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Finding the Right Retention Recipe in the Restaurant Industry

24 August 2023

4 Min Read

A restaurant manager training their staff.

It has been a challenging road to recovery from the pandemic for the restaurant industry, and things are still not quite back to the way they were. Even as the pandemic moves further into the rearview mirror, restaurants struggle with things like rising food prices, shrinking margins, and a tight labor market. This moment is especially critical as restaurants see increased demand and increasing competition on the horizon. This is all on top of long-existing industry challenges like high turnover and lost training investments.

I recently spoke with several Learning & Development leaders in the restaurant/franchise space, and we discussed the retention challenges they are facing, as well as some strategies for meeting those challenges. Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of focus on the onboarding process and how to make the training more engaging and impactful. But another theme kept coming up, and it is something I’ve been looking at for a long time in the larger Learning & Development environment – the role of the manager.

It’s been said that people don’t quit their jobs; they quit their managers. That is perhaps even more true in the fast-paced world of restaurant/retail onboarding. The industry thought leaders I spoke with were working on solutions to reduce leadership turnover at the store level. They recognized that having solid, consistent leadership creates a foundation for getting new hires engaged quickly and sustainably. Managers set the tone and the pace for new hires, and if the first 30 days are unpleasant, most employees figure the next 60 won’t be any better.

This means finding ways to get managers and supervisors involved in the training aspect of the onboarding process. They are the people that know best what the environment is really like for new hires. Managers can help shape the training program, be ambassadors for it, and serve as knowledgeable resources as people make their way through the onboarding process.

Another interesting aspect of the manager’s role in retention that came up was the ability to maintain certain performance standards in the midst of a talent shortage. With heightened retention concerns, managers may be reluctant to hold employees to performance expectations out of fear that they will quit. Organizations must decide what their standards will be, regardless of retention issues, and support their managers in this process. Retaining poor performers can often be more damaging than high turnover numbers.

Of course, retention among managers is also a hot topic. Companies are looking for ways to get managers to think differently about their own personal and professional growth, as the industry may not offer the kind of rapid advancement it once could to people in these positions. There needs to be an answer for managers when they start to ask, “What’s next?” Some companies have created manager development programs that allow people to continue to expand their skill sets and broaden their horizons.

Another theme that was prevalent was that of building the right culture. It is not enough to get people up and running as quickly as possible. It is critical that these organizations can also define and articulate the employee value proposition to their new hires. What’s in it for them? For many of these employees, these jobs are part-time and not seen as careers, so companies have to demonstrate the organizational culture, and how the new hire’s role fits into that.

Some of the people I spoke with try to give the employees a bit of freedom in how they define their roles. For example, a young woman who is active on social media promoting the brand and the work environment was officially recognized as the “culture queen.” It highlights positive efforts and recognizes the employee’s value. Other companies employ a variety of “certifications” that can match different skills – technical skills, marketing, training, etc. Again, recognizing the unique value the employee brings goes a long way to building a culture that retains talent.

The restaurant industry will always be considered a high-turnover industry when compared to others. In an environment where most new hires have to learn every aspect of their job during the onboarding process, keeping people happy and engaged is a daunting task. What I’ve learned from my conversations is that retention cannot be fostered with one-time, transactional efforts. It has to be a holistic approach that combines onboarding, training, performance management, leadership, and more. We here at Schoox pride ourselves on the support we provide for these efforts among our restaurant industry clients. If you’d like to learn more about how we serve this industry, click here.

David Wentworth Headshor

About the Author: David Wentworth
David is the VP, Learning & Talent Development Platform Evangelist at Schoox. He brings more than a decade of knowledge to the company, including a deep understanding of the workplace technology industry, with an emphasis on learning and development.

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