4 Keys to Keeping Employees

By Donald Burns, Foodable Industry Expert

Restaurant Staff

Throughout the history of the world, there has always been a divide between opposing forces. The English Crown against the American Colonies. Republicans against Democrats. Restaurant managers against employees. Maybe it’s time that we stop this behavior in our restaurants and adopt a little more of a bipartisan attitude.

All Work Is Teamwork

Members of elite military teams like the Navy SEALS, Army Green Berets and USAF Pararescue are conditioned early in their training that they succeed or fail as a team. Now working in a restaurant is not quite as life or death as warfare, although at times we might feel it is. Teamwork is still a mission-critical component in keeping top talent.

There are two fantastic ways to foster a culture of teamwork within your restaurant:

1. Lead by example. Anyone can walk in, bark orders and be “the boss.” Leadership happens when you get in there and get dirty with your team. You'll gain respect and trust if you are competent enough to work beside your team during busy times. Being where the action is at is also a prime opportunity to be able to coach and train. Your job as a leader is to constantly preach and teach the standards and vision of your restaurant. They say that repetition is the mother of learning. This is actually quite true. High-performance teams need consistency, trust and respect in order to thrive.

2. Create a code. Rules tell everyone what they can and cannot do. And while you do need rules as an outline of what is acceptable behavior, developing a code of conduct allows your team to buy into something bigger than themselves. A code of conduct becomes a binding agreement that, at its very center, contains a list of core values that will hold your team together through good times and bad times.

Make Learning the Standard

Human beings want growth. It's in our DNA to evolve and become better. Your employees want to learn too. Too many restaurants only focus on training and development during the first 30 to 90 days of employment. The best restaurants make a commitment to constantly educate their staff. Your millennial employees have grown up with the Internet and the ability to get an answer instantaneously from Google. If you don't engage them with the opportunity to grow, you'll lose them. You'll lose them very fast.

Now, not everything has to be focused around restaurants and food. This is where getting to know your team is a key component to retention. Ask your staff about their family, their kids and their hobbies. Once you have some background and insight on your team, share books, magazines, links to websites or maybe even YouTube videos. You have a line cook who wants to explore more of the culinary arts, give them a book like Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dorenburg and Karen Page. You have a hostess who mentioned she is going to take a week this summer and travel to Italy? Share an app or an audio book on learning Italian. We focus so hard on our external customers that sometimes we overlook our other equally important internal customers that work beside us every day.

Be Grateful


Nothing is as powerful as saying these two words to your staff, “thank you.” When should you say it? Every day. One of the top reasons that people list for leaving a job is the feeling of being underappreciated. This is not about sucking up or giving false flattery. This is about being real. This is about being sincere. This is about connecting with your team.

You should make it a habit to always say “thank you” to every person on your team at the end of their shift. Many managers silently slip out the back door when things get slow without the staff ever noticing. Those managers also wonder, “How come I can't keep good people?”

Just like the attitude that the day is not over until the reports are run, the lights are turned off and the doors locked, you need to insert this into your routine: my day is not over until I have personally said “thank you” to my team.

Look in the Mirror

People don't leave companies. They leave managers. This is sometimes a hard one to learn. It requires the ability to look at yourself objectively.

When you hired someone, they joined your team based on the perceptions they had about working in your restaurant and working for you. Along the way, those perceptions changed. Granted, sometimes situations change for the employee and they find it better to move on. However, many times it's their perception of you that has changed. Self-reflection is not easy. What is easy is to place blame on others. In his groundbreaking book, "QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability in Work and in Life," John G. Miller argues that the answers are in the questions we ask. If we want better results, then we need to ask better questions.

Many managers and restaurant owners make the statement, “There is just no good help out there.” Using the QBQ as a model, a better question would be, “Am I creating a culture and restaurant that attracts top talent?” Now that is a question that only you can answer.

As a restaurant owner, operator, manager, chef or leader, who you allow on your team to interact with your customers is one of the most important decisions you make. How you treat them, respect them, educate them and appreciate them is whether they stay or leave you.