guestXM – by Black Box Intelligence

Best Practices in Employee Recognition and Retention

Liz D'Aloia of HR Virtuoso shares suggestions on empowering and developing the restaurant workforce through employee recognition programs.

Unlocking Employee Retention Secrets

The Power of Recognition

The initial results from the Restaurant Manager Connect Survey (formerly known as GM Connect) performed by Gallup and Black Box Intelligence (formerly TDn2K) are in, and they’re clear.

Employees who are not adequately recognized at work are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year.

With food service turnover at 150 percent in quick-service restaurants and 103 percent for hourly staff at a full-service brand, we can safely assume that recognition is a key lever for retention. Consider how you insert these best practices into your operations.

Investing in Potential: Nurturing High-Performing Talent

Growing High Potentials

Have a plan in place to identify your high potential at all levels of your organization. Once you have your list, you have a decision to make. Do you tell the employees they have high potential, or do you offer them special tools and resources to help them with their development? This is where a heated debate often occurs between HR and operations. For what it’s worth, in this era of transparency, I think high potentials should be aware that they’ve been selected for certain programs and that we plan on investing a lot into their development.

Some may argue that telling high potentials they’re on the list will give them a sense of entitlement or an inflated ego. That’s a valid point, but your high potential should have the emotional intelligence and maturity to easily handle this information. And besides, what’s a better form of recognition for your high potential than letting them know you value them and want to invest in them, so they’ll have a successful long-term career with your organization?

Empower and Develop Employees

You can offer all the tools and resources possible to employees, but only a select number will take advantage of them. You’ll get more buy-in of your offerings if you ask employees what they want, and what’s important to them. Consider implementing some or all of these ideas that may surface from employee discussions:

  • Online/purchased content for your learning management system, including soft skills training
  • Mentoring programs from the C-suite to entry-level employees
  • Matching people with similar skills who work in various functional areas
  • Create an Employee Resource Group to learn and educate peers. These programs usually have an executive sponsor, but the groups are led by employees
  • Create project portals for people who want to transfer to different jobs but don’t have the required skill sets yet. Simply allowing someone to participate in a project for a few hours per week can help them experience something new and exciting, and determine if their desired career path is truly the right match for their strengths
  • On-the-job training to teach technical skills. Companies do this all the time with plumbers, electricians, welders, and truck drivers. Why can’t you do the same and elevate a dishwasher into a line cook?
  • Think about your performance management system. Do your managers like it? What about your employees? We know that millennials prefer having a coach instead of a boss, so how can you redesign your system to offer more frequent, honest, and open feedback?
    Introduce career paths that let people grow with salary and title without requiring them to manage others


Cultivate awareness by reminding employees of the available tools and programs at regular intervals, and not just during performance discussions.

Recognition Programs

This is another area where you can survey employees and find out what gets them excited.

How can you make recognition events loud, proud, public, and celebratory? Consider that what works at the corporate office may not resonate in a restaurant. Give your GMs the latitude to tailor their recognition programs in a way that marries both the corporate culture and the unique culture at their location. Here are a few ideas:

  • Consider adding paid time off to your recognition programs. Time is one of our most valuable commodities, and employees appreciate the gift of extra time off
  • Foster a culture of catching people doing the right thing by offering “bucks” in different denominations. You can even use your leaders’ pictures on them. Set a budget that each management team is required to “spend” and let employees submit their “bucks” for gift cards or company gear. This makes sure the managers recognize people regularly and also fosters a culture of continuous improvement


Liz 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. Before launching HR Virtuoso, Liz worked at national transportation companies and a global retailer. Connect with Liz on LinkedIn and follow her at @hrvirtuoso.

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