How to build and retain restaurant staff

It’s no secret that hiring quality employees is one of the most important things you can do for your business, regardless of your industry. But restaurant managers understand that it’s particularly difficult to hire and retain the best restaurant staff. Satisfaction, trust, and reputation can make or break a team’s cohesion and long-term effectiveness.

In this guide, we’re going to break down a comprehensive plan to hire, train, retain, and even let go of employees.

  1. Hiring restaurant staff
  2. Retaining restaurant staff
  3. Managing employee theft
  4. Firing employees
  5. Tracking employee productivity
  6. Scheduling employees

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Hiring restaurant staff

You don’t want to hire just anyone who wants a job. The key to hiring restaurant employees is making sure they’re the right fit for your restaurant.

Here are a few tips for hiring fast food workers

1. Rethink your job descriptions

A clunky job description might not dissuade someone who’s just looking for a part-time gig, but better-qualified candidates expect to find accurate, polished job descriptions for clues about a prospective job. Use casual, approachable language that really speaks to why someone should want this position as well as the type of person who would be a good fit. Add photos – or better yet, a video. Get testimonials from employees who are already working in your restaurants. Good candidates will recognize when an employer cares about finding the right person for the position. And if you’re passionate about hiring, you’ll get that passion back from your applicants.

2. Entice workers with great benefits

If your benefits aren’t up to par, you may be losing employees to competitors. There are plenty of restaurant employee benefits you can offer to attract and retain employees. These include traditional benefits like medical, dental, life, and PTO, but they can also be more creative, like stipends, generous meal allowances, same-day pay by partnering with a software like Branch, and more.

3. Make orientation matter in the hiring process

Better restaurant employee hiring begins in the interview process. Collect as much information as you can so that you’re hiring the very best candidate. Ask questions that weren’t or couldn’t be answered in their application – ones that will reflect not just the interviewee’s qualifications, but their interest in this specific position. Try to envision what it’ll be like talking to that person after they’ve joined your team. And don’t forget to conduct reference checks!

4. Use videos for recruiting employees

In today’s tech-savvy world, video goes a long way (especially when hiring students), and that includes using video to recruit excellent talent. Instead of simply posting a written job description to employment boards, take the time to plan, execute, and share a recruitment video. Don’t just film a staff member talking about the position. Show prospective candidates what it looks like to work at your store. Tell them the story of your business and where they’ll fit in if they join it.

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Retaining restaurant staff

To minimize the need for regular hiring, it’s crucial to give your staff a reason to stick around.

With the right training, coaching, and incentives, your employees will clearly understand the goals you’ve set for them and how to succeed in their roles. 

1. Incentives for restaurant employees

There are many great incentives to encourage a fun and challenging restaurant staff environment. Consider introducing friendly competition between employees. Who can encourage the most customers to upgrade meal sizes? Who is fastest at the drive-thru lane? And don’t forget to properly reward your employees in the way they actually want to be rewarded: college scholarships, parties, and team events are all great ways to incentivize employees while giving them a fun place to work.

2. Training and coaching opportunities

If you take the time to develop a comprehensive training plan, then new hires, trainers, and managers can more easily identify expectations and track progress. Knowing where your new staff is at in their training, including where the pain points are and what’s most useful to them, will give you a greater chance of nurturing and retaining successful employees.

3. Create an employee loyalty program

Rewarding employees who go above and beyond will inspire your staff to constantly improve. An employee loyalty program is a good way to encourage team members to aim higher and reduce turnover. This is also a great place to highlight and integrate your promotion process to show team members the opportunities and career paths open to them in the restaurant industry.

4. Use restaurant data to fine-tune your team

One of the coolest things restaurant management software can do is identify not just your best employees, but your best teams. For example, do you find that certain employees work exceptionally well together? Your software can run the numbers: Compare your sales data with your scheduling data to find trends of increases in sales when specific employees work together. Once you’ve identified which employees have the best synergy, you can schedule those teams together whenever possible. Find more tips on how to use data to improve your restaurant employee training.

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Managing employee theft

Employee theft is an unfortunate reality in every industry. Most solutions to the problem are short-term stopgaps that don’t address the root cause. An effective restaurant loss prevention program will account for and prevent losses so you can focus on making your restaurant more profitable, and, crucially, build trust with your team.

Let’s look at how to detect and handle theft.

1. Prevent theft before it happens

Theft is one of the biggest preventable losses in the industry, and protecting your company’s cash starts at the register. If you limit the amount of money in the cash registers, tighten control on register functions, and reconcile receipts with the cashier, you’ll reduce risk and potential losses.

READ: Better QSR employees: 12 onboarding tips to reduce employee theft and error

2. Start at the POS

While the register is often the focal point of employee theft, employee theft in restaurants typically starts at the point of sale (POS) system. You should be regularly monitoring deletions, cancelled orders, discounts, over-rings, voids, and refunds. Look for outliers in the data – is one employee making a particularly high number of errors or refunds? Has there been a steady increase over time or a sudden spike? Does the cash in the register tell the same story? What other factors are at play?

