5 Proven Strategies for Long-Term Retention of Food & Beverage Employees

Food and Beverage, For Employers

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Employee turnover is a significant concern in the food and beverage industry. The data shows the rate of staff turnover in 2022 was 83.4%. While pandemic-related disruptions have certainly contributed to this problem, high turnover has been an ongoing concern for the industry. From 2013-2019, the average annual turnover rate was 71.6%, still far higher than what is typical in other industries.

There are a number of reasons that employers in food and beverage often struggle to keep staff members in their organization. Recruiting food and beverage professionals who want to stay with one company long-term can be the first hurdle. Students and other part-time workers make up a higher percentage of the workforce than in other industries, and there are also a high number of seasonal roles, making turnover a part of the employment model.

While these challenges are unavoidable, however, there are strategies that businesses in food and beverage can use to encourage more long-term loyalty from their team. 

Key factors that impact employee retention

The SHRM Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement research report identifies five core factors as the leading drivers of retention:

  • Respectful treatment of all employees
  • Compensation
  • Trust between employees and management
  • Job security
  • Opportunities for employees to use their skills and abilities

While this report was not specific to food service, these insights still hold true. People are more likely to stay at a job where they’re respected, well-paid, well-managed, and feel secure, valued, challenged, and useful. 

The question, of course, is how to achieve this. Customer-facing businesses in the food and beverage industry face unique challenges in this regard because the workplace environment can be unpredictable. While you can plan for likely spikes and dips in business, unexpected rushes and unruly customers can’t always be prepared for or avoided. 

The truth is, though, this only makes it more important for businesses to implement retention strategies. While you can’t prevent every workplace problem, you can minimize their impact on your team. 

Food and beverage employee retention strategies

1. Start with effective training and onboarding.

Reducing turnover rates starts from a new hire’s first day on the job. An effective onboarding and training process makes new employees feel welcome in the workplace and introduces them to your company values and culture, in addition to teaching them the skills and knowledge they need to excel in their role. 

Ultimately, by the end of training, an employee should understand their expectations and responsibilities, be integrated into the team, and feel comfortable in their work environment. If you accomplish this, you’ll be more likely to see high employee engagement from their first day on the job. This, in turn, leads to higher job satisfaction and a stronger feeling of connection with both their coworkers and the business, all factors that contribute to higher retention. 

Review your current onboarding approach to identify areas for improvement. In many restaurants and other food industry businesses, the culture and team aspects of onboarding are what’s missing. Making changes to improve new hires’ introduction to their coworkers, managers, and workplace can have an immediate and lasting impact on your overall retention.

2. Build and maintain a strong company culture. 

The culture of an organization is formed by the shared behaviors, standards, attitudes, and values that guide how individuals within that workplace act and interact. Every organization has a culture. If one isn’t put into place intentionally, then it forms organically based on how workers and leaders conduct themselves while at work. 

Creating an intentional workplace culture allows restaurant owners and other food business leaders more control over the work environment and allows them to make targeted improvements. Granted, there are things that an employer can’t control, like how customers behave or challenges employees face in their personal life that can impact their workplace behavior. This only increases the importance of being intentional with those things you can.

Improving a workplace culture starts by identifying its current state and where it could improve. Employee surveys can be an effective way to get this information. Include questions that ask about their individual employee experience as well as their perception of morale across the team. Also pay attention to how managers and leaders interact with their teams, like how often they give employees feedback, how they show appreciation and recognition for high performance, and the effectiveness of communication across the organization.

3. Offer mentorship and career development opportunities.

One reason turnover is often so high in the restaurant industry is that many workers view these jobs as a temporary stepping stone. You can encourage team members to see their role as a potential long-term career option by providing them with pathways to advancement and other opportunities to expand their skill sets.

Implementing an official mentorship program is one way to provide younger employees with this kind of guidance. This can include on-the-job shadowing, one-on-one meetings, or a mix of both approaches. Along with this, give employees clear examples of ways they can further their career within your company. For kitchen staff, show the progression they can take from dishwasher or prep cook into line cook roles or other stations, all the way up to sous or head chef. You can plot out a similar path for front of the house roles, providing benchmarks and pathways for hosts, servers, or bartenders to move into management as they gain skills and experience. 

