4 Restaurants That Are Rockin' Employee Retention

By: Cameret Bannister

6 Minute Read

May 23, 2017

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employee retention

Aren't you tired of struggling with employee retention? Take a lesson from these four restaurants.

Retaining restaurant employees is always a hot topic. With industry turnover rates at an all-time high of 72.1% in 2015, the constant need for hiring, training, and retaining is at the forefront of every restaurateur’s mind.

I’m not going to tell you that you should be working through a certain set of steps to improve your employee retention. The truth is, every restaurant is just as unique as a snowflake. There isn’t one prescribed method that suits everyone.

Still, there are overriding themes that can be applied. Today, I want to celebrate some of the most successful stories of retaining restaurant employees by highlighting 4 restaurants who are rockin’ employee retention.

Frontera Grill - Chicago, Illinois

employee retentionCEO and owner Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill in Chicago focuses on training employees and management not only on day-to-day tasks, but also in the area of traditional Mexican cuisine.

Every employee at Frontera goes through a 15-minute training session - every day. Topics range from new menu items and cocktails, to equipment, to food prep, and many more.

For upper managers, Bayless organizes an annual trip to Mexico to focus on training as well as learning the local cuisine. This creates a more authentic experience for the customers of Frontera. The trip also promotes innovative thinking, as managers are able to help craft the menu based on their experiences.

Bayless noted this attitude in Nation’s Restaurant News by describing, “We like to think of our company as an innovative machine. We want our people to take risks because we don't want them to become stagnant. The risk-taking often leads to tremendous success, but sometime not. But a failure can be changed tomorrow, so it's worth taking chances.”

Frontera has seen much success with this attitudes towards employees because individuals want to feel as though they are continually growing and developing.

The daily and yearly training helps to make sure that the jobs don’t become too monotonous, keeping boredom levels low and employee retention levels high.

Meatheads - Chicago, Illinois

Founder and CEO of Chicago's Meatheads Tim Jednorowicz has always said that he wants the company to stand out because of service.

employee retention

To accomplish this, Meatheads has always strived to hire and retain the best talent by identifying potential early on in a Meatheads employee’s career. As Jednorowicz told the Chicago Tribune, many employees are let go around the 30 day mark if they don’t show those early signs of potential.

Even more uniquely, Meatheads looks to educate their employees outside of the kitchen.

For example, the restaurant has a program in place to identify non-native English speaking leaders early on in their careers and sends them to English classes. By doing this, Meatheads has been able to help individuals grow and develop from dishwashers into general managers. These programs have enabled Meatheads to keep employee turnover below 30% - less than half the national average.


The Greene Turtle - Tri-State Area & New York

The Greene Turtle strives to create a fun environment by creating a bit of friendly competition among the employees.

For example, they host annual competitions amongst bartenders - both from within and outside of the restaurant - to create new and exciting cocktails. Bartenders submit their concoctions, and the winners are added to the next iteration of the drink menu.

Greene Turtle.jpg

Recognition for hard work and creativity, and the best cocktails around. Seems like a win-win to me.

This idea of creating friendly competition is not a new concept. Employee gamification, the concept taking gaming elements and applying them to everyday tasks and situations, has proven to be a exciting way to inspire employees. For example, restaurants can run competitions to see who can sell the most of a certain item, who can upsell the most, or any other interesting combinations of competitions.

Pal’s Sudden Service - Tennessee & Virginia

From the outsider’s perspective, Pal’s Sudden Service seems like your normal fast food restaurant. With no indoor seating, Pal’s prides itself on its ability to serve drive through orders at speeds much quicker than the national average: 18 seconds for ordering at the drive through station, and 12 seconds for paying at the cashier station.

In order to run a quick and efficient restaurant, however, Pal’s focuses on employee retention.

According to a case study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, Pal’s hires for attitude and trains for skill, which is atypical in the restaurant industry. Most applications received include various years of restaurant experience.

Roughly 90% of Pal’s employees are part-time, and 40% are within the ages of 16 to 18.


Every employee has to go through 120 hours of training before starting in a new position. They also have random pop-quizzes about their jobs, and if they fail to pass the quiz, they have to go back through training to refresh.

While some might be intimidated by these tactics, the types of employees that are attracted to Pal’s are the type that want to continuously learn and develop - especially since this is the first job for many of the employees.

Training is also abundantly available for managers and leaders within the company as well. Leadership training involves reading 21 books ranging from classics like The Prince by Machiavelli to leadership development plans. Every other Monday, leaders are invited to get together for the “leadership book club” to discuss what they’ve read and how they can implement their learning across various areas of the business.

So, what has the focus on training and development meant for Pal’s? Less than 1.4% turnover for assistant managers and above and only seven general managers ever leaving the company in the 33 years it has been around.

So, what do this have to do with your restaurant's employee retention?

Whether you’re a big or small restaurant, you can learn something from all of these examples. When it boils down to it, employees want to feel like they are constantly growing and developing into the next step of their career. While there are many different wants to achieve that (training, leadership and mentorship, competition, etc.!), the fundamental need to be inspired by the work is a key ingredient to retaining employees in a restaurant.

Do you know someone who is doing creative things to keep employees around? I’d love to hear more examples, so feel free to share below!

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