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Research Roundup: What Makes Restaurant Employees Stay?

Hiring restaurant staff is challenging right now — which makes holding onto your best employees priority number one.

The 90-day retention rate for quick-service restaurants (QSRs)s is at just 54%, meaning that almost half of new hires are leaving before you get any return on the investment of recruiting and training them. 

Meanwhile, there are even more jobs opening up, with 500,000 new food service jobs being created this year

We took a look into the research on recruitment and retention in hospitality to find out why employees stay and what you can do to keep your best team members engaged and motivated for longer.

Read on to discover: 

  • The latest research findings on what makes restaurant employees stay
  • What technology big brands use to improve retention
  • Practical tips for hiring, training, and motivating your teams to stay the course

By the final paragraph, you’ll have everything you need to make smarter hiring decisions and put measures in place to keep your best people happy for longer.

Understand Employee Satisfaction to Reduce Turnover

A review of a decade of literature on employee turnover and retention found that the retention rate for a restaurant is determined by employee satisfaction, which is comprised of four factors:

  • Positive work environment
  • Growth opportunities
  • Effective communication
  • Effective recruitment and selection practices 

While this is a broad finding, it does points to opportunities to improve retention. A positive work environment starts with a great culture. Hiring managers that listen to their employees, set clear boundaries, and give credit where it’s due is a good start. Promoting from within also helps to foster a positive environment and ensures employees can see a viable career path. 

Investing time and resources into hiring great managers who can motivate hourly employees and foster a positive environment will pay off in the long run as your retention rate improves.

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

Intrinsic Motivations Beat Out Extrinsic Incentives

A study carried out by Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh surveyed 200 hospitality workers in the U.K. It found that, besides having enough basic pay to get by, the most important factors in motivating employees to stay in a job were intrinsic rather than extrinsic. 

Extrinsic factors are outside motivations like higher wages, flexible hours, and bonuses. Intrinsic factors are more personal reasons, like the inner satisfaction of learning new skills and performing to a high standard for its own sake.

The study reads: “Evidence suggests that ‘work-­life balance’ and ‘relationships with co-­workers’ were among the most important factors for retaining employees and the most significant cause of dissatisfaction was when employees felt their hard work was not recognized by management.”

Restaurant owners need to build a strong culture and employ people who will fit into the social structure of the team. When screening candidates and interviewing, put more emphasis on how an employee will fit into your culture and worry less about the specific experience and skills they have.

Get the cultural fit right and employees will be more likely to develop strong intrinsic motivation to perform their best and work better as part of a team.

The First 90 Days of Employment Are Crucial

A report by recruitment firm HourWork, based on a survey of 800 quick-service restaurants, highlights the extent of the current recruitment problem.

The report found that employees are five times more likely to quit over miscommunication with management in the first 90 days compared to after that – which suggests poor management communication is a primary driver of quitting in the crucial early days. This highlights the need for thorough training and a structured onboarding process for new hires. 

Simple measures can make all the difference in welcoming new hires and helping them feel like part of the team. Here are some ideas to improve your onboarding experience:

  • Create a welcome packet that lays out your house rules, procedures, standards, and other essential information.
  • Assign a buddy who can answer questions and provide support.
  • Provide thorough training that includes shadowing other team members.

Adding some basic onboarding and training initiatives like these could increase the chances a new employee lasts through the all-important first 90 days.

Also Read: How to Hire and Cultivate Independent Restaurant Managers

Restaurant Employees Are Unsatisfied with Their Wages

A survey of 3,700 restaurant employees by 7shifts found the biggest gripe for restaurant employees of all ages was the size of their paycheck, and 34.6% cited wages as a reason for leaving their job. 

With nearly half of restaurant employees being paid $11–15 per hour, and with inflation and cost of living on the rise, this is no surprise. But is there any wiggle room when many restaurants are also struggling with higher costs and diminishing margins?

One way to ease the pressures of the labor shortage and offer more attractive wages is to employ fewer staff members but pay them more. By using technology to automate tasks and improve efficiency, you can deliver the same great service and quality with a smaller team. 

There are many other technologies, such as automatic purchasing and inventory management tools, contactless payment terminals, and self-ordering kiosks, that can reduce the workload for your teams, offer them more satisfying work, and pay more per hour.

Jet’s Pizza Uses OrderAI to Improve Retention

Jet’s Pizza is a large chain — beloved for its Detroit-style pizza, tasty wings, and salads, and no-nonsense quick service— operating 400 locations in more than 20 U.S. states. 

After receiving reports from franchisees that they were struggling to hire enough staff, the chain took an innovative approach to tackling the problem. Jet’s Pizza partnered with HungerRush to create an order-taking chatbot that can answer customer calls and accurately take orders by phone or text with no staff intervention.

With OrderAI taking calls at the busiest times, team members are freed up to focus on in-store customer service and are less stressed about rushing to answer the phone. 

Jet’s Chief Information Officer Aaron Nilsson reports that it had a noticeable impact on employee retention:

“You’re going to get less turnover because you’ve reduced the stress and you’ve made a better environment in the store.”

The technology has helped the pizza chain achieve extraordinary numbers, as Nilsson reveals, “We’re doing $6 million a month using these technologies. It’s a very big number for a company that has 400 stores.”

Also Read: What We Learned Handling 5 Million AI Phone Bot Orders at Restaurants

Make It Easy for Your Employees to Stay 

Aside from hiring smarter, laying out a career path, and providing a great culture to foster intrinsic motivation for your employees, there are technologies out there to help reduce the manual workload and make their jobs easier.

OrderAI from HungerRush automates the order-taking process, via phone and text, providing your customers with a convenient way to place orders while taking the burden of answering phones and messages off your team.

Find out more about how OrderAI improves employee satisfaction and retention.

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