How to stay active against employee turnover in food service

Though the primacy of cuisine may be seen by many as the focal point of food service, the industry would be lost without the "service."

Chefs, managers, waiters, bartenders – these people do more than just facilitate the transfer of meals from the refrigerator to a customer's plate, they accent the experience of dining out. After all, who'd want to go to a restaurant where you'd have to cook and handle your own food, all while paying restaurant prices to do so. At least the tips you'd give yourself would be good, one hopes.

"It's time to branch out from preconceived notions about the 'perfect' employee."

But according to findings from RestaurantOwner.com, many businesses in food service struggle with hanging onto employees and have been for some time. The survey revealed more than 43 percent of respondents – predominantly full-service restaurants that have been open for six or more years – consider hiring a "somewhat serious" issue. Moreover, more than 63 percent would describe adequate hiring as more difficult today than than two or three years ago. Luckily, restaurant owners determined to end the cycle can try a couple tricks to spur hiring and employee retention.

Think about on-site training as an investment against turnover
An apt kitchen staff is especially challenging for restaurant owners to establish and cultivate. It's not wrong to have a picky palate when it comes to hiring the best fit, but perhaps it's time to branch out a little from preconceived notions about the "perfect" employee.

Consider this: According to Bersin by Deloitte Founder Josh Bersin, employee turnover can cost tens of thousands of dollars at a minimum, going as high as two times that position's annual salary. While on-site training of a less-than-qualified new hire may take time, energy and money, it's better to invest those expenditures wisely than throw them away trying to recover. Employees do take notice. Workers who feel like their company values them enough to devote resources to their development are more likely to hang around.

Take action on worker benefits
For food service, the transitory nature of the industry can often mean that waiting tables and serving drinks is something a person does "for now," but never as a career. Unfortunately, this perception extends a bit deeper than what better marketing can resolve. Restaurant owners may need to restructure their businesses' employee benefits to not only entice new hires, but to prove they're places where professionals who are serious about working in food service can make a sustainable living. If restaurateurs truly wish to solve their employment crisis, they may need better long-term health benefits, parental leave, and perhaps even a 401(k) program to demonstrate their commitment to their employee's future, whatever it may entail.

Food service can be a lifelong career choice, so long as restaurant owners commit to bettering the industry's reputation.Food service can be a lifelong career choice, so long as restaurant owners commit to bettering the industry's reputation on employee benefits.

Beyond even that though, the waitstaff's paychecks cannot go unaddressed. Do employees have a set salary, an hourly wage, or exclusively earn tips? The Fair Labor Standards Acts allows tipped positions to receive less than a third of the national minimum wage, so long as the business can prove employees consistently make more than $30 per month in tips alone. While this tactic might save restaurant owners money in one regard, many argue it encourages turnover in food service more than anything else, which as mentioned, can cost considerably more in the long run.

Though some businesses operating under this wage system might sufficiently provide for their workers, the problem has less to do with facts and figures and more to do with an employee's freedom to plan their lives around the money they make. Though tipped waiters' earnings are limitless, they can never be as consistent as steady paychecks. To tackle turnover and hiring dilemmas, restaurant owners must employ new tactics to reduce operating costs without depriving workers of a safe, supportive environment. Finding that balance can keep waitstaff involved and restaurant owners profiting.

Hospitality and restaurant industry piece brought to you by Marlin Equipment Finance, a nationwide provider of commercial lending solutions for small and mid-size businesses. Marlin's equipment financing and loan products are offered directly to businesses, and through third party vendor programs, which include manufacturers, distributors, independent dealers and brokers in the security, food services, healthcare, information technology, office technology and telecommunications sectors.