This post was last updated on Jul 08, 2020.
DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. You should contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.
Employees have many things to consider when deciding if a job is right for you. Does your manager schedule you regularly? Can you make a living on your wages? Do you earn enough tips to make ends meet? Is management easy to get along with, and are they receptive to professional growth opportunities? The eventual hope is to find a job that you enjoy clocking into every day, and a lot of that has to do with the work culture and the recognition you receive for a job well done.
Outside of the industry, restaurant workers barely get any recognition for how hard they work, and when they do it’s often glamorized. From inside the restaurant, you know that front-of-house and back-of-house employees are on their feet all day, most without the luxury of a set paycheck. It’s management’s job to keep things upbeat and let employees know how much their work matters to the bottom line of the business.
Employee appreciation, or employee recognition, is the acknowledgment of an employee’s efforts or actions that go beyond normal expectations. Everyone likes to be appreciated, and employee recognition can motivate staff to keep up the good work and maintain their momentum.
A good job might be about money, but a great job is about the workplace experience. If you don’t have a culture that draws employees in day after day, you better be offering a handsome pay and benefits package. Unfortunately, many restaurants don’t have the resources to do this.
To retain top talent — that is, those individuals who consistently go above and beyond for your restaurant — you must genuinely and visibly show them your appreciation. But this is easier said than done. As a manager or owner stares down their lengthy to-do list, employee recognition can slip farther and farther down in priority. There will always be tasks that seem more immediate. But adding staff appreciation to that list, and prioritizing it, will ensure that “find a replacement” doesn’t suddenly become the next item on your agenda.
Staff Appreciation Reduces Restaurant Turnover
Hiring a new staff member isn't easy or affordable. In fact, employee appreciation in restaurants is crucial to your business's success. You can’t do this without your employees. They are the ones who keep your business operating smoothly.
According to the National Restaurant Association, there are over one million restaurant locations in America and nearly 15 million individuals calling a restaurant their place of work. Employer turnover is rising, and staffing challenges are at an all-time high. All of these factors mean that restaurant workers have their pick of where they work. If they choose your restaurant, you want to continue giving them reasons to do so.
How Restaurateurs Can Show Their Staff Appreciation
1. Treat employees with kindness.
It’s common for restaurants to offer staff meals as a benefit. Now, add a side dish of kindness.
Feeling seen, heard, and valued is underrated in most workplaces. Simply asking your staff how they’re doing, celebrating important life events, and showing an interest in their lives outside of work can be the difference between keeping an employee and losing them.
Leslie Ann Ciccone has kindness woven into her business. Her restaurant, (swah-rey), has seen staff leave and then come running back to its overwhelmingly supportive work environment. It’s a testament to how we are as bosses, and how the environment can influence someone’s work, says Ciccone.
You shouldn’t over-complicate things when showing your staff you appreciate them. Say thank you. Tell them when they did a good job. Have lunch or dinner with them. Call out a significant, shift-saving move from the new busser in a shift meeting. Better yet, deliver a hand-written note for someone you think really deserves it.
If you make people feel good or help them feel good about themselves, they’ll come back — just like your customers.
2. Host a staff outing
Staff outings are great for two reasons. One, they give your employees a day off. Two, they offer staff time to build relationships with one another that they may not have the chance to otherwise.
Sponsoring team outings is tangible proof that you appreciate your team and are willing to invest in the experience. Still, outings don’t have to cost you thousands of dollars. Potluck picnics, field days, or volunteering opportunities are all great ideas to get your team together outside the four walls of the restaurant.
Not only does a staff outing show your appreciation, but team building has also been proven to increase drive and productivity in the workplace, meaning your day off will likely pay off.
To make the most of a staff outing, pick a date a few months in advance once or twice a year on a slow day — or slow evening — of the week, and tell all of your employees they are invited and encouraged to attend. Let your customers know that you will be closed on this day a few weeks beforehand so that they have ample warning. Consider posting the closure notice on your social media channels, on flyers in your restaurant, and on a sign on the front door.
3. Offer mentorship or professional development programs
No one wants to remain an entry-level employee forever. For chefs, mentorship is a given part of the profession. Ciro Fodera, Chef de Cuisine of Capo Restaurant, is taking steps to bring that to front-of-house staff as well.
“Everyone needs someone they can learn from,” Fodera says. In The Garnish Staff Series, Fodera described teaching dishwashers how to prepare dishes from the menu, and showing waiters how to cook chicken or pair cheeses, thus bringing both sides of the restaurant together, creating more awareness and empathy, and investing in the staff as a whole.
Having a mentor can greatly impact one’s career, just as being a mentor can teach you new tricks of the trade. Developing a mentorship program is an extremely cost-effective way to train and retain employees long-term. Try pairing experienced servers with new hires, or bridge the front of house and back of house by pairing line cooks with hosts.
For example, the mentoring program at Not Your Average Joe’s, a Northeastern creative-casual restaurant chain, provides participants with a budget for quarterly activities. Giving your employees a chance to learn from their team will also offer them a point person when they have questions down the line.
Professional development programs are more common for large franchises than small restaurants, but that doesn’t mean smaller operations can’t take a page from their book.
Subway franchise owners have the option to send a few employees from their location to an annual convention. These employees attend workshops and business trainings and come back to share their insights with the team. It might be impossible to set up an entire convention, but finding a local business workshop or restaurant industry event for employees to attend could be a great benefit for hardworking employees.
4. Empower employees to make their own decisions
Handing over responsibility is a meaningful way to show your staff you appreciate them, because it lets them know you trust their decision making.
A lot of this trust begins during training. Are you giving your employees the opportunity to learn the ropes, or are you throwing them into the wild with only one shift of hand-holding to prepare them?
Irene Li of Mei Mei Street Kitchen gives each server a “surprise and delight” budget every shift to make financial decisions on the fly.
"We tell the server, ‘that's your 40 bucks.’ We want you to spend it on somebody whose food we messed up. We want it for a brownie for that DoorDash delivery driver who looks like they're having a pretty bad day. We want to do a little something extra for a regular who comes in and gets the same thing all the time, to give them a chance to try something different.”
Looking to improve staff retention? Turn your attention inward and focus on boosting employee morale.
Make Appreciation Part of the Routine
Employees can make you laugh and cry. They may never cease to amaze you while simultaneously making you want to tear your hair out in frustration, all in one shift. They’re yours to keep, but only if you treat them well and encourage their growth on a regular basis.
Praise and recognition are essential to building a culture that supports your employees. Everyone wants to contribute to something bigger than themselves. If you can acknowledge their contributions at work, your staff are more likely to feel a sense of achievement.
A high-five may seem like a small gesture, but it can be the biggest thing in the world to an employee who’s working their butt off.