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How To Keep Restaurant Employees Happy And Engaged (So They Don’t Leave)

At least half of American hospitality workers will not return to their jobs at hotels, bars, or restaurants — even if given a boost in pay — according to a 2021 Bloomberg study.

Over the past few years, the hospitality industry has been facing one of the highest employee turnover rates in the United States. Maybe you’ve seen this at your business: you’re struggling with a lack of job applications and the shifting waves of employees who stick around for just a few months after training. If you’re looking for solutions to keep your business afloat, you’ve landed on the right blog.

This practical guide draws from recent research to help you keep your workers over the long term. We discuss:

  • Improving long-term employee retention 
  • Boosting employee engagement and morale
  • Remaining sustainable and competitive in a highly volatile industry

By the time you’re done reading, you’ll be fully equipped to keep your employees happy and your business competitive.

1. Reduce Workplace Frustrations With Modern Tools

Technology should make life easier for everyone, but much of the hospitality industry is overrun with clunky, outdated tools that leave your employees frustrated and overworked. Swap old tech out for new and you could solve two problems at once.

The Problems: Lackluster Technology And Constant Training

Lackluster or outdated technology is hard to use, leaving employees annoyed in their attempts to complete simple tasks. Likewise, these issues constantly put you in the position of training or correcting your workers, which uses up your already limited time.

Your workers shouldn’t be spending more time trying to punch information into a POS system than they do making food or delivering a customer’s order. Explore the tools your employees use on the job and remove any weaknesses such as:

  • Chronic lag
  • Excessive workarounds
  • Security issues

The Solution: Switch To Faster, More Accessible Tools

Keeping your restaurant employees happy starts by replacing your glitchy apps and slow POS systems with new models. Thankfully, the pandemic has sped up the development of food technology, particularly for delivery and no-contact service, so you have plenty of options to choose from. 

The goal of these upgrades is to ensure staff can complete tasks swiftly, accurately, and with fewer steps.

Make sure you use tools designed for the flow of food delivery and cashiering, not just for back-office teams. For example, an employee may be frustrated having to manually input a GrubHub order from a tablet into the main POS system. Eliminating this workaround by using a POS that connects to GrubHub will help reduce frustration and the potential for errors.

A comprehensive restaurant management platform and POS, HungerRush is designed for clean, uninterrupted data flow between devices, eliminating many of the technology redundancies and frustrations that come when using dozens of apps to run your business.

2. Lengthen And Improve Onboarding Programs

Do you have an onboarding program for new hires? It’s probably not enough. According to a 2022 study by employment onboarding platform Zavvy, a mere 12% of employees agree that their organization does onboarding well — which means you probably have room for improvement.

The Problem: Onboarding Programs Are Too Short Or Too Vague

Thought leader SHRM says many businesses don’t provide enough time for onboarding, while HR platform Sapling says companies don’t ask for enough onboarding feedback from already existing employees.

An onboarding program that lasts for a week makes it harder for businesses to achieve goals such as employee confidence and engagement. Likewise, your already existing employees may have valuable insight based on their own experiences integrating into your business model.

The Solution: Overhaul Your Employee Onboarding Program 

A tried-and-true technique for reducing employee turnover is polishing your onboarding program. The function of employee onboarding programs is to give your workers all the tools they need to succeed, as well as develop a sense of comradery and mission-alignment that staff feel matters to them on more than a work-for-dollars transactional level. 

Failing to teach them how to use technology or engage with customers correctly will generate frustration, confusion, or disengagement. Hiring platform Sprockets recommends 30-day, 60-day, or 90-day onboarding programs for the restaurant industry.

Onboarding company Preppio’s white paper on employee onboarding stresses the need for the five Cs of onboarding: 

  • Confidence: building up your employees and encouraging a growth mindset
  • Connection: encouraging your employees to feel safe and connect with others
  • Culture: establishing performance management, company policies, and strong values
  • Compliance: ensuring employees are equipped with proper workspaces
  • Clarification: maintaining consistent communication about roles, rules, and policies

Review your onboarding program to see if all these bases are covered.

