How to Boost Employee Morale in Your Restaurant

By: Caroline Price

9 Minute Read

Nov 06, 2019

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The industry-wide employee turnover issue is exhausting. Always having to think about hiring, recruiting, job descriptions, interviews, and the cost of it all is enough to tire even the most seasoned restaurateur. But what if the secret to mastering retention was by turning your attention inward and focusing on boosting employee morale? 

In a recent study by EmployeeChannel, only 16% of employees said they felt “connected and engaged” to their employers. In the restaurant business, this lack of engagement translates directly to the incredibly low tenure of employees in both front- and back of house.

One of the most significant factors affecting the quality of your guest experience is the people who provide it: Your employees. If they’re bored, unfulfilled, and otherwise disengaged, expect that to be reflected in the experience they’re crafting for your guests. 

Though prioritizing engaging your staff sounds like just another thing to add onto your already full plate, it’s not as tough as you might think; it’s also pretty fun. Here are six actionable tips to help you boost employee morale within your own restaurant, including examples, tips, and tricks from real restaurants in the Philadelphia area.

Free Resource: The Ultimate Checklist for Following The Restaurant Health Code

6 Ways to Boost Employee Morale And Improve Staff Retention 

1. Empower your team with collaborative scheduling. 

A study conducted by the Southern Medical University found that job stress and employee morale are directly correlated with how in-control and respected an employee feels in their role. Employees feel valued, respected, and invested when they are included in making decisions that affect them. At a minimum, consider including them in the why behind the decisions you make

Allowing employees to set their own availability on busy Saturday evenings as well as other days – and working collaboratively to schedule shifts –  is a great way to help employees feel empowered and ensure that your restaurant is correctly staffed and not overworked. 

Investing in restaurant scheduling software will allow employees to submit their own availability, facilitate shift trades, and coordinate working hours amongst themselves. When hiring a new team member, make sure they understand your expectations of how much they’ll typically work and when, and notify them of your scheduling policies. Respect for the schedule has to work both ways, everyone on board has to be involved. 

And it’s a win-win: Not only will this help reduce scheduling stress and boost morale, but it will also help you save time managing your team.

According to our research, in Philadelphia, the busiest times are Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. (Fun fact: Philly eats later than other cities; the most popular hour of the day nationally is 7 p.m.).  

2. Offer on-the-job Skills Training.

HR Dive says that it can cost up to 33% of an employee’s base salary to replace them. A simple way to reduce turnover and increase morale is by setting your new employees up for success from day one by offering on-the-job skills training. Showing you value your employees long-term career by investing in professional development opportunities also increases the likelihood that they’ll stick around, directly improving your bottom line

The restaurant business doesn’t often require entry-level employees to stay on-top of dining trends, but when you pay for your servers, bartenders, hosts, and chefs to improve their skill-set, it benefits all parts of your business.. 

Mission Taqueria in Philadelphia does this well by providing educational opportunities for the staff to constantly improve their skills. Their monthly TACOLAB event features a guest chef who creates a one-night-only menu so employees can learn new techniques and try out new recipes. 

Having a pool of highly-trained employees is an incredible asset for your restaurant because they can, in turn, help train other employees.. For example, the average tip in Philadelphia is 20.04%, compared to the average tip in the US at 19.65%. What can  those servers who consistently get tips over 20% share with other, less successful servers? Could they share their strategies with the rest of the team to improve the customer experience for all?

Learning new things gives employees a greater sense of purpose, confidence in their ability to do their job well, and in turn makes them want to stay. Also, if your restaurant works on a gratuity-based management model, highly-skilled employees will likely receive more tips. If and when you do need to hire more staff, you now have a competitive perk other businesses will most likely not be able to match.

Read More: The Restaurant Employee Handbook Template

3. Recognize Your Employees’ Successes 

Do you celebrate moments when team members go above and beyond? 

Gallup found that highly engaged businesses achieve a 10% increase in customer ratings and a 20% increase in sales. There is an opportunity to help engaged employees fuel growth, especially in Philly, where the average ticket size for full service restaurants is $52.03, 20% above the national average. Recognize your employees who are upselling like nobody’s business and bringing in more revenue because of it. 

