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Employee Engineering 101: How to Stop Turnover

To understand a restaurant’s culture, look at the best employees - and actively search for new employees who fit this profile.
multicultural restaurant team
To understand a restaurant’s culture, look at the best employees. Build a profile of who these individuals are - what they like, what they don’t like, what they are looking for from this job - and actively search for new employees who fit this profile.
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The number one challenge every bar and restaurant faces is staffing. The industry is currently enduring a staffing shortage, and turnover rates were as high as 83% in 2022, according to Toast–with staff turnover being the top indicator of other future problems for businesses. With the hospitality industry likely to see an uptick in business during the holiday season, operators need to place further emphasis on employee retention sooner rather than later. To stop turnover, there are several techniques operators can consider in order to hire strategically, train efficiently and, ultimately, take care of their people.

Hire smart

Selecting the right candidate is crucial to ensuring employee longevity and success. Let’s say an employer is currently hiring a new server for their restaurant and has two top candidates to choose from – they must carefully weigh the staffing options. In this example, one applicant is an industry vet who can swap from serving to managing the bar or kitchen at a moment’s notice but has a terrible attitude and is jaded from past jobs. The other is younger and is newer to the industry, but is eager to learn. Which will benefit your establishment the most? 

When hiring, operators need to first understand their business’s culture. You can not force a square peg into a round hole; if you try, it will pop out every time. Too many times, employees are hired because owners are desperate to fill a role. However, when the new hires don’t fit in with the rest of the staff or they bring around bad energy, that, in time, can tank a restaurant.

To understand a restaurant’s culture, look at the best employees. Build a profile of who these individuals are - what they like, what they don’t like, what they are looking for from this job - and actively search for new employees who fit this profile. You want to find people who can mesh with the team and culture you’re looking for.

Another item to keep in mind is seeking candidates who are currently employed. Anyone who tells you they’re unemployed and good at what they do is likely lying about one or the other. The industry is already short-staffed and there is no reason to be unemployed. If their story is compelling, make sure you ask for references. This could explain why their last job possibly wasn’t a fit but can still provide insight into their performance. 

This is a common mistake: operators think we need to find employees already in our industry. We don’t. While yes, experience is often preferred, remember you can teach anyone how to do a job–but you can’t teach work ethic or how to fit your culture. They do or they don’t, and this will impact how long they stay with your business.


Train hard

The number one thing every employee struggles with when they start a new job is anxiety - and that’s not just the case in hospitality. So how can operators lower this anxiety and give their new employees the best chance to learn and succeed within their first few weeks? Set them up for success through proper training and support.

The night before they start, call them. Make sure they’re comfortable - ask if they have any questions or if there is anything you can do for them. Operators need to give their employees the tools for success before they walk in the door; otherwise, their anxiety will deter their progress throughout training. The employee has more choices in employment than the employer has in employees to choose from. It is just too easy for the new hire to walk away. Instead, you must give them a reason to invest in their own training and development.

Make sure to check in on new employees throughout training as well. At the end of each day, sit down with them and ask how their training went. Give them the opportunity to talk about where they’re struggling. For example, do they know the difference between the 74 bourbons behind the bar? If managers know the difficulties ahead of time, they can invest time in their employees to teach and lower their anxiety. Plus, this will avoid their own frustration if the employee is not performing because of a lack of understanding and proper preparation. Checking in on new hires shouldn’t stop after the first week of training. Repeat this after 30, 60 and 90 days, and get them past the 3-month mark. With support from their bosses, new hires can gain confidence while greatly reducing the restaurant’s rate of turnover.


Take care of your people


This is also known as employee engineering. This is a framework to evaluate and optimize your staff by department. It involves sorting the employees into four categories within their respective departments. From there, each employee is measured by their productivity against their alignment with the workplace culture. Technology solutions platforms like Craftable offer operators insights and resources to help measure an employee’s performance.

The four employee categories in the matrix are:

  1. A employees: Aligned with the culture and very productive
  2. B employees: Aligned with the culture and not as productive
  3. C+ employees: Not aligned with the culture and not as productive
  4. C- employees: Very productive, but create counterculture.

A employees are the employees that need to be taken care of. They have great attitudes and are exceptional at their jobs, which means they have their choice of job. They can leave for your competition whenever they feel they aren’t being treated right, so operators need to ensure they don’t slip through the cracks.

B employees are employees to invest in. They have great attitudes and are inspired to learn more. They should get the support they need so they can continue to grow as long as their needs never compromise and A's needs. C+ employees are typically new hires and are easily influenced. Your goal as they are trained is to develop them into a B, then an A. C- employees are the employees operators need to be careful of. They haven’t been fired because they’re good at what they do, but they suck the energy out of the room and other employees. 

A "B" employee can only improve in performance, while a C+ needs to improve in both performance and alignment with culture. However, rarely will a C- align with the company culture - most often, they are the employees you most focus on replacing. But keep in mind: you can't shoot the pilot until the plane lands. Your customers do not care about your staffing issues, so wait until you hire their replacement before you apply the pressure.

Normally, what happens is operators invest in the C- employees to improve their attitude, ignoring the As and Bs. The As and Bs will leave, and the C- employee trains the C+, turning the C+ into a C-. Owners and operators need to actively avoid turning employees with potential into C- employees because of bad training or a lack of planning, so instead of having a C- train a C+, ask the Bs and As to train the newer employees to both improve their attitude and productivity.

The root cause of almost every issue in the business reverts back to staffing. Whether it’s from being short-staffed, having poorly trained staff or a bad attitude from one of the employees, staff turnover can be detrimental to any business, especially when the industry is facing a major staffing shortage. The top item on any operator’s to-do list should be preventing turnover by hiring smart, training hard and taking care of their people. Not only does following the employee engineering formula prevent turnover, but it also helps operators create the perfect employee for their business - extremely productive with a great attitude - that will enhance their overall business and bottom line. 

About the Author

Russ Spencer is the Senior Director of Restaurant Success at Craftable, a cutting-edge technology company that empowers restaurants, bars, hotels, and hospitality businesses, both big and small. Bringing over 30 years of experience as an accomplished multi-unit operator working in day-to-day hospitality operations, Russ has a strong understanding of the benchmarks needed for a restaurant’s financial success. In 2015, he began consulting with independent restaurants to find profitability within their operations. Through COVID-19, Russ was part of a team of specialized consultants focused on using government legislation to help small businesses navigate the uncharted times by maximizing their pandemic relief benefits and setting up their businesses for long-term success. Using this information, he helps take early measures to address opportunities with tailored solutions to increase operations' margins and efficiencies.


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