A Restaurant Owner’s Guide to Employee Retention Post-Pandemic

  • HR Policies
A Restaurant Owner’s Guide to Employee Retention Post-Pandemic
Kiran Virk

Kiran Virk, Head of Talent Acquisition

(Last updated )

The restaurant and food services sector has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Repeated lockdowns, staff shortages, diminishing revenues, increasing food prices, and ever-changing COVID-19 public health measures have made the past two years nothing short of an ordeal.

Restaurant Canada’s Restaurant Outlook Survey, published November 2021, found that 93% of those surveyed reported a shortage of employees, with 50% saying they were grappling with a major staffing shortage.

This labour shortage can be attributed to a variety of reasons. The havoc wreaked by the pandemic and the ensuing series of lockdowns led many to switch industries. Restaurants and bars have been traditionally high-pressure environment with long hours of work and low pay. The pandemic just made the existing challenges more pressing. Many in the industry, especially the public-facing staff at restaurants have also had to put with abuse and hostility from customers while implementing mask mandates and proof of vaccination requirements.

With restrictions lifted and the COVID-19 pandemic receding, restaurant and food establishment owners can finally focus on building back and growing their businesses. But it is crucial they make employee retention a priority.

Why should employee retention be a priority?

It is good for your bottom line and for your business growth. Better pay, better benefits, and a healthy work environment not only attracts good candidates but also helps you keep them. Constant recruitment is expensive – consider the time and money spent on advertising, interviewing, training, and so on. Besides, it reflects poorly on your brand. New employees, whether front of house staff or back of house workers, are also more likely to make mistakes and may require more supervision.

When it comes to growing your business, an experienced and skilled team is an asset. Quality and consistency of service is key in your industry. Your long-term employees are familiar with the preferences of your long-term patrons. They enjoy a certain rapport with your customers. These are the people you can promote from within to take on roles with more responsibility. They can also help you train new staff or teams when you expand to new locations.

Low staff morale, whether due to poor pay or stressful working conditions, will also reflect in the quality of your staff’s and – by extension – your brand’s service.

What steps can I take to retain my staff?

Here are some strategies you can implement to improve staff retention in your establishment:

Competitive pay and benefits

Offering a good salary and benefits should be the cornerstone of your staff retention strategy. Recent surveys have found higher wages and more benefits to be the two main reasons why employees are looking to change jobs.

Paying a competitive salary to the staff you have trained and invested in would be cheaper in the long run than to keep recruiting and training new hires due to high employee turnover.

Training and opportunities for growth

Provide professional development opportunities to your staff. Proper training for new hires, regular feedback on job performance, staff upskilling, and cross-training are all ways to ensure your employees keep growing in their roles. Consider mentoring high-performing employees to take on bigger roles within your business. This will also save you the trouble and time spent looking for suitable candidates for those roles.

Employee appreciation

Showing your employees appreciation doesn’t necessarily have to be costly. You can also acknowledge the hard work of your staff through a shout out on your company’s social media channel or genuine praise in public. Encourage your staff to approach you if they face an issue, especially if they need accommodation due to medical issues and/or caregiving duties. Holding socials and contests around holidays with small prizes, such as gift cards, is another way your staff can unwind at work and bond as a team.

Healthy work culture

A toxic work culture is a recipe for a high staff turnover rate and low morale. A workplace that treats all employees fairly and with respect builds a loyal team who enjoys their work and values their employer. Here are some good practices to create a positive workplace:

  • Ensure your supervisors have the necessary people management skills to do their jobs well. Have a zero-tolerance policy toward bullying in the workplace. Make sure you are following your provincial law when it comes to creating and implementing a policy on workplace harassment and violence.
  • Promote a work-life balance. Ensure your staff is not overworked or neglecting their health or personal life due to work. Overstressed employees are at a greater risk of burning out. You must provide breaks between shifts as required by your province’s employment standards legislation.
  • Avoid playing favourites at work. Giving some workers special treatment only leads to bitterness and resentment within your team. Have the same rules for everyone. Reward merit.

Mental health support

The COVID-19 pandemic also created a mental health crisis. In the past two years, given the risks they were exposed to – especially front of house staff – employees in food services have experienced high stress and anxiety. This is often cited as among the reasons for their mass exodus to other industries and the current labour shortage.

As an employer, you should create awareness about the importance of good mental health in your workplace. Offer an Employee Assistance Program to support your staff.

mental health policy that lays down guidelines on the company procedure for disclosing mental health issues and seeking accommodation is also a good practice. If stress is unavoidable in your workplace, consider providing stress management training. Review your work strategies to eliminate or minimize job stress.

Employee feedback

Getting regular feedback from your staff may help you assess what policies and practices are working and what needs to be improved in your work culture. The best way to do so is through anonymous employee engagement surveys. This way your staff can speak their minds without fear of reprisals. Exit interviews are also a good way to get honest and meaningful feedback.

Do you need support with staff management?

Whether you need assistance developing company policies, have an HR or health & safety query or are struggling with an employee issue – Peninsula can help.

We will help you streamline your processes, update policies and workplace documentation, and ensure you are compliant with labour laws and protected from litigation. We have a team of consultants available 24/7 via telephone to answer all your queries. We also offer smart HR software to make your daily HR and OHS tasks quick and convenient.

To learn more about how our services can benefit your hospitality business, call an expert today at 1 (833) 247-3652.

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