Thoughtful but straightforward acts can pay dividends: A thank-you note, a recognition letter, a round of applause in your team meetings, or a more structured “Employee of the Month” program. You can also make the accomplishments public for your entire restaurant staff to see by calling out a job well done on your social media accounts or through a restaurant newsletter. Recognizing accomplishments, whether they’re big or small, is a surefire way to show your staff you appreciate their hard work and boost employee morale overall.

Another way to encourage success is to share your stats and help your employees improve the customer experience. For example, the average table turn-time for full service restaurants in Philly is 50 minutes, which is more than the national average of 46 minutes.) Take a look at your own stats and share them: Can you gamify service, rewarding those employees who most efficiently turn tables? 

How you recognize is as important as the recognition itself. Make your recognition genuine, timely, and personalized. A timely way to communicate an award (and how it was achieved ) would be at your staff meeting before nightly service. This can have a ripple effect on modeling behavior for other employees.

If you have the resources, consider a monetary incentive or a paid day or half day off for award recipients. Be sure to offer an employee incentive your staff values and would want to work towards earning.

4. Provide Free (or Discounted) Staff Meals

Feed your staff and let them try new menu items free of charge or for a discounted rate. In part, so they can better sell them to your patrons. But also because... well, food is love.

USA today reported that 48% of job seekers weigh company perks - including the availability of free food - in their decision when looking for a new job. Instead of throwing out food prepped for that day’s meal service, provide it to staff for free. This way you reduce your restaurant’s food waste, provide employees with the fuel needed to keep them excelling through the rest of their shift, and you provide them with first-hand knowledge of what your dishes taste like so they can make educated recommendations for guests.

According to the Lost Prevention Innovation Blog, you will need to establish employee meal policies to keep everyone on the same page about what meals are allowed, how meals are to be prepared, and how they will be distributed. Your business is run on a love of food, your staff should love it just as much as you do!

Read More: How Offering Employee Benefits Can Improve Staff Retention

5. Reward Employee Loyalty.

Glassdoor recently published a study showing that the average American worker spends 15 months in one role. 7shifts found that the average tenure of a restaurant employee is 1 month and 26 days, significantly lower than the average American worker.

One way to avoid losing employees and save on re-hiring costs is by rewarding employee loyalty. Celebrate work anniversaries, and offer paid days off, flexible vacation, promotions, raises, or bonuses. 

The famous Bynum brothers of the Bynum Hospitality Group hire and reward individuals who are passionate and drawn to their mission, leading to long-term, committed employees

Home Run Inn noticed their staff tended to leave after two weeks or three months, which resulted in them created a tailored program to motivate staff beyond these employment benchmarks.

Read More: 4 Restaurants That Are Rockin' Employee Retention

6. Schedule Non-Work Related Activities for Your Team to Connect

Build a sense of camaraderie by giving your employees opportunities to unwind and have fun.

According to research from Oxford University, if you laugh a lot at work, your happiness and perception of your workplace as a positive environment increases exponentially.

Create a space for your staff to relax and decompress between shifts and revitalize. Team building exercises are also a great way to boost employee morale – paintball, escape rooms, or rock climbing are great options. You don’t need to spend a ton of money: At Fast Company, they set up a ping pong table in their communal area and asked employees to bring board games to promote fun at work.

Mission Taqueria makes sure to completely shut down once a year, and celebrates the restaurant’s birthday with a full team outing, acknowledging all of the work that each individual puts into their success. 

These types of group activities are simple, help to form bonds, and help your employees learn to work as a team. 

A Happy Employee is An Engaged Employee

Keeping employees happy, motivated, and productive is more important than ever in today’s extremely competitive restaurant labor market. By focusing on boosting employee morale in your restaurant, you’ll see positive improvements to your restaurant’s culture and employee retention rates. 

Investing in employee happiness will save you money on re-hiring costs, increase your bottom line, and help to provide patrons with a memorable experience that will keep them coming back again and again.

Employees who are happier work harder and deliver more delightful guest experiences. It’s that simple!

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