Nashville Speaks Out: What Restaurant Employees Really Have to Say

By: AJ Beltis

5 Minute Read

Oct 04, 2017

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We spoke to dozens of foodservice employees in Nashville for their anonymous feedback on:

  • The restaurant employee turnover problem.
  • Their honest advice to owners and managers.
  • What it takes to keep them satisfied and motivated.

The Nashville Restaurant Scene

The Nashville restaurant community is among the most exciting in the country.

The number of restaurants in the city has grown 10% since 2010. Compare that to the 0.1% growth in the number of restaurants across the country. That means the Nashville area has added 100% more restaurants than the national average, according to the National Restaurant Association.

With over 5,000 establishments in the city, diners have what seems like an endless number of options to choose from. Unfortunately for restaurants, this also means that the 300,000+ Tennessee restaurant employees have quite a few choices of where to apply and work.

What Do Nashville's Restaurant Employees Really Think?

We wanted to hear about the Nashville restaurant experience from those who have been there for years. Rather than continue on from an outsider's perspective, we're going to highlight some candid feedback on the city's restaurant scene from those who know it best.

We asked dozens of restaurant employees, servers, managers, and bartenders the following two questions:

  1. Working in an industry where staff turnover is so high, what is one tip you have for Nashville restaurant owners when it comes to keeping employees around?
  2. In a growing city like Nashville, TN, how do you recommend restaurant owners keep up with the new culture while also preserving the city’s roots?

The results are in. Whether you're born and raised in Nashville or haven't stepped foot in the city, we think there are lessons from this feedback that every restaurateur can take away.

Read on to see why.

Nashville's Turnover Problem

CTAThe nation's hospitality turnover rate is 72.9%. With so many restaurants vying for a share of the market, Nashville restaurants can't afford to lose employees at this rate.

According to Nashville restaurant workers, the problem boils down to one common issue: respect. If you want to keep your staff happy, productive, and employed in your restaurant, just show them a bit of that Southern charm.

Here are a few of the responses to the question,"What's one tip you have for Nashville restaurant owners when it comes to keeping employees around?"

  • "Say thank you to your staff."
  • "Listen to them, ask their opinion. Let them know they're valued and the lines of communication are open."
  • "Don't treat your employees like pawns on a chess set."
  • "Respect. In my experience - you get what you give."

That said - a few employees we reached out to certainly felt the frustration. They took the opportunity to express their contempt over the industry's highly-debated pay structure and the impact poor management has on their willingness to stick around.

  • "Pay a meaningful wage. $2.13 this day in age is a ******* joke. You make millions off of us."
  • "Pay more. Money talks."
  • "Listen. I see owners shutting down good ideas because they want things their way."
  • "Nothing worse then a manager who doesn't know what he/she is doing and is also hard to deal with."

Preserving the Nashville Spirit

If you've never been to Nashville, I have just one question for you: why not?

The food is great, the drinks are better, and it's one of the only cities where a violinist can play her heart out while standing on top of a bar.

Granted, I spent most of my time there hopping around Broadway, so it was admittedly a tourist's experience. I'm sure anyone from Nashville would tell me there's so much more to their city than that.

Which brings me to another hot topic when it comes to this Tennessee city: the culture. Restaurants represent an area's culture for both locals and visitors. So how can restaurants in Nashville find a balance on this very thin line?

nashville restaurant news

Here's what Nashville restaurant employees had to say when asked, "How do you recommend restaurant owners keep up with the new culture while also preserving the city’s roots?"

  • "Stop opening restaurants that are exactly the same as the ones that just opened. Do something original."
  • "Don't deviate from Nashville's hospitality. Offer sweet tea (we're not the north...they can have their unsweetened tea, but not here)."
  • "Live music is always nice."
  • "Do what you do and do it well, don't try to be everyone else."

The answers point to some common themes: being hospitable, expressing creativity, and loving music - all of which are traditionally associated with the city of Nashville.

Here are some of the honors Nashville has been bestowed with:

  • Nashville was named the 3rd Most Creative City by Forbes.
  • It was also ranked the 8th Best City for Live Music by Thrillist.
  • Finally, it was named the Kindest City by Travel and Leisure.

Even though I spent just one night in Nashville, none of these rankings surprise me. The excitement and originality the entire city embody are infectious. The servers, bartenders, and restaurant employees must also embody these ideals. When you find restaurant employees who do, best show your appreciation and support if you don't want to lose them.


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