Toast is pleased to present a guest blog from one of the country's most renowned culinary experts, Chef Jacques Haeringer.
Chef Jacques knows how to retain employees in a restaurant. He is the executive chef and proprietor of the legendary L’Auberge Chez François restaurant in Great Falls, Virginia and is one of America’s most respected and innovative culinary personalities. Chef Jacques takes pride in his restaurant's ability to retain employees, and the restaurant has been voted “Most Romantic”, “Best French”, and “Best Service” by readers of Washingtonian Magazine for over 25 years.
4 Tips on How to Retain Employees in Your Restaurant
Our business at L'Auberge Chez Francois and Jacques' Brasserie are equally dependent on getting the right clients and the right staff to walk in the door and making sure they coming back.
Every restaurateur is fighting a battle on two fronts. You’re competing in the ever-expanding restaurant marketplace for your share of good customers. You’re doing the same when it comes to top-notch employees. At L’Auberge Chez Francois and Jacques' Brasserie, we have had many of the same employees for 10, 20, and even 30 years.
Certainly, there’s some turnover at our place, but we don’t experience nearly the same level as other restaurants. We aim to create a culture in my restaurant that makes employees want to stick around for the long-term, and I’ve been successful in spite of our of-the-way location in the D.C. suburbs and more competition than ever from new restaurants.
Money isn’t everything, but it helps. Offering a good package of benefits seems obvious, but the restaurant industry still seems to lag.
Our employees stay with us because we offer more in terms of pay, vacation, and benefits than the restaurant down the street.
Does that hurt the bottom line when it comes to calculating our expenses every month? Sure, but the trade-off is worth it when you consider the costs of training new staff and the benefit of my customers seeing the same, experienced staff members each time they walk in the door.
If you are willing to invest a bit more money in your employees, you’ll come out ahead in the long run.
Aside from money, here are 4 ideas to try in your restaurant if you'd like to understand how to retain employees.
1. Forget About Titles
Conventional workplace wisdom holds that the key to retaining staff is the possibility of promotions and advancement in the company. While that may be true on Wall Street, I think restaurant workers care more about stability than upward mobility or their job titles.
We all know that restaurants close down at the same speed that they open up. This industry can offer prestige and excitement, but job security usually isn’t one of the perks.
We’ve been open in our present location for forty-one years and another twenty before that. We have 95 employees and they know from our history that they can count on the doors being open when they arrive for work each day.
The long history of our restaurant puts us in a unique position to offer stability to our team that just won’t be possible for a chef starting a new venture. But I think that you can reassure your team just by being transparent with them about your vision for the business and what the fiscal realities are. I let my staff know when we’ve had a good month and when it has been slow, and then I tell them what I’m doing to overcome any slow periods or dips so that they know I’m working at keeping the business profitable.
It isn’t enough to have a business plan - your employees should know what it is so that you're offering a stable work environment.
2. Stay Away From the Trends
How many of us watched restaurateurs jump on the no-tipping trend only to see them roll it back again?
I think we’ve managed to stay open for so many years because we’ve avoided jumping on industry trends and just focused on serving good food in a good atmosphere.
The same is true when it comes to the organization of our team. My colleagues have called me old-fashioned for the way we run our dinner service, with each of our waiters only taking a few tables each evening and really owning those few tables. This means that I need more staff than other restaurants, as we don’t have food-runners or multiple servers taking care of a table, but the staffing formula we use has been in place since we opened in D.C. in 1954 and it works.
Sure, there’s always room to grow and evolve, but don’t confuse evolving with doing what everyone else is doing. If you’re just like everyone else, there’s no reason for customers or employees to choose you.
3. Encourage Ownership
My father, who founded L’Auberge Chez François, used to say, “If two people always agree, only one of them is thinking.”
Hearing differing viewpoints and being willing to take them seriously is key to evolving your business and ensuring that the staff feel that they are part of the success of the restaurant.
Chef Jacques (left) and some of his employees.
At our daily staff meeting, I encourage everyone who works for me to come up with and share their own ideas for how we can improve the restaurant and evolve. I want everyone to think like an owner.
Then, it’s my job to take their viewpoints seriously so that they can see their ideas in action. Our business benefits from new ideas and the staff are engaged in their work. Ask your employees to think like an owner and then show them that you are listening.
4. Offer Bragging Rights
Our employees have something to brag about, and I think that is just as important as their salaries.
We’ve managed to snag a quite a number of accolades over the years like Top 100 Restaurants on OpenTable four years running or being named the Most Romantic Restaurant in Virginia in USA Today.
Not to mention the fact that we’ve been around for over sixty years. We all want to be proud of what we do and where we work, since most of us spend more time working than doing anything else. It feels good to do some bragging and we give our team something to brag about. Eye an award or press opportunity and really go for it, for your employee’s sake if not for your own.
How do you retain your restaurant's employees? Let us know in the comments below!