3. Use loss prevention software to find anomalies

Let’s say that receipts for manager meals were found missing from the drive-thru drawer. Without a loss prevention tool, getting to the bottom of issues like this can feel endless: conducting an investigation, interviewing employees, and combing through reports isn’t the way you’d prefer to spend your working hours. With Delaget Guard, a manager can cross-reference the point of sale exceptions from the business day the receipts were missing, turning hours and days of “getting to the bottom of it” into just minutes.

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Firing employees

It’s a necessary part of every manager’s job: Letting an employee go. Training and encouragement should always be your first resort, but termination isn’t always avoidable: employee theft, for example, is often a zero-strike fireable offense. Because it can be hard to address objectively, employee theft management can be complicated. Here’s how to handle the firing conversation as it pertains to employee theft.

1. Do your homework

Before taking action against an employee, you should seek to eliminate all other possibilities except direct fault. Were they properly trained about company policies and standards before they did whatever it was that deserves termination? Was it an honest mistake? Looking at the numbers can sometimes help prove or disprove intent: How widespread is the issue? Is the employee being scapegoated for a systemic problem? 

2. Make sure your restaurant is protected

Before you begin an investigation, it’s a good idea to temporarily suspend the employee in question. In addition to reducing the risk of further loss, it will also protect the employee if there are others involved.

3. Conduct the interview

When you conduct an exit interview due to employee theft, it’s important to always have a witness present (preferably one who is not that employee’s peer). Start by clearly stating the purpose of the interview, but be careful not to accuse the employee. Get them talking about the job, what they like/dislike about it, etc. Find specific talking points and questions in our blog, Employee theft management: how to handle the conversation”.

4. See if you can coach, rather than fire

Employee theft isn’t the only reason to let someone go. Sometimes, an employee could just be an underperformer. In that case, you’re left with the “Coach-or-fire” decision. Again, your first resort should always be training and encouragement coupled with performance tracking using your restaurant software tools. 

However, if that just doesn’t work, make sure you work in tandem with your HR department when approaching the firing decision to protect the best interest of your organization, yourself, and the employee.

Learn more in our webinar, “7 ways you can control the ‘coach or fire’ decision.”

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Tracking employee productivity

You can teach and train employees to be productive, but measuring the result can be a challenge.

Here are some of the most important metrics to measure restaurant employee productivity.

1. Sales per labor hour

More sales means more labor, and more labor means busier employees. It also means the employees must be more productive. More productive employees will reduce labor costs. Know how taking orders, prepping food, and cleaning up all contribute to overall productivity. 

2. Food cost

This can help you track your bottom line, but also understand if your employees are handling inventory correctly. High levels of food waste might mean employees need more training or coaching to hit peak productivity.

3. Speed of service

Look at how quickly customers move through your drive-thru and how long it takes to complete an order in-store. In our 2019 QSR Operational Index, we found that improving speed of service by 30 seconds leads to a 1.5% increase in customer satisfaction. If you have high sales but a low speed of service, then there might be an opportunity to increase productivity through speed training. Read our speed of service playbook for more information.

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Scheduling employees

If you’re spending too much time wrestling with your staff schedule, you’re not alone. Scheduling restaurant employees is an ongoing struggle across the restaurant industry. That’s because much of sticking to a schedule comes down to a mix of personal accountability and management visibility. Here are a few tips for avoiding scheduling headaches.

1. Make the schedule as far in advance as you can

Complete your schedules and get them to your crews in advance so employees can request changes while there’s plenty of time to edit the schedule. While last-minute changes are a reality at any restaurant, having a regular pattern with some variation is much less stressful than having to change the schedule several times in a matter of days.

2. Provide a mix of shifts

Don’t constantly overload certain employees with long shifts during your busiest times. Spread your busy hours and downtime throughout the schedule to share the load between senior staff and new hires.

3. Give your top revenue generators some priority

Everyone needs to know that the employees who can pump up the revenue stream will have some extra pull when the schedule is put together. Yes, this has to be balanced in a spirit of fairness (after all, you don’t want to increase turnover among the rest of the team), but make it clear that top earners can be scheduling tie-breakers.

4. Aim to provide two days off in a row

You may find employees who express eagerness to work as much as possible all the time, either for earning potential or a real passion for their position. Don’t abuse that drive – be alert to both worker burnout and legal restrictions when scheduling these go-getters. Even your most motivated workers have their limits, and consecutive working days may mandate overtime pay, depending on state law.

Find more tips in our blog, 6 tips to master restaurant employee scheduling.

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Follow through on a strong vision to bring your dream restaurant team to life

The best teams are made up of people who understand and enjoy the culture you’ve created. The only way to get them there is by sticking to proper hiring, training, and managing tactics from day one. Using these tips will help you improve your service, save money, increase morale, and reduce trips to HR.