Demetria Gilkey

How to engage and retain restaurant staff

How to engage and retain restaurant staff



The other night, my husband and I decided to go to one of our favorite restaurants for dinner. As I was scanning the menu and the specials for the night, I had a few follow-up questions for my waiter. I asked the usual questions about this particular special, if it included a salad or not. Our waiter replied, “I can go ask. Corporate is cheap. I am here right now only because I am in school.” Yikes!

Our waiter was a college student and studies show that restaurants staff are comprised of over 20% of students and “1 in 3 working teenagers are employed by a restaurant,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; both sets of groups usually work a part time schedule. Depending on factors such as pay, school schedule, and other things will determine how long you can hold on to your staff, which is why engaging your employees is necessary to retain your staff. Here are a few ways to keep your turnover rate down in your restaurant.



When you need some hands to help at your restaurant and you feel like you don’t have much choice but to hire the first choice, think again. Hiring your all-star team at your restaurant is crucial because this person is representing your brand. Choose someone who likes people, enjoys fast paced environments, and can multi-task. One great way to test a candidate’s ability is to have them shadow a seasoned waiter during a busy time and observe all of the responsibilities and duties that he/she would acquire. Hire character. Train skill.



One way to keep a happy employee is to pay them adequately. Research your area and region, review your budget, and pay a competitive wage that is attractive to your employee. Don’t look at it as an expense, instead view it as an investment. After a period of time, review the employee’s performance if their work is satisfactory or excellent, a pay increase conversation is appropriate to consider.



Nobody wants to work in a stuffy, boring, closed-door environment. Create an environment that supports having fun, while working. If you are the manager, always be open and ask your staff if there is anything additional that you can do to help them. Implement a monthly check in with your staff individually. It doesn’t have to be anything formal, this shows your staff that you care and genuinely would like to provide assistance if they need it. Huddles are also an awesome group activity before and after a shift, if implemented correctly, this will increase communication and improve teamwork within your restaurant.



Although a majority of restaurant staff is part time, seasonal, or there while finishing up their school semester, the remaining staff isn’t and could be your next manager. When you are completing quarterly check-ins, ask them what their goals are, if there is a plan or track to management that they would like to begin.



Given that the restaurant staff is generally made up of students, teenagers, and part timers, it is important to be flexible and understanding to their needs and requests. Yes, a business needs to be run, but, if you are inflexible and do not offer flexible schedules and understand student’s class schedules fluctuate, then you will create a surefire way of running your staff away. Before the semester begins and ends is a great time to discuss the upcoming schedule with your individual employees, any requests for time off, spring break schedule, etc.

Although the above solutions are no guarantee to keep your restaurant staff, they can certainly help reduce turnover, increase staff retention, and reduce stress so that you can operate your restaurant to its maximum capability.


For more information on employee engagement, contact Customer Experience Expert, Demetria Gilkey at

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Demetria,

    Great article! This info is applicable to other industries as well where the employees make the first impression for a business.

    1. Thanks Jan! Customer experience goes across the board. I am glad you enjoyed it!

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