Invest in Developing Your Staff

Your staff is the most integral part of your business: They’re the face, hands and lifeblood of the company. This is true of any small business, but low-level employees are especially crucial to the food service industry which relies on customer service and quality attitudes to really make a customer’s experience great—though of course, you need good food, too.

Considering the high turnover rate in the restaurant industry, which averages around 75% across the board and nearly 150% for QSRs alone according to the 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics, it makes sense that building an efficient team is even more critical for restaurants than it is for other small businesses. Investing in the professional development of your workers is in your best interest because employees, especially those in the younger generations, overwhelmingly prefer jobs that in some way benefit their professional development. They’re interested in gaining skills that will foster an upwards trajectory throughout their career.

This drive is valuable to you as well and is a fantastic jumping off point to begin mentoring them in their personal and professional development. You’ll end up with better workers who can in turn teach new hires the ropes; investing in this kind of cyclical improvement is especially good, if you can achieve it, because it helps you hang on to employees for longer. In an industry plagued by turnover, that’s difficult to achieve and precious to have.

How exactly can management invest in developing their staff?

1. Set goals

Employees can’t improve if they don’t know the standard to which they’re meant to aspire. When they have a tangible goal, they focus on that and become more productive as a result. Thus having relevant, achievable endgames are hugely beneficial to a restaurant. If you can identify the areas that need the most improvement within your establishment, you can begin to set applicable goals to remedy those situations.

Your objectives can have any time frame, although typically smaller is better. For this reason, quarterly reviews are more beneficial than annual reviews because it’s easier to track progress and see whether these goals are being met, and reassess, reassign goals if necessary, or try alternative strategies for meeting them if the current system doesn’t work. Monitoring progress is a careful balance of giving staff time and space to improve but still checking in often enough to track and give feedback on their performance.

It can be helpful to develop a hiring plan to ensure that these standards continue to be evaluated and met, even years into the future. This will help keep your business fair and on track throughout its duration, even ten years down the line.

2. Value individual growth

In 2014, Glassdoor found that 63% of employees want to learn new skills and train on the same because they consider it one of the most important factors for advancement. Coaching, mentoring and other developmental activities are extremely valued amongst employees as it shows your personal investment in them, which leads to mutual trust and respect.

Setting a culture of growth and productivity goes a long way because it gives employees the tools they need to perform well. You can guarantee that these methods work because they’ll have already been vetted by employees who used those tools to find success themselves. Mentorship can come in many forms from having senior employees train new hires, offering regular training (and follow-up training sessions to brush up on their abilities), or bringing in industry professionals to host seminars and workshops on applicable pathways to success.

You can also try to encourage outside development in employees’ own time by playing on their desire for professional improvement, though this one is admittedly more difficult to sell. To foster career skills without monetary compensation, employees typically need other incentives, which also come in a variety forms. Team building is often a good place to start, because close bonds with coworkers breeds a better company culture and naturally makes team members want to try harder so as not to become a detriment to the group. Outside reward programs are also effective, such as offering prizes for top sellers in the group or hosting a dinner to show your appreciation for the best shift team. Creativity goes a long way here because it depends on the specific wants and values of the individuals you’re trying to motivate.

Typically, employees put in as much effort as they’re paid to care about. It’s harsh but true. Minimum wage employees—or sometimes less than minimum wage employees, since tipped workers can make as little as $2.13/hr—just won’t care much about professional development without proper incentive. Raises and benefits remain the best motivator out there.

3. Review, review, review

Setting goals is meaningless without follow-through. Only 2% of employers give ongoing feedback to employees which is unhelpful because it doesn’t tell them whether they’re doing well on a regular enough basis; progress takes a really long time because they can only change their tactics or strengthen the approaches that work once or twice a year. Especially in an industry with turnover so high, most employees probably won’t even last to see a review.

Take that into consideration with the fact that most people dread yearly reviews, and it’s actually more beneficial to have more informal, frequent reviews. Focus on development, not evaluation, as that only leads to fear of judgement rather than centering on improvement which isn’t the same thing. Asking targeted questions will help to this end, such as, “How can I, as a manager, help you improve?” or “What are your goals and what tools do you need to reach them?” or “How has management helped or hindered your work and success?” This puts the power of self-improvement in their hands and helps you set goals together, while also teaching employees to determine their own areas of professional development that need improvement—which is a skillset in itself, recognizing weakness and taking steps to do better.

Creating collaborative, frequent reviews breed happier, more productive and more successful employees.

Staff are one of the most important, if not the heart, of any restaurant. Respect and personal investment in their development are the keys to building a great staff who will have as much vested interest in giving back to a company who has put so much into helping them grow critical skillsets.

This is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, since you likely have more time to invest in cross-training your employees and building a stronger business in the future when the world reopens. All of this will hopefully lead to lower turnover rates and a more cohesive and agile staff, working together to make your restaurant the best it can be.

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