How to Reduce Restaurant Employee Turnover

Figure out what’s causing your restaurant’s staff turnover problems to get your best employees to stick around.

The annual restaurant employee turnover rate reached an all-time high of 75% in early 2019, meaning almost three quarters of restaurant employees are unlikely to stay in their jobs for a whole year. Our restaurant teams are in a rough state of affairs, friends.

Although higher-paying roles and an increase in employer options are the most common reasons for turnover right now, many restaurant staff, in both front and back of house, leave simply because they don't enjoy their work environments — and, in the current labor market, it’s easy to find a better one.

In the 2019 Restaurant Success Report, we learned reducing restaurant employee turnover is on more than half of restaurateurs’ minds: 51% of restaurateurs ranked hiring staff as a top challenge, with training staff and retaining staff close behind at 35% and 31%.

Facing one of the most severe labor shortages in decades, restaurants are trying any measure that’ll help them keep their staff, from implementing new management models to offering bonuses, childcare, and other employee benefits.

If restaurant owners and managers can’t reduce staff turnover, it could cost big bucks for business. So what are we going to do about it? In this how-to guide about reducing restaurant employee turnover, we’ll cover a lot, but here’s the summary. You’ll learn:

  • What restaurant employee turnover is 
  • How a high employee turnover rate affects your restaurant’s operations 
  • How to identify the root causes of employee turnover in your restaurant 
  • Specific ways to reduce employee turnover in your restaurant

First thing’s first.

What Is Restaurant Employee Turnover?

The term “restaurant employee turnover” refers to the situation when an employee leaves their position at a restaurant to seek employment elsewhere. Turnover rate refers to how frequently employees leave their jobs. If you have an annual turnover rate of 50%, that means the number of people you hired that year is equal to half of your staff.

Say you started the year with 20 employees. If your restaurant has an average employee turnover rate of 75%, that means approximately 15 of the original team members you started the year with left before the year’s end. With the cost of replacing an hourly employee averaging $6,000, that turnover would have cost your business $90,000. For restaurant owners with a large staff, you could be spending into the six-digits every year.

How Employee Turnover Impacts Team Culture

When you lose a member of your restaurant staff, you’ll typically see an immediate impact on service quality. With one fewer front-of-house staff member, sections become bigger, a spare second to run food or drinks is harder to come by, and the payment process might slow down. With one fewer back-of-house team member, additional responsibilities on the line will be added to staff members’ plates, extra shifts will need to be accounted for, and fewer staff members to fulfill the same number of tickets can cause a bottleneck.

If the staff member who left was a longstanding, experienced member of your team, you’re losing an invaluable knowledge base, a trainer for new employees, and a person with a high comfort level with their role, responsibilities, and your customers. Unless you’ve already established a clear restaurant training manual and succession plan, getting other staff members operating at the level of your experienced staff member is time consuming and often can’t be rushed. In the interim, customers often notice the void, and your guest reviews might suffer.

Another possible repercussion of restaurant employee turnover is that those left behind might question their own status and might even experience a sense of loss. Plus, picking up additional responsibilities while an open spot is filled could result in those workers feeling stressed and resentful.

It’s not uncommon to see a spike in your employee turnover rate when one or more employees leave. One person taking the plunge can be convincing for others who were on the fence or their friends on staff. Employee turnover also tends to spike around the holidays.

As this chart from Nation’s Restaurant News illustrates, some restaurant roles are more difficult to replace than others. Compare your restaurant against these national statistics — do things look similar?

This all sounds pretty grim, huh? One staff member leaves and things get messy. Employee turnover really is one of the biggest challenges for the restaurant industry to overcome right now. It’s rough. But there are ways we can reduce it.

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