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Invest in Systems to Keep Restaurant Workers Motivated

Before employing the next round of hospitality workers, restaurants need to think about how to keep their best talent engaged and motivated to retain new hires for the long term.
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Desperate restaurants hit hard by The Great Resignation are struggling to keep their doors open. Restaurant workers are quitting at record rates of double the national average which is evident in companies such as Dunkin’ Donuts that  recently went viral on Tik Tok for being understaffed and leaving employees overworked.

Meanwhile, the food industry workforce is projected to grow by 400,000 jobs by the end of 2022 and numbers from recruitment sites tell us waiters and waitress job postings went up 31% in March. As The Great Resignation turns into The Great Rehire, restaurants need to find ways to keep their new hires engaged and motivated to prevent them from going the same way as their predecessors.

RTN Market Watch: Leveraging Technology to Streamline the Workforce Experience

Finding strong team members is challenging at the best of times, but with the current labor shortage, many restaurant brands are resorting to mass-hiring campaigns just to survive. Some have even offered sign-on bonuses or have paid candidates to attend interviews.

The issue is that mass-hiring campaigns tend to neglect the reason people leave their jobs. Among the top three reasons for restaurant workers leaving the industry in 2021, according to a survey of more than 30,000 job seekers, were the desires for higher pay (45%) and better benefits (29%). The same survey found that 74% of respondents believe employers need to reevaluate the workplace benefits they offer after the pandemic.

Before employing the next round of hospitality workers, food businesses need to think about how to keep their best talent engaged and motivated to retain new hires for the long term.

Restaurant Worker Woes

Restaurant staff work long, unsociable hours for little pay. The job is physically and emotionally demanding and many workers feel they have little opportunity to advance. Typically, foodservice workers are seen as fickle and flighty, ready to move on to the next opportunity without a thought for their current employer. If true, these feelings are likely spurred on by workers not being invested in the job and seeing no potential for a long-term career.

Often the simple solution offered is to increase the hourly wage, but instead of paying employees more money for the same hours, businesses can provide additional compensation  for better performance. If employers can align their economic interests with those of their employees, they can build trust, and get employees engaged in their work. Properly incentivized workers, invested in a long and fulfilling career in the industry would send retention rates skyrocketing.

Put Systems In Place Before Hiring

There are ways to show workers that you care about their goals and career ambitions and create a team environment that fosters engagement and emotional investment to avoid resignations. In order to keep workers from joining the exodus, restaurant owners can put systems in place before they launch wide-scale hiring efforts.

Incentive Programs

Incentive programs give foodservice workers the opportunity to earn more when the business succeeds – a strong motivating factor that helps to align the goals of the business and the employee. A survey of over 500 foodservice workers found that employees were more motivated by opportunities for growth and performance incentives than free food, tips, or impressing customers and managers.

You can foster a culture of healthy competition between employees – and between competing teams and sites – by implementing sales games, offering commissions on high-value sales, and displaying leaderboards of your top performers. Employee incentive technology uses the latest insights from behavioral psychology to create incentives that work. Incentive programs are easy to implement using a software platform that integrates with your current systems.

Upskilling Programs

Give your best employees the opportunity to grow with your business and gain skills on the job by implementing an upskilling program. Laying out a pathway to growth and success gives employees a vision of their career progression. Combine the extra training with regular check-ins and progress meetings to make sure employees are constantly motivated to progress.

Incentives and upskilling programs are powerful tools but they must offer consistent motivation in order to succeed. Even your most engaged, highest performing workers will quickly lose their passion if you fail to show appreciation fairly and evenly throughout their time at the company.

By investing in your teams, you are building a nest egg for the future. The pay-off is motivated workers who are ready to step up to higher positions when opportunities become available. Put in place a system to constantly reward and show appreciation to employees who work hard and bring in more revenue.

Promoting From Within

The average cost of training a new hire is over $1,000 and studies show that even an $8 per hour employee can cost $3,500 in turnover costs. It’s much more cost-effective to develop and promote the talent you already have.

When your employees’ goals are already aligned with those of the business and they are getting constant training with your upskilling program, everything is set up to promote from within. Not only does this lead to better retention and engagement, but it also sends a strong signal to new hires that progression is possible.

Rather than gambling on an expensive new hire, get a return on your investment and reward someone who has already shown commitment to the business.

Let’s Develop Pride in Restaurant Careers

When restaurant workers have skin in the game and feel proud of their roles, they are more likely to see a long-term career in the industry. Customers also benefit from more passionate, engaged and skilled workers. And restaurants gain from their increased sales ability and loyalty.

With restaurant workers excited about careers in the industry, we could change the way society sees restaurant jobs – from short-term opportunities for the unskilled to a legitimate career path. By putting in the right systems before mass-hiring and investing in the future of the next generation of hospitality workers, restaurant operators can use The Great Rehire as an opportunity to develop potential talent. The pay-off: highly skilled and motivated teams, invested in the success of your restaurant.

About the Author


Andrew Duffy, CEO and Co-Founder of SparkPlug, an employee incentive management platform for retailers and restaurants. Before founding SparkPlug, Duffy earned a BA in Behavioral Economics from Harvard University and worked for Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, where he studied labor economics and implemented investment theses based on research into human behavior. 

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