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March 1, 2017

Best Practices for Holistic Retention and Engagement

According to recent Workforce Intelligence (formerly People Report) data, voluntary turnover has skyrocketed to over 70 percent for both hourly and management restaurant employees. The national unemployment rate was 4.7 percent in December, which is almost at a nine-year low, so our candidates have a myriad of opportunities.
It costs $2,004 to replace an hourly employee and $13,523 to replace a manager. So, what are restaurants doing about retention and engagement?

Operational Basics

Remember when our employees used to just fall into line? We’re not in that environment anymore. Things are more complicated than they used to be with enhanced regulations and a broader group of stakeholders. The people who are closest to the customer will make or break your brand.
However, the operational basics of blocking and tackling haven’t changed. You can still control what’s within your four walls. For restaurants, that means serving hot food hot, cold food cold, smiling at customers, keeping the bathrooms clean and getting money into the bank. All that’s changed about that dynamic in the last 30 years is that we use computers now.
Through Financial Intelligence (formerly Black Box Intelligence), restaurants are able to make a direct correlation between profitable restaurants, low turnover and manager tenure. Great managers are excellent operators and managers of people. Make sure you’re staffed with them. If a location is failing, allocate additional support and resources to it. We’re not shy about using resources to support grand openings, so we should do the same for at-risk locations and managers to assist them.

What’s on Your Murder Board?

Think about what legacy items you no longer need to perform and add them to your “murder board.” We all need to do more with less, but before you kill a process you need to put it on your murder board to make sure everyone has input and is aligned. You’re probably running reports and performing tasks that you no longer need or that can be automated.
One example of this that may be a sacred cow to human resources is the open door policy. Is it really productive? Employees ask for a minute, but an hour later they’re still in your office. Is that time an investment, or did you miss an opportunity to do something for your broader business? Figure out a way to navigate through the open door process more efficiently. Your team can probably figure it out, especially if you are a human resources department of one.


We know that communication enhances engagement, but how do we create an environment where everyone can speak up? Someone undoubtedly said something about food quality at Chipotle, but leadership didn’t listen. How can everyone feel that they have a shared responsibility for the organization? How can everyone lean into pleasing the customer? Employees can take responsibility without going to a supervisor. You just have to empower them.
Do you know why planes crash? It’s often because there’s a big blinking light, and the copilot assumes that the pilot sees the light. Culture adds to the dynamic since the copilot doesn’t feel empowered to question the pilot’s leadership and authority. Are you making the same mistake at your organization?
Are you authentic about your brand and your culture? If you’re not, your employees will see right through the facade and will never get on board with your mission.
Do you have a purpose? People want to connect to something that’s bigger than them. In the restaurant business, people come in both to celebrate and to mourn. They’re going to remember where they were and how they were treated during those milestones. You can help your employees tap into these milestones and help them understand your company’s bigger purpose.

The First Day to the Last Day

There’s a certain magic to how people are treated in your business on their first day, and on their last day. Sometimes the first day is pretty ugly. Make them feel special and warmly welcomed. Consider taking first-day selfies to post on Facebook. That pride and excitement permeate into guests.
How do you treat people on their last day of work? This is challenging since you really don’t need them anymore. But remember, they’re still your family, and they’re also still potential customers. This concept is easy for operators to get their heads around, so help them make this shift.

Use Short Surveys

Annual climate surveys are retroactive measurements. Instead, use short (less than 10 questions) surveys to solve specific business problems. Focus on getting answers to pressing business needs that you have right now, that your employees can help you solve and rally around. Use a relatively short time period to respond so you can convey the urgency of the issue you’re solving.
Just make sure you give the employees regular updates on the progress towards those solutions. It’s OK to let them know that a suggestion didn’t work out – just let them know why. Engagement is a two-way street, so make sure you always follow up after a survey is conducted. If you don’t, your employees will lose faith in the process and won’t take surveys in the future.
Finally, don’t forget to immediately address the bottom 10 percent in a survey. That’s probably where most of your leadership opportunities are. People still work for other people, not for specific companies.


Whoopi Goldberg once said that Boomers are the original Millennials. She’s right, of course, with one difference: technology. Use technology the way your employees do:

  • Consider using texting for exit interviews and surveys
  • View all of your communication processes, from hiring through off-boarding, through the lens of a mobile device
  • Use texting and apps to address benefits and employee relations concerns. Unions are already deploying this technology to speak to your employees, so consider offering your own version.

Just remember that a mix of high tech and low tech usually wins. For example, at HR Virtuoso we advocate using programmatic recruiting, as well as low-tech (paper) recruiting collateral at restaurant locations. This addresses both online and walk-in job seekers.

1f8e46dLiz D’Aloia is the founder of HR Virtuoso, a mobile recruiting company based in Dallas, TX. She is an HR professional, employment attorney, speaker and blogger. Prior to launching HR Virtuoso, Liz worked at national transportation companies and at a global retailer. Connect with Liz on LinkedIn and follow her at @hrvirtuoso.

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