Covid-19 leads to a surplus of people being potential employees in the industry. It might be true, but you are not looking for any employee but the ones that fit your business. The challenge stays the same: find and hire the right staff for your business, create a great team, and retain it.

Finding good staff and retaining it is not only a challenge anymore; it is getting a serious threat for the foodservice industry. The average turnover rate in the U.S. in 2018 was at an astronomical high of 74.9% and European turnover reached almost similar numbers (70%). Losing an employee can cost a pretty penny –  up to 115% of an annual salary. There are, for sure economic and social reasons for this trend that you can’t influence but change what you can:  turn your business into one of the rare places where people just love to work. Stop thinking in growth; think in sustainability. This does not come with a higher cost; it will save costs almost instantly.  However, to make foodservice operations a place worth staying longer than for a “gig” requires some efforts and a management with a clear focus. Ready?

It all starts here: the job interview

The interview is about your business and why it is the right place to show up every day. What are the shared values, the common vision, and the overall goals? Where do you see this business at the end of the year, and why is it important for this person in front of you to achieve the goals? No vision close at hand? Please take your time and develop it first – with the management, waiting staff, and the kitchen. This investment in time will pay back for sure and shows a positive impact on your fluctuation. Without a vision, everything goes to shambles.

It’s time to ask the right questions. You would like to dig deeper than the CV in front of you to the place where an applicant can show the character and personality you are looking for. Let applicants talk about challenges and how they handled them. Mistakes that they have made and what they have learned from it. How they took the heat for the team, even if it was not their fault. Skills on the floor or in the kitchen you can teach easily, personality, and believe in teamwork hardly.

Talk about the benefits of working for your restaurant, personal development, and work-life balance. Maybe the person is 21 and single, but wouldn’t it be great to know already that your business understand the needs of young families?  Be honest and not over-promising. And yes, every additional benefit hurts in term of cost, but a 25% decrease in staff turnover  can save you thousands of dollars already.

No need to say that the atmosphere of the interview is crucial for a good discussion and presentation of your business. This does not have to happen in your office; a quiet corner somewhere in your running operation works and shows the positive atmosphere in your operation. Interviews in between daily tasks and under pressure might show the applicant how busy you are, but it is far from professional.

Good management always keeps an eye on the team and the personal dynamics within. You need staff that shares the companies values, attitudes, and beliefs. In short: your culture. The urge to fill a vacant position sometimes forces to hire a wrong person that is just after the next ‘gig’ rather than a commitment. Not sure if the person sitting in front of you fits into your team? That’s already your answer there.


Photo by Gia Oris on Unsplash

One order company culture, please!

The food service industry can be a rough place to work in. It can make and break people like no other industry. Waiters with long shifts and more tables than they can handle, over time, stress. Kitchens with an aggressive mood, choleric Chefs, crazy coworkers, bruises, cuts, and hushed up substance abuse. All this might fit to an outdated picture of the industry, which is far too often heroized by always the same “when I was working in the restaurant” stories and not very intelligent TV shows.

However, as the available workforce for this industry seem to diminish constantly, and wages rise, there is another powerful force insight: Gen Y – the digital natives – are taking over the labor market taking over the labor market with Gen Z in sight, promising even more change. Say goodbye to a job-for-a-lifetime workforce and hello to a hyper-individualized new generation! The war for talent Focuses on a new employee with the claim meaning and individualization on its flag and healthier work attitudes on the agenda. Reducing these demands to a picture of a new workforce not resilient enough and benefit-oriented is a weak excuse to stay with the old habits. You are better than that!

The keyword is ‘company culture’ in an environment that moves fast and is highly competitive. Focus first on the things that you can implement easily without major effort – this will get you already 80% closer to a lively company culture… the remaining 20% you can fix later.

Here are the top 5 to get started:

  1. Show all employees that you care. Chefs, waiters, bar tenders, dishwasher, managers. They all do the job for a living. Treating them with equal respect and honest interest strengthens a team. Foster a positive error-culture and open the way for improvement and learning. Push for personal growth. People can grow beyond themselves and their jobs; why not giving them the chance to proof it?
  2. Flexibility, if possible. Work-Live-Balance is such a nice term but hard to implement in the daily rush. Offer flexible shifts and hours whenever possible, and involve staff partly in the planning process. Take good care of the ones being in rough waters. But communicate openly if you struggle with the schedule; they will understand that you have to run a business too.
  3. Have team meetings. Meet on a regular basis. Talk about the business, numbers, and KPI’s and how they develop, make clear which factors affect the business and how. Make them understand business – make them a part of your business. Schedule workshops. Give and demand feedback. Incorporate ideas and suggestions for improvement and update on these points in the next meeting.
  4. Be professional. Behave in a way you would like your ideal employee to be: honest, enthusiastic, and reliable. You are the best role-model, go the extra mile, and show that it’s worth it.
  5. Recognize and celebrate success. Encourage to celebrate success and the success of others. This can be done via verbal or written praise, benefits, a company party, or a drink in the bar around the corner. It’s the small tokens of appreciation that make a difference.

