearly impossible to avoid all negative feelings or possible confrontations. But healthy communication will certainly nourish positive feelings such as:

  • A sense of belonging to the team
  • A harmony between staff members
  • Being proud of the restaurant they work at
  • The urge to give and take constructive criticism

And customer-centricity is a great value, but customers aren’t always right. Instead of your employees anticipating your poor response to situations in which the customer isn’t right, show them you have their back in uncomfortable situations.

Come up with effective ways to communicate with your staff. For instance, send out surveys to identify stress factors and receive solution ideas. Here is a list of employee newsletter examples that support the flow of online information and centralized employee communication.

You can organize team-bonding events where you can assess levels of stress and get to know your personnel better.

In Closing

Losing talented employees is one of the top challenges for restaurant managers. Some restaurant-related jobs are among the lowest-paid yet exhausting jobs on the market.

Servers especially are under constant pressure from both managers and customers and might feel unappreciated in various circumstances. Keeping them motivated long-term is a tough task.

Some of the top reasons for the lack of motivation among restaurant employees are non-competitive salaries, lack of job satisfaction, unrealistic expectations and relentless training, and wrong hiring strategies.

What employers can do to uproot these causes depends a great deal on particular circumstances but here’s how to motivate restaurant employees at a glance:

  • Find ways to reduce stress
  • Have suitable training strategies
  • Empower the staff and give them authority when needed
  • Improve their workflow efficiency by investing in the right systems
  • Communicate with the staff and pay special attention to their needs.

This article is a guest post.

photo of GloriaFood blog writer Laura-Andreea Voicu
Laura-Andreea Voicu

Laura-Andreea Voicu is an experienced content writer with a knack for marketing and SEO. She creates guides and resources designed to help restaurants grow their presence online and boost sales.

She has been featured on the Oracle Food and Beverage Blog and wrote for Search Engine Journal, Clutch, Sender, Venngage, Quickbooks, and many more.

Find me on LinkedIn.