Happy coworkers

5 Innovative Ways to Invest in Your Staff

When you ask a restaurant owner what keeps him or her up at night, chances are that one of the worries is fleeing employees. In fact, the turnover rate in the hospitality sector remained at a whopping 70 percent in 2016 for the second consecutive year.

When you work in a field notorious for turnover, any advantage you can offer in terms of compensation, including benefits, is huge. But with razor-thin margins, is that even possible? Not only possible, but essential, according to San Francisco restaurant owner Ryan Cole. The key is to look at creative perks as an “investment,” he says. Take a cue from the bevy of benefits he has put in place for his employees. It’s a focus that’s particularly important for him, because he knows that he is otherwise apt to lose top employees to startups renowned for their over-the-top perks.

That’s why Cole has found that in the long run, these perks aren’t a cost center, but rather a cost saver as they help reduce the expenses caused by turnover. “You don’t have to train people, place ads, or sacrifice your service, and potentially have a guest never come back,” he says.

Here are five innovative ways you can invest in your restaurant staff, without breaking the bank.

1. Give them tangible rewards

There’s no denying that money can be tight in a small restaurant, and sometimes you can’t give your employees the raise that you so desperately want to. That’s when it’s time to get creative with other rewards that are worth real money to them—free food being a key one. If you can combine it with a fun, collaborative effort, all the better, with a “Free Lunch Friday” or a meal for all shift workers before a busy evening.

Another option is to team with other local businesses and offer a swap. Maybe a local gym can offer low-cost or free memberships and in turn you offer their employees a discount or free post-workout smoothie at your restaurant. Bartering can make your money go even further and lets your employees try something new while you support your fellow small businesses.

2. Invest in tools that increase tips

Modern POS systems like Instore have been shown to increase employee tips, particularly when diners are allowed to tip right on the POS screen. A rotating screen on your sales counter can provide the right tipping incentive for quick service customers and tableside mobile tablets can do the same in full service restaurants. Not only will tips be larger, but you’ll see higher throughput and faster table turns as your servers spend more time engaging with diners and less time schlepping back and forth between front and back of house. The added sales volume will help employee tips and increase your bottom line.

3. Make the workplace fun

Developing camaraderie is one of the top ways to keep your employees happy—and therefore on board for the long haul, In fact, a Gallup poll once found that having a friend at work increased productivity.  

Encourage employees to have fun at work (without ignoring or annoying customers of course!) They’ll be more apt to look forward to coming to work, and the bonus is that a friendly vibe among your staff is bound to rub off through enhanced customer experience. Offer ways for employees to socialize outside of work, too, through activities from volunteering together to organizing staff sports team or group happy hours at neighboring restaurants. (Who knows what their servers may think when they see your group having fun together?)

4. Invest in their future

Another benefit gaining ground is tuition assistance. Currently offered primarily by bigger employers like Starbucks and Chipotle, it’s a benefit that can take root on a smaller scale at any size restaurant, especially as a way to encourage loyalty. But you don’t have to have thousands of outlets to foot tuition bills. One restaurant group in Albuquerque, N.M, will pay for its employees to earn a degree at Central New Mexico Community College or a local trade school. Eligibility requirements include being a full-time employee who has been on the payroll for six months and passes a drug test, and once enrolled, students must maintain 29 hours at the restaurant for the tuition perk.

5. Let them choose what they would like

Your young, college-age barista might not be interested in life insurance, but the mom who’s working while her kids are at school might. “What type of benefits to offer is always an employer-by-employer answer,” says Robyn Piper, cofounder of Piper Jordan, a consulting firm specializing in restaurant and retail employer benefit platforms. “I believe in offering a diverse suite of benefits, which allows an individual employee to select what is meaningful to them and their family at that particular stage in their life.”

That’s why the SF Restaurant Group allocates $100 per month for each employee to choose their own benefit, such as educational classes, certifications, dining or travel credits or fitness memberships. Not enamored with any of the options? No problem. The company offers a $1,200 lump sum bonus at the end year instead.

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