How to Do Restaurant Employee Exit Interviews

By: Jessica Reimer

7 Minute Read

Apr 25, 2018

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There’s no doubt about it — your employees are the fuel that keep your restaurant’s engine running. Unfortunately, restaurateurs around the world are faced with a very real, resource-intensive issue: People quit.

Did you know that the average restaurant employee lasts less than two months and three in ten restaurateurs struggle to fill staff vacancies? It’s no wonder then that managers cite recruitment and retention among their top concerns.

Whether it’s a move to a new city or school, a new career, or a hiatus from the work world altogether, staff will leave your restaurant… and while you’ll miss them dearly, it’s important not to let that resignation letter trigger despair and dismay.

Instead, look at the silver lining: You now have a unique opportunity to learn from someone who— quite literally —served in the trenches and is brimming with insider info.

So how do you tease out these juicy insights? A restaurant employee exit interview.

What is An Employee Exit Interview?

Although there are ways to buffer against the dreaded restaurant revolving door—an ace employee benefits program and proven employee morale boosters like regular team communication are both great ideas—it would be unreasonable to assume the team you have today is the team you’ll have forever.

When done properly, exit interviews are an effective way to gather operational intelligence about what’s working well, what could use some work, and how your restaurant fares against the competition.

If you’ve just experienced a mass exodus of staff, for example, referring back to those employees’ exit interviews might just tell the real story of why they moved to greener pastures; maybe it’s a lack of professional development, an uncompromising management style, or a bad habit of ignoring employees’ scheduling requests. Either way, you won’t know unless you ask.

Harvard Business Review named the exit interview “one of the most powerful yet least understood” talent management processes. After surveying hundreds of business owners across dozens of industries, they found that a surprising minority had established exit interview programs, and fewer still transformed the data they collected into positive organizational change.

Read More: Everything You Need to Know About Managing Restaurant Staff

Restaurant Employee Exit Interview Etiquette: The Do's and Don'ts

To help you make the most of an otherwise crummy situation, we’ve put together a crash course in exit interview etiquette, along with four must-ask questions.

DO - Schedule Your Exit Interview Strategically.

It doesn’t make sense to schedule an interview the moment an employee gives his or her notice. Rather, try to schedule it on or as close to their last day as possible; this boosts your chances of an honest, candid conversation.

Remind your outgoing staff member that any information they share will be in confidence and won’t affect their relationship with your restaurant or the possibility of a reference letter they might be looking for down the road.

DO - Treat Your Outgoing Staff With Respect.

Respect is a fundamental building block in every successful organization; your employees should feel respected and supported from the initial exit interview right through to their final clock-out.

Fostering an environment where ideas and opinions are valued increases the chances of an honest, fruitful discussion at time of departure. Though you may be losing a team member, practicing respect increases your chances of earning a brand ambassador, an employee referral outlet, or even a paying customer.

DO - Invite Outgoing Employees to Speak Freely And Openly.

Before you dive into your list of questions, make sure you communicate that the reason you’re soliciting feedback is because you’re committed to improving the overall restaurant experience, both for customers and for staff.

Protect the bridges you’ve built by adopting a “never close doors” policy, meaning the way you behave with outgoing employees should always enable both parties to continue your positive, professional relationship. Though losing an employee in a restaurant is akin to losing a friend or confidant, don't let your emotions get the better of you and cost you the opportunity to leverage your relationship in the future; you should likewise remind the outgoing employee of this.

DO - Listen Closely And Carefully

Simon Sinek believes the best leaders understand the difference between listening and simply waiting for their turn to speak.

Because your outgoing employee is the star of the show, he or she should be given every opportunity to speak up. Your job, as the interviewer, is to listen intently, jumping in only to pose or respond to a question or to steer the conversation in a new direction.

Consider, too, the value in listening to what’s not being said; body language cues can be equally telling about how an outgoing employee really feels.

DO - Structure Your Exit Interviews However Works Best For You

Online surveys, pen-and-paper questionnaires, face-to-face sit-downs, or some combination of the three are all viable ways to learn more information about what it’s like to work at your restaurant.

One semi-structured, face-to-face interview delivered by someone other than the exiting employee’s direct supervisor is a recommended part of every exit interview, as this will remove the biases present in every manager-direct report relationship.

No matter what format you choose though, take care to build a program that delivers the information you need without demanding too much of your outgoing staff.

DON’T - Assume You Already Know The Answers.

Restaurants are often tight-knit, trusting communities, but being part of that community does not automatically mean you know everything that has happened and is happening between staff members.

This is precisely why interviews are so valuable and important: By reaching out to your team for answers and insights, you prove that you’re invested in what they have to say and that you don’t presume to have all the answers.

DON’T - Get Defensive

Check your ego at the door.

Managers sometimes forget that, for many employees, an exit interview is as much a nerve-racking experience as when they first hired on with your restaurant. An employee might go into an interview ready to be open and honest, but if their candor is met with defensiveness and constant interruption, that honesty will likely be short lived.

4 Essential Restaurant Employee Exit Interview Questions

Ultimately, the success of an exit interview should be measured by the positive change it generates for your restaurant, whether that’s an employee handbook update, investment in new technology, or a long-overdue conversation with a problem employee.

Here are four of our go-to employee exit interview questions:

1. Why are you leaving your job with us?

Any employee going into an exit interview can and should expect some version of this question. Although money is a strong motivator to move on to a new role, it’s not the only reason staff walk out the door. Substandard working conditions, interpersonal issues, and poorly managed incidents are all viable reasons for tendering a resignation.

2. Were you adequately equipped to do your job well?

This question can reveal much about your restaurant’s policies and procedures. What an employee needs to feel “adequately equipped” is often individual-specific; responses might range from proper staff coverage during peak hours to adequate training, up-to-date tools, and work-life balance.

3. What skills or qualities should we look for in your replacement?

Nobody knows a job better than the person performing it.

Encouraging your exiting employee to reflect on which skills and abilities are the greatest predictors of success for their particular role might prompt you to reconsider what you emphasize in a restaurant job posting.

Think of a BOH vacancy, for example: Are people skills really more important than knife skills? Your outgoing employees can speak from experience on what an optimal skill mix will look like.

4. What can we do to improve our restaurant?

Framing this question this way implicitly acknowledges there is always room for improvement. It also shows you’re open to feedback that promotes organizational and personal growth; the exiting employee should be encouraged to treat this as an open-ended question, where they can freely share their perspective at length.

Not Goodbye, Just See You Soon

Hopefully these tips have you well on your way to a rockstar exit interview program. Check out Toast and 7shift's Employee Retention Playbook to learn more about how to stay one step ahead of the game by 86’ing turnover and improving employee retention.


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