Onboarding: time to shine

“Ok, this is the rest of the team; here is our coffee-machine and, hey, please ask me any time if you have questions…” is far away from what onboarding should be. Feeling welcomed is one of the most important parts of the onboarding process. Getting to know the people that you will spend probably long hours with is crucial for a smooth start. Have a look at the Top 5 of every onboarding plan.

  1. Have a plan. Onboarding is a process that needs to be planned properly and includes all key players in your team. While policies and procedures are important right away, the next days should focus on seeing as much as possible and get in touch with the team.
  2. Define a mentor. This seasoned team member with a positive standing in the team is the person explaining unwritten rules (“Don’t talk to this guy before he had the first coffee…”) and everything one needs to know for a complete immersion in the work environment. This mentor ensures that the new employee gets in touch with as many team members as possible and maybe even organize an informal get together after work.
  3. Encourage Feedback. Start with feedback right away, demonstrate purposely that constructive criticism is normal and everyday business, be visual, straightforward, and authentic.
  4. Live your culture. Have a look at the Top 5 for your company culture again. Time to step back a little. Be a supportive leader without attitudes. Just live it!
  5. Keep it simple and natural. Starting a new job is for many people exciting, sometimes even frightening. Give the new colleague time to digest and be around for questions.

Personal development taken serious

The personal development of employees happens in an employee development journey for the entire time they are on board. Let’s do a small test. Take  30 seconds and think about the following question: what is the reason you are doing your job day in and day out?

Easy? If your answer contained some words like ‘fun’, ‘motivated’, ‘great company’, ‘value’, ‘personal development’ or even ‘meaning’ you belong to the predominantly group of people that are driven by purpose. Purpose as a wider picture is a destination defined by your operation’s habits and values that not only guides your staff but also becomes a part of their personal journey. Sounds complicated? Not at all. Authentic leaders emphasize shared values and ideals. They proof every day that it’s worth contributing to the greater cause of the organization while stepping back from traditional leadership approaches in favor of enabling their colleagues. It is about showing naturally that this common goal is not a wish on a piece of paper but a part of the daily work.  Considering this, the personal development of an employee must fit into this greater cause and show fields for development, whether this might be the way to additional benefits or a promotion. Money is a short-term motivator; sustainable personal development not.Schedule already during the onboarding process a personal development and feedback meeting with the employee. For both you and the employee, this is a good point to work towards.

By the way: if your answer on the initial question was ‘money’ please stop reading at this point and invest the time in finding a job that makes you happy.

Training. Training. Training

If company culture and purpose guide the way to a common goal, continuous training is the vehicle to get there. Training is not only about transferring knowledge, procedures, and policies but as well about strengthening the team from within. To dispel a myth from the start: training never costs you money it makes money, creates trust, and encourages high performance! Period.

Besides internal training, which needs to be dynamic and a constant resource, there two additional trainings that you should think about: external industry training sessions and mentorship programs.

External trainings broaden the horizon of employees by getting out of the daily routines and showing them appreciation. How would you feel, if your manager would send you to this one convention with workshops that you are interested in so much? Attending external trainings is still an exception in the foodservice industry, because the effects are underrated. A short summary of these trainings should be part of your team meetings and motivates and benefits everyone.

Mentorship programs are a perfect way of passing on company knowledge and to qualify staff for upcoming tasks and open positions. A mentor is a seasoned person in your team with a positive attitude, aligned with the company culture, and who, most important of all, finds personal satisfaction in teaching people. Create a draft of the pillars that are important for you in a mentorship program and develop the details along with the designated mentor. Schedule feedback sessions for progress reviews and garnish success with additional benefits.

It’s in our DNA that we like to develop personally, that a server might want to be the GM one day, that a dishwasher is looking to become a great Chef. Create an environment where this is possible  – with passion and the right attitude.


Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

Exit interviews – Farewell with style

When I quit my first Executive Sous Chef job in a restaurant group in Vancouver, I got the silent treatment until the day I left. No questions asked why, no offers to stay even though I was a candidate for an upcoming restaurant opening. On the last day, shortly before my shift ended, the Executive Chef came online and said we should have a steak together. That was it: an awkward situation, a steak, some small talk, and a goodbye.

Managers regularly underestimate the importance of this final conversation with the person leaving. The chance for honest feedback is outspread in front of you: what are the reasons for this decision? What could you have made better? What have been the highlights during the job? Even if the person is leaving for a move to another city or region, there are always things you should now. Just be open-minded. However, be aware that some people use exit interviews to settle old scores. Listen and reflect a couple of days before you might give feedback to other employees based on the interview.

At the end of every exit interview and last day, there are some things that separate average managers from great ones: a handshake, a “thank you” for the work done, and an honest and sincere farewell. Treat leaving employees with respect and gratitude, because a new employee journey starts just here. This, after all, does not cost anything but defines what kind of person you are.


© Sascha Barby, 2020. All rights reserved. Title photo by Yong Chuan Tan on Unsplash

Sascha Barby

Sascha Barby

Sascha's passion for food and the foodservice industry has driven him since he first worked in the kitchen. Projects abroad and the diversity of the industry have only increased his enthusiasm. Started as a Chef in various restaurants in Germany and Canada, completing his skills with an MBA, he now works at Rational AG in marketing.  Sascha lives with his wife and children in Bavaria near Munich.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.