Five Ways To Reduce Server Turnover

Recently, I wrote a list of interview questions for servers.  While I think these are great questions, today I want to discuss how to avoid using them.  Retaining your top performing staff members is far more cost effective and will provide greater benefit to your restaurant than replacing them.  Some of your staff will inevitably leave due to circumstances beyond your control.  You should make it a goal to never lose staff to another restaurant.  The key to achieving this is providing a work environment that your servers are certain no other restaurant could replicate for them.

In the past I have written about the three factors that motivate servers.  Motivation alone is not enough to retain your top performers.  It is a powerful tool, but there are other tools are your disposal that will keep your top performers from considering other positions.  You invest a great deal of time and money in recruiting, training, and motivating top notch servers.  Continuing the investment by providing them with some basic perks will maximize your return.

Here are five simple ways to reduce turnover among your top performers:

Foster Their Passions:  Most of your staff is not looking at serving as a career.  That is the nature of the position.  This does not mean your restaurant cannot help them further the career they wish to have.  Consider ways to allow your servers to put their skills to work for your restaurant.  Designing marketing materials, improving your restaurant’s website, writing for the restaurant’s blog, assisting with inventory, coordinating large parties, and many of the other tasks that a manager is responsible for can provide valuable experience for your staff.  Helping them build a resume or portfolio might prevent them from leaving for an internship and provide you professional grade talent without the professional price tag.

Give Them A Voice: Your top performers want to feel like they have some input in the way the restaurant is operated.  They have committed to your restaurant and want to feel that it is mutual.  When they doubt this, their commitment will suffer.  This does not mean that your staff should have final approval on changes or make decisions about the future of your restaurant.  Allowing them some level of input will make them feel valued and appreciated.  Running major decisions by key team members will also provide useful feedback and allow you to benefit from the insight they gain from daily interaction with your guests. 

Listen To Their Criticisms:  Even your top performers have complaints.  If they are not able to voice them to you, they will either internalize them or voice them to others.  This will destroy their motivation and perhaps decrease the morale of your other top performers.  Allowing them the opportunity to voice their complaints and criticisms to you will make you aware of their problems and enable you to respond.  I am not advocating that you spend your entire shift listening to their complaints.  Instead, schedule a time to allow them to come in and calmly explain what has them upset.  This may not be enjoyable, but it is superior to finding and training another top performer to replace them.

Schedule Kindly:  One of the most important factors in determining whether an employee leaves or remains with your company is their schedule.  Scheduling is second only to income as a quality of life factor.  Allowing your top performers preferential treatment in scheduling is a valuable perk that a new restaurant would likely not extend to them.  Knowing their preferred days off or offering them a set schedule will allow them to plan their life outside of the restaurant in a way that keeps them content.  This is particularly important for older servers, parents, and those with second jobs.  This can also provide incentive to newer servers to remain with the restaurant in order to earn this perk.

Watch Their Income:  You can follow every other item on this list and still lose a top employee if they are unable to pay their bills with the tips they make.  Servers take a risk when they accept a job that often guarantees them a rate under the minimum wage.  It is a gamble and if they are losing too often, they may look for a new dealer or better odds.  Take some time to look at what your servers are declaring in tips.  When this number begins to dip, it behooves you to reach out to them.  Let them know that their income is important to them, give them reasons for optimism, and inform them of when you anticipate business picking back up.  Warn them in advance of annual slow periods and advise them of when sales typically recover.  This will buy you some patience and perhaps save an at risk top performer.

Retaining your top performers is vital to improving your restaurant’s profits and building a core clientele of highly satisfied guests.  Hiring and training new employees is risky and expensive.  Taking some time to invest in your best employees will help you avoid trying to replace them.  Loyalty is a two way street.  If you demonstrate your loyalty to them, you will see them returning it to your restaurant.

Tips²: Tips For Improving Your Tips, the new book from the author of The Manager’s Office, teaches the skills of exceptional servers that will increase customer satisfaction and dramatically improve restaurant sales.  This book is more than a server training manual.  It is the secret to teaching your staff to enjoy selling and give your guests the experience that will create raving fans.  To learn more about the book, visit  Use the coupon code “MANAGER” to save 20% at the checkout.

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About David Hayden

David Hayden is a restaurant marketing and training consultant based in Kansas City, MO. He writes a series of 9 blogs collectively known as The Hospitality Formula Network and is the author of "Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips" and "Building Your Brand With Facebook"

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