3. Provide More Paid Sick Leave And Paid Vacation

Simply raising wages isn’t enough to keep employees around. You need to also go the extra mile to show you care about your workers and are ready to invest in their future. Two easy ways to do this: paid sick leave and paid vacation.

The Problem: Employees Leaving For Better Benefits

When your employees leave, there’s a high chance they weren’t feeling properly compensated, but it’s not always about cash. In 2022, 62% of workers reported experiencing burnout “often” or “extremely often”. In hospitality, there is often an added emotional labor required to serve customers despite feelings of tiredness and burnout. Many employees, unable to find adequate rest, don’t find the total compensation worth the personal expense. . And every time you lose a worker, you have to sift through applications and complete countless interviews.

On the other hand, when employees are able to enjoy the preventative care that comes with steady rest, it’s no surprise they call in sick less and exercise more energy and attentiveness on the clock. It’s one of the observations that’s driving the growing four-day work week movement in some industries—more time for rest and recovery means happier employees.. 

The Solution: Get Competitive With Paid Sick Leave And Paid Vacation

Unpaid sick leave and unpaid vacation force your employees to choose between a break or a paycheck. 

Paid sick leave is closely correlated with reduced death rates in several health risks, such as alcohol-related or communicable diseases. In contrast, the American Psychological Association revealed vacation time, paid or unpaid, is closely associated with reduced stress levels. 

It might seem counterintuitive to encourage employees to take more days off when you’re already understaffed, but research shows that t

The more rest, the better for everyone—including the business. Your employees will be less stressed and more energized to bring out the best in your business.

4. Improve Protective Health Measures

It’s hard for employees to stick around when they keep getting exposed to illness. On top of the still-circulating COVID-19 virus, you also have to consider the common cold, the flu, and the recent monkeypox outbreak.

The Problem: Hospitality Workspaces Are Hazardous To Employee Health

Restaurants, bars, and cafes are known for being cramped at the best of times. Line workers are often shoulder-to-shoulder, while food servers frequently interact with unmasked customers.

A 2021 research paper from the National Library of Medicine says the pandemic has exposed significant vulnerabilities in the hospitality industry, with an estimated 24% of all COVID-related layoffs likely being permanent. These layoffs appeared due to a combination of workplace risks and a shrinking labor force. Can your business afford such a high percentage?

The Solution: Air Filtration, Masks, And Extra Cleaning Sessions

Consistently implementing and enforcing protective health measures in your place of business will help keep employees healthy. These solutions look like:

  • Improved HEPA air filtration
  • Enforced masking protocols for staff and customers
  • Hand sanitizers by the door
  • No-contact food delivery options

5. Reduce Overtime, Reduce Burnout 

This last tip is closely related to protective health measures, but deserves its own section. The food service industry is notorious for a lot of overtime hours and few benefits. Long working hours, according to the World Health Organization, are closely related to high risks of stroke, disability, and death.

The Problem: Long Hours And Constant Overtime Burn Employees Out

How much overtime do you require from each employee? Do you have enough workers to cover an employee who’s sick or on vacation? 

Cramming a dozen extra hours on an employee’s already busy schedule is a short-term solution with a long-term consequence.

The Solution: Hour Caps Combined With Paid Vacation And Sick Leave

A Stanford research study reveals working more than fifty hours a week will sharply reduce productivity in employees. In contrast, the Iceland government experimented with shorter weekly hours to overwhelmingly positive results. 

Limiting the amount of overtime will compound positively with paid vacation and paid sick leave. Less overtime improves productivity in employees while giving them more time to rest. The more your employee rests, the healthier and happier they’ll be.

Similarly, having adequate staff on hand will help keep your business running when workers need to take breaks.

Showing regular appreciation and encouragement is the final touch to a business that makes or breaks the experiences of food service workers. When your staff has to experience difficult or aggressive customers on a daily basis, your support will mean the world to them.

Empowering your employees starts by fixing weak spots in your business. Contact us today to improve your delivery, customer service, and employee engagement!

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