Something that can reinforce the value of this kind of mentorship is to take advantage of internal promotions to fill leadership and management roles. This gives employees proof that they can get an opportunity to make career progress if they excel in their current position. 

4. Help your employees maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Working in food service can be stressful, and the burnout rate among food industry workers is high. Some of the factors that contribute to this stress are difficult to control, like demands or abuse from customers, or fluctuations in the workload from season to season or even day to day. That’s not a justification to ignore the mental health and stress levels of your team, though. If anything, it means it’s even more crucial to make work-life balance and mental health a priority in food service businesses. 

Scheduling flexibility can be a big piece of this puzzle. Often, food service employees put in long hours and need to work evenings and weekends. Their schedules are also rarely consistent from week to week, which can make it difficult to plan their life around their shifts. In some cases, providing more consistency and stability can actually support greater employee flexibility because it allows team members to more easily fit in time with their family or other commitments and passions in their personal life.

It also helps to give employees as much control over their schedules as possible. Making it easy to request a shift off when needed doesn’t just improve retention, but can also reduce absences, call-offs, and no-call no-shows. You can also consider adding paid time off to your benefits package for full-time staff. This is a relatively rare benefit in food service, and can be a definite differentiator when it comes to recruitment and retention. 

The company culture and policies can make a difference here, too. While you can’t prevent all bad customer behavior, you can ensure employees feel supported by management when they face customer abuse. Strong policies against harassment, discrimination, and other forms of workplace toxicity minimize the types of stress that food service employees deal with on a day-to-day basis, and can help promote a greater sense of well-being across your team. 

5. Increase compensation for your loyal team members.

Low wages are one of the biggest reasons that employees look for new jobs across industries, and this is a particular concern in the food and beverage sector. For non-tipped employees, a regular schedule of raises can help show employees that you value their loyalty and experience. While budgets are often tight in food industry businesses, the truth is that hiring and training staff is expensive. Investing a bit more in your team by paying long-term employees a higher salary can ultimately save you money in the long run by reducing your recruitment and training expenses.

Don’t neglect tipped employees when you’re considering raises, either. Bartenders, servers, and other tipped staff often don’t rely on their hourly wage for the bulk of their income, but increasing their hourly rate can still be an effective way to reward their loyalty and show you value their hard work. 

While you can’t control customer behavior, you can take steps to make it easier and more likely that they’ll leave a good tip. Allow customers to tip on their credit card, and include a suggested tip on receipts so they don’t need to do the math themselves. You can also implement systems to improve the speed, accuracy, and quality of service, factors that have a significant influence on how much customers tip.

FAQs about F&B employee retention

What is a good turnover rate for a business to aim for?

Every business is going to have some amount of turnover. In other industries, a turnover rate of around 8-11% is considered low. Food manufacturing businesses can often achieve this kind of retention, though it’s more challenging for customer-facing businesses like restaurants and cafes. However, it is possible to achieve a turnover as low as 20-25%, even in notoriously low-retention sectors like fast food. If you’re looking for an example, the fast food restaurant Pal’s Sudden Service is noteworthy for its high retention, and has a turnover rate around 23%.

Why is turnover so high in food and beverage?

A number of factors contribute to this trend. The introduction mentioned one of them: that many workers view food and beverage jobs as temporary, and it’s a common part-time income source for students. The industry is also known for paying low wages and requiring long and inconsistent shifts, often working on your feet and in a stressful environment. These aspects of food and beverage jobs frequently drive away people who want to find a long-term career. 

How can I choose the right strategy to improve retention in my business?

Getting input from your employees can be very helpful for business leaders who want to reduce turnover. Conduct periodic stay interviews of your team to get their suggestions and input on what would make them want to stay with you long-term. When someone does leave, hold an exit interview to find out why they decided to change jobs and what, if anything, could have made them want to stay.

Bristol Associates, Inc. is an executive search firm with over 55 years of excellence in recruiting nationwide. Bristol specializes in recruiting for the Casino Gaming; CBD; Facility and Concession; Food and Beverage Manufacturing; Healthcare; Hotel and Resort; Nonprofit; Restaurant and Foodservice; and Travel, Tourism, and Attraction industries.

If you’re interested in working with Bristol Associates, click here if you’re an employer or here if you’re a candidate.

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