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How to Build a Strong Restaurant Culture to Motivate Employees

How to Build a Strong Restaurant Culture to Motivate Employees

Across the country, restaurant operators are wrestling with the impact of the Great Resignation. Workers in the restaurant and entertainment sectors are quitting at twice the rate of the national average. While compensation and safety are essential to winning over new candidates and keeping them from leaving, so is restaurant culture. Working in the restaurant sector can be challenging enough, and the pandemic only makes it more complex. Having a strong culture can help keep workers tied to the company’s purpose and make them feel appreciated for their contributions to fulfilling it. 

Why restaurant workers are quitting

Turnover among restaurant employees has always been high, relative to many other industries. But the reasons why workers are leaving have evolved. While pay is still a major concern for the restaurant workforce, other factors are driving them to quit their jobs as well. We teamed up with Snagajob to survey restaurant employees to understand what’s driving this historic labor shortage

  • Many are leaving for other industries that can offer more consistent pay and less stress than a typical restaurant environment. Additionally, 15% who left for other industries did so because of culture.
  • When schools and daycares closed, many workers had to choose to stay home with their children, and many are still dealing with concerns for their children’s health and school closures. 
  • Restaurant workers are concerned for their own well-being. While COVID-19 is a major factor, so is stress – 78% said their mental health had been negatively affected in the past 12 months. 

Many of these staffing challenges existed pre-COVID, but the pandemic brought them to the forefront. Employees now feel empowered to ask more of employers to resolve the issues – from restaurant culture to inconsistent pay. The industry is responding to these pressures. We tracked rising restaurant wages throughout 2021, and expect that to continue through 2022,  with tipped minimum wage increases going into effect in many areas. But that’s only part of the picture.

The challenges of restaurant employee motivation

While offering hiring incentives and increased compensation for restaurant workers will help attract and engage employees, some of the drivers of turnover are beyond your control. That’s why building and maintaining a strong restaurant culture is so important. 

But managing a restaurant comes with unique challenges that make it difficult to rally employees around a common sense of purpose. Restaurant work schedules are unpredictable and the shift-based nature of the industry can have the unintended effect of making employees feel disposable. When employees feel like a shift can be canceled or cut short, or that they’ll regularly be asked to come in on their day off, they may feel that management doesn’t value their time. And when employees don’t feel valued, they are more likely to put in a half-hearted effort. 

Another challenge is a lack of control over consistency. Developing restaurant culture is a top-down effort. For restaurants that operate under a franchising model, it’s difficult to consistently shape the culture at each location. You have to somehow communicate your brand values without infringing on the autonomy of individual operators. Franchisors have to get creative to carry your values from the corporate office to the cash register. The Franchise Workforce Report helps you empower franchisees with metrics and benchmarking that can be used to track their engagement efforts. 

Create a culture that delivers on what restaurant employees want

Despite the unique challenges of engaging and motivating employees in the restaurant environment, it’s not impossible. Our survey with Snagajob revealed some important focus areas for building a strong restaurant culture.

Improve manager/employee relations

Nearly half of survey respondents said that they dealt with emotional abuse from managers. Improve the relationship between workers and leadership so employees feel comfortable sharing their concerns. Provide restaurant managers with training and tools to coach employees and provide constructive feedback. Adjust expectations to relieve pressure on all workers and take their challenges into account when setting goals.

Support restaurant employees in dealing with abusive customers

According to our survey, workers also want support in enforcing masking and social distancing rules. This support can extend further to helping employees deal with any type of disrespect or noncompliance from guests. A large majority of employees said they regularly dealt with disrespect and abuse from customers. To build a restaurant culture that makes employees feel like you have their back, provide managers and employees with guidelines for dealing with unruly customers and enforce them consistently. 

Offer restaurant employees incentives to perform at their best

A reward-based culture can help motivate employees to deliver high-quality service, even when they’re dealing with frustrations caused by unruly customers, lack of supplies, or long hours. These incentives can come in many forms. Some workers will appreciate restaurants that give employees free food or other perks that make their day-to-day lives a little easier and demonstrate your appreciation. To save costs, explore out-of-the-box restaurant staff incentive ideas like guaranteed days off or exchanging gift cards with another restaurant. 

Restaurant culture FAQs

Where are all the restaurant workers?

 The restaurant labor shortage is fueled by a number of factors, from a lack of childcare to frustrations with the restaurant environment. Some workers have moved to other industries, and restaurants must be strategic to win them back. 

How to find restaurant employees 

In this hiring environment, typical candidate outreach methods aren’t as effective. Your culture, in addition to benefits, pay and perks, can play a central role in attracting high-quality employees to your restaurant. Having a strong culture sets your employer brand apart and can generate positive word of mouth among potential candidates. 

How to motivate restaurant employees 

Keeping employees motivated can be a significant challenge when hungry customers and unpredictable work hours add stress to their day-to-day work. On top of that, restaurant career path options can be limited. Incentivize workers with perks and rewards for good performance. Create a culture that promotes high-quality service without sacrificing employee well-being. 

How to reduce restaurant employee turnover 

There’s no silver bullet for reducing turnover. Offering fair pay and insurance for restaurant employees can help retain high-quality candidates, since pay is a top concern. Creating a culture that demonstrates that you appreciate their work and understand their challenges will also help you retain employees 

How to use data to shape your restaurant culture

Establishing and monitoring your culture efforts doesn’t have to be a guessing game. In addition to your internal employee engagement survey, consider incorporating additional data to add context. Once you’ve measured your employees’ satisfaction and engagement levels, you can compare that to turnover and other metrics:

  • Understand your workforce better with Workforce Intelligence Get monthly data on turnover, staffing, demographics and compensation with gender, age, ethnicity and transactional analysis.
  • Guest Intelligence data is also an important source of information on how your staff is performing. Employees and delivery drivers often leave reviews on their experiences on review sites. Also, guest sentiment can reveal issues with your workforce.

You can also compare your performance to your competitors by viewing their staffing metrics and seeing what their guest sentiment is saying about their workforce. Take this data into account, along with data from employer review sites, to get a full picture of how engaged your employees are, and the impact it’s having on the bottom line. To learn more about our solutions, speak to an expert. 

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