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As restaurants face mounting costs, employee retention is critical.

How Smart Operators Avoid Employee Turnover

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Restaurant staffing has always been something of a revolving door, but smart operators are keeping the best talent in house.
By Nicole Duncan January 2019 Finance

High turnover has long been a perennial—and quite costly—challenge for restaurants. According to TDn2K, restaurants lose about $2,000 whenever a front- and back-of-house employee leaves. This figure skyrockets to roughly $14,000 for managers. In recent months, the pressure on restaurants has been further compounded: Low unemployment (holding under 4 percent the second half of 2018) has set the stage for fierce competition as operators strive to attract and retain top talent.

The churn of workers will never completely stop, but restaurants can take steps to reduce it. Here three executives of multi-unit concepts share what they’ve done to keep staff in house, from targeting millennials for internal growth to cultivating a rewarding work environment.


Kacee Colter | COO, FiRE + iCE

FiRE + iCE has consistently seen annual employee turnover rates between 10 and 25 percent at multiple locations. In addition, about one-third of employees who leave come back within a few months to ask about being rehired.

First, concept is king. We started the interactive grill concept knowing that diners wanted a unique experience, especially in the vacation-friendly markets where we started. Because diners choose their foods and sauces and bring them to our grill chefs, our wait staff need only worry about appetizers and drinks. The back of the house is not chaotic with servers rushing in and out of the kitchen; most of the work is chopping and mixing early and then the occasional appetizer or replenishment of a food in our salad bar.

Our wages are competitive, but we know restaurants down the street might offer a little bit more. FiRE + iCE is a lower-stress environment for servers and bartenders, and the tips are significantly higher. Those employees who do leave and come back say overall they make more money here, at a fraction of the stress.

It’s a bottom-line business, and when we obsess on the numbers, employees can feel pushed aside or secondary. Little gestures—team activities, flexibility to deal with life and family issues—all go such a long way. And satisfied employees work more productively and more positively, which contributes immensely towards the bottom line.


Ricky Richardson | CEO, Eggs Up Grill

The Eggs Up Grill franchise model specifically targets owner-operators who will be hands-on in their restaurants. Our hours of operation—6 a.m. to 2 p.m.—offer a lifestyle flexibility that isn’t typical in the restaurant industry. That gives us an advantage with hiring and retention, as we’ve found it often attracts a more family-oriented, responsible employee. We hear of so many instances where servers and cooks work with the brand for more than a decade—that’s not an accident.

The restaurant business will always be a people-first business. Without great team members who feel respected, enjoy what they do, and are proud of the brand they work for, a restaurant will not experience long-term success. The best leaders in our business hire for attitude and train for skills. Quality employees bring infectious passion, energy, and enthusiasm to the workplace every day.

Team members reflect the attitudes of their leaders. That is a huge positive for restaurant owners and managers that truly love what they do. Often that translates to remembering that team members are people, too. Flexibility and compassion go a long way in this industry. And those attitudes might start at the top, but they trickle down to individual customer experiences, making for happier employees with satisfied guests.


David Miller | President and COO, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants

In 2015 we launched the Young Leaders Program, which was designed to give associates an opportunity to interact with executive team members as well as expose them to facets of the industry they wouldn’t otherwise encounter at this point in their careers.

The impact has been tremendous over the three years since we started it. We have promoted at least six young leaders to general managers and executive chefs. They have also been intimately involved in some of our newest concepts and bringing about great ideas: from visiting other restaurants to offering input on menu development, design, and the conceptual process to participating in tastings.

CMR management turnover is less than 10 percent. Our culture and benefits are what keeps our associates. Providing a well-balanced work life and personal life is very important to us.

Look at their culture first. Provide a great work environment first and foremost. If your managers and their teams are happy, they will then take care of your guests, who in turn will take care of your company.