The annual restaurant employee turnover rate is at an all-time high of 75%, meaning almost three quarters of employees are unlikely to stay in a restaurant job for a whole year. Although higher-paying roles and an increase in employer options are the most common reason for restaurant employee turnover, many staff members in both front- and back of house leave simply because they don’t enjoy their work environment — and, in the current labor market, it’s easy to find a better one.
In the 2019 Restaurant Success Report, we learned 51% of restaurateurs ranked hiring staff as a top challenge, with training staff and retaining staff close behind at 35% and 31%, respectively. Replacing an hourly employee can cost nearly $6,000.
Quoted in the Michelin Guide, Josh Phillips, General Manager of Washington, DC-based Espita Mezcaleria said:
"There is free agent mentality among many workers. They are essentially shopping around for the right restaurant to call home. There is always someone hiring, so if you are not 100% satisfied with your job, the grass is always greener somewhere else."
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.
What does restaurant employee turnover look like?
We’ll start at the beginning.
What is “turnover rate?"
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.
That said, remember that some roles (servers, for example) may get filled multiple times, while other roles (bartenders, for example) may be more likely to retain the same employee over the course of a year.
What is the immediate impact of restaurant employee turnover?
When you lose a team member, it’s likely that you will see an immediate impact on service quality. With one less front of house staff member, sections may become bigger, a spare second to run food or drinks may be harder to come by, and the payment process may become more drawn out. With one less back of house member, additional responsibilities on the line will be added to staff members’ plates, additional shifts will need to be accounted for, and fewer staff members to fulfill the same number of tickets may 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 oftentimes can’t be rushed. In the interim, customers often notice the void, and your guest reviews might suffer.
When a member of your restaurant staff leaves, those left behind often question their own status and might, according to HR consultant Insperity, 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.
Filling open positions is a long process and distracts restaurant management from their main focus: delighting every guest. Even if you use one of the many tech solutions for sourcing and hiring new employees, the interview and hiring process takes time and effort. Plus, you might need to pay a new employee more than what you were paying the person they’re replacing.
As this chart from Nation’s Restaurant News illustrates, some restaurant roles are more difficult to replace than others.
Via Nation's Restaurant News
Compare your restaurant against these national statistics. Is the above graphic reflective of your restaurant?
Restaurant employee turnover looks different for different businesses. In order to reduce employee turnover in your restaurant, you need to take a look at your restaurant’s employee turnover history and ask your team questions like:
Which positions have the highest turnover rate?
Which positions have been the easiest to fill? Which have been the hardest?
On average, how long does it take to fill a front of house position? How about back of house? Management?
Which positions have the shortest tenure? Which have the longest?
Now that you’ve identified your problem areas, it’s time to dig into the reasons why staff are choosing to leave their jobs at your restaurant.
How can you prevent restaurant employee turnover?
Salary and benefits are not the only ways to keep restaurant employees fulfilled, engaged, and committed. Culture and community building are as important (and sometimes even more important) than compensation. Restaurant employers need to get creative with offering employee benefits, career advancement and professional development opportunities, and creating a fantastic work environment if they want to keep their staff members.
Let’s look at the three distinct aspects of job satisfaction: workplace experience and culture, leadership, and compensation.
1. Create an enriching workplace experience and culture
The day you hire an employee might be the day you start to lose them.
A recent Deloitte Insights study revealed that fewer than 10% of employees are very satisfied with the human elements of work, known as the “employee experience.” This means that something in their environment — people, work conditions, training, or processes — is causing them to dislike their jobs.
The employee experience begins before the first day of work. How people are treated during the interview process can have a long-lasting impact on a candidate’s perception of management and the job itself. Plus, if you sugar-coat aspects of a position and the reality is markedly different, your great new employee may feel misled. If you find yourself caught in a perpetual revolving door of newly hired but unsatisfied staff, start with your hiring practices.
Hiring speed is an important factor as well: If you’re serious about a candidate, move quickly. According to Jose Shwank, Director of Operations at Sushi Sake,