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On-the-job training is critical for every type of restaurant.

3 Ways to Keep Restaurant Employees on Your Team

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How successful brands improve screening, interviewing, and training to reduce employee turnover.
By Erin McPherson May 2019 Beverage

Of all the challenges faced by operators, interviewing and hiring new employees is one of the biggest headaches. In 2017, TDn2K’s People Report showed voluntary turnover across the restaurant industry had reached 70 percent—a 10-year high—and Italian brands have been no exception. Although rates have stabilized over the past few years and high employment rates mean staff will be more conservative about trying to change jobs, maintaining a consistent, skilled, and reliable staff continues to be one of the biggest priorities for restaurateurs in all segments.

The reasons that restaurant employees leave a job, often without notice, are plentiful and varied—from seasonal factors and pay rates to internal conflicts. And although many operators are resigned to accept this fact and deal with scheduling snafus as necessary, there are a lot of solutions available to mitigate personnel loss.

The most important step in dealing with abrupt and frequent turnover is preparing ahead of time and responding quickly in order to fill vacancies. By implementing certain software and services into their restaurant management system, operators can more quickly identify qualified candidates to fill empty spots on their team, including waitstaff, hosts, bartenders, line cooks, dishwashers, and managers.

1. Screening

Before an operator invites candidates for interviews, it is critical to first identify—and when possible recruit—the best possible talent. Many restaurateurs struggle with knowing how to best market an open position, and how to cull less-qualified applicants from the interview pool. Ensuring that only the best people make it to the interview stage relies on an efficient application and screening process.

“Because the labor market has gotten smaller, it’s more difficult to source great candidates,” says Rob Hunter, CEO of HigherMe, a company that uses technology to improve the hiring process for restaurant employees and managers. “Many employers think that sourcing talent and the way that applicants apply for certain jobs are unrelated. However, we’ve found that the ease with which someone can apply to a job heavily contributes to whether a candidate actually completes the application.”

For example, many operators continue to provide lengthy application documents—both paper and digital—which are often cumbersome for applicants to complete. And while many restaurant leaders believe the best applicants won’t be deterred by difficult applications, Hunter says it’s actually the best candidates who are less willing to “put up with that friction” because they recognize they will have other options in the market due to their talent.

Applicant tracking systems, such as the service offered by HigherMe, streamline application processing for managers while simplifying requirements for applicants. With older systems, potential employees would often start applications but don’t never finish them. Newer platforms boost completion rates, according to Hunter.

“The application completion rate averages about 25 percent with older systems,” he says. “With HigherMe, application completion is close to 75 percent.”

In addition, newer systems allow operators to ask applicants more relevant and nuanced questions, keeping candidates engaged with the process and providing operators with information that speaks better to an applicant’s skills than a list of past job experiences. By simplifying application processes for prospective candidates, operators can attract better employees. Eliminating friction for both applicants and the managers who make hiring decisions not only improves efficiency restaurant-wide, but also ensures that by the time candidates are called for an interview, they are among the best prospective team members available.

"The ease with which someone can apply to a job heavily contributes to whether a candidate actually completes the application."

2. Interviewing

According to Patrick Lencioni, author and CEO of The Table Group, one of the biggest ways restaurant leaders can cut turnover is by making the right hiring decisions from the start. This means conducting thorough vetting of prospective employees and making sure they embody the right personality traits to support a restaurant’s performance goals.

“Make the interview a team effort,” Lencioni says. “Invite multiple team members to meet each candidate, and then ask everyone to debrief afterwards.”

If your team is unsure how to conduct interviews effectively, it may be time to meet with an interview specialist. A consultant can provide an objective outside opinion on why former staff have left a restaurant team in the first place, and will help brands identify problems which might contribute to turnover.

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At The Table Group, Lencioni and his team of consultants work with restaurateurs and managers who want to improve organizational efficiency and secure outstanding team members who will contribute to the brand’s long term success.

“The ideal team member is humble, hungry, and smart,” Lencioni says. “She cares about sharing accomplishments with the team, constantly strives to learn and do more, and knows how to deal with customers.”

By identifying these characteristics in candidates during the interview process, restaurant operators can feel more confident about their hiring decisions.

3. Onboarding

Once the right employees have been screened, interviewed, and ultimately hired, restaurant operators sometimes make the mistake of training them poorly—or not at all. One of the biggest contributors to staff turnover in the restaurant industry is lack of training, so it is critical that restaurateurs invest in tools and materials that prepare team members for ongoing success.

Innovative restaurants, such as the Denver-based Modern Market Eatery brand, are finding success by embracing mobile training platforms, such as PlayerLync, which implement training within the real-life workspace. Access to integrated technology systems that notify staff of menu or recipe changes as they occur is critical to the overall success and efficiency within a restaurant.

“People generally want to do the right thing,” says Alex Walsh, Modern Market’s senior training manager. “Usually when a mistake is made, it’s because the person didn’t know the proper technique. With mobile training, our team members can look up information in the moment or capitalize on down-time by perusing content to learn and widen their scope of understanding about the company. Using this tool gives us confidence that food will be made the same and team members will all be following the same specs.”

On-the-job training is critical for every type of restaurant, however operators can streamline that process by ensuring that new employees are supported with information and resources available at their fingertips. When staff members are more confident in their own knowledge and skills, they are more likely to stay with their present company. Restaurants benefit in turn, because turnover is reduced, efficiency is increased, and the overall skill level of front- and back-of house teams is greater.