How to manage restaurant staff effectively

Editorial Team

13 min read
Three restaurant employees in a meeting

In the restaurant industry, the quality of employee management can make or break business success. The cost of restaurant employee turnover is high. As illustrated by this 2022 infographic, it can cost $5,864 to replace a single hourly employee. Employee turnover in restaurants can also damage morale for remaining employees, put a strain on short-staffed teams, and negatively impact customer service and sentiment.

Effective employee management, conversely, can help protect restaurant budgets, boost staff morale, and improve customer service. To create a harmonious kitchen and front-of-house environment, learn restaurant management tips for communicating effectively, creating a positive environment, fostering teamwork, resolving conflicts, and improving employee satisfaction.

Creating a positive work environment

If you want to know how to manage a restaurant business successfully, it’s important to cultivate a positive work environment so employees look forward to coming to work. A positive work environment can also be a factor in motivating employees to refer others to work there.

Setting a positive tone from the top

Leadership and management play an important role in shaping the work atmosphere. According to Gallup, managers account for up to 70% of variance in employee engagement.

Ideally, at the start of a new restaurant business, the owner should establish a business plan that includes an executive summary with a mission statement and vision. The qualities that define these should motivate leadership to unite a team under a shared vision.

Employees who lead others, especially managers, should receive proper training on effective communication. This training should include:

  • How to communicate goals and monitor goal progress
  • How to effectively train new employees
  • How to practice active listening skills
  • How to quickly identify and resolve employee conflicts
  • How to quickly identify employees in need of employee development plans and how to implement those plans

A standardized form of management training can help your staff complete it more quickly and improve it based on feedback each time the training is used.

Importance of clear and open communication

Managers should encourage a clear and open communication policy. Employees should feel comfortable coming to management to express any issues instead of letting them worsen.

If you want to know how to improve communication within a team, follow these restaurant management strategies:

  1. Communicate an open door policy. Tell employees exactly when, where, and how they can communicate with you. This might be through an anonymous feedback portal, during open office hours, before and after shifts, etc.
  2. Act and follow up. When an employee comes to you with an issue or concern, let them know the next steps they can expect. Set a time for when they can expect a response or resolution for the issue they’ve brought up.
  3. Learn from feedback. If one employee brings up an issue, other workers may have similar feelings. Announce any changes you’re making to your entire team, and let them know that voicing feedback makes a difference, so others are encouraged to do the same.

Promote open communication channels from as early on as the interview stage and reinforce them during one-on-one check-ins with employees. Provide diverse ways for employees to provide feedback, so you can improve communication throughout your entire team.

Promoting a healthy workplace culture

A healthy workplace culture can benefit your entire business. According to a 2023 report by Great Place to Work, companies that land in the 100 Best Companies to Work For® list outperform within the market by 336%. Great Place to Work research also shows positive workplace cultures improve retention, burnout levels, innovation, and profits.

To foster mutual respect among employees:

  • Offer diversity, equity, and inclusion training for employees, especially managers and ongoing resources
  • Implement and follow standards for performance and discipline
  • Provide team-building opportunities

Knowing managers are responsible for such a variance in employee engagement, business leaders should be role models for respectful behavior. Managers should quickly address disrespectful actions and encourage employees to communicate when they don’t feel respected.

Employee well-being and work-life balance

However you can, it’s important to support your restaurant employee team members’ physical and emotional well-being. Work-life balance continues to be a top in-demand characteristic of workplaces. A 2023 survey by The Muse found that 75% of respondents planned to look for a new job within the next 12 months, with 70% of those saying work-life balance was the most important feature.

Working in a restaurant can be physically demanding and mentally draining. Best practices to promote physical and emotional well-being include:

  • Offer frequent paid breaks, and encourage employees to take them
  • Provide paid time off
  • Offer benefits like health insurance and 401(k) retirement matching

Because hourly employees don’t typically get the same benefits full-time employees do, it might not be feasible for your restaurant to provide employees with all the benefits listed here. When employees do need to take time off work due to illness, or need to take extended leave due to things like a family emergency, your business can be there for them by extending understanding and being as accommodating as possible. That can help you retain your employees and keep your workforce strong.

Encouraging teamwork in restaurants

Teamwork is of paramount importance in the restaurant industry. The front and back of the house must work seamlessly together to ensure an exceptional dining experience. Managers play a big role in fostering an environment of teamwork.

The role of communication and teamwork in the kitchen

Every kitchen will have its own stations where prep cooks, all the way up to executive chefs, play a role. Your staff will face diverse demands, including dietary restrictions, custom orders, rush requests, refires, special guests, and everything in between.

A manager must facilitate a system in which back of house staff are able to communicate effectively with each other, as well as with servers and front of house staff. Teamwork in the kitchen helps ensure your staff prioritize the right orders and items, so tables get the meals they expect in a timely manner.

Team building activities for restaurant staff

Depending on your budget, team building activities for restaurant staff can range from off-site outings to fun places like bowling alleys and laser tag courses, to simply playing games or doing icebreakers at all-staff meetings.

If you have team meetings, you can bring staff closer together by including a component that enables your workers to get to know each other better. This could be as simple as having everyone go around and share something they’re looking forward to on their day off. Or, you could play a game, such as “two truths and a lie,” where each member shares two fun facts about themselves that are true and one made-up anecdote. The other staff members have to guess the lie.

You can also spotlight team members by announcing birthdays to your team and giving them a gift. Employee recognition programs that showcase employee photos and achievements for all to see can also help motivate your entire staff.

Cross-training and skill sharing

Another way to strengthen teamwork is to enlist your current employees to train new employees. This gives existing workers the opportunity to get to know a new staff member, while giving the new staff member the ability to see training in person and gain a deeper understanding for the right way to accomplish tasks.

The more each staff member can learn about your restaurant operations, the more flexibility you gain. For example, a server could fill in for a host, or a lounge waiter could move into the dining room, when needed. You can also develop future leaders for your restaurant by facilitating more cross-training opportunities.

Addressing common challenges

In any workplace, there are bound to be conflicts that management must address and help resolve. Restaurant managers should be aware of some of the most common restaurant challenges, so they can proactively prepare for them and work on solving them if they do pop up.

Managing conflicts

In the restaurant industry, conflicts can occur between diners and staff: between the front of house and back of house, and among staff members on the same side of the house. Some restaurant conflict examples include:

  • Customers are unhappy because their meal isn’t prepared to their satisfaction, or they’re dissatisfied with timing or service they receive from staff.
  • The back of house may feel that the front of house didn’t correctly communicate specific needs for food preparation.
  • The front of house may feel frustration if the back of house prepares an order incorrectly or seems to be taking too long with orders.
  • Employees may feel frustrated if they feel like their team members aren’t helping out with tasks like side work or order delivery, for example.

Conflict resolution in restaurants can be difficult because the atmosphere is often very fast-paced and high-pressure. Restaurant management responsibilities include identifying conflict as quickly as possible and dealing with it more in-depth with the appropriate employees when time allows.

Supporting stress and pressure

For many, the answer to: “Is working in a restaurant stressful?” is a resounding, “Yes.” Many people who are drawn to restaurant work thrive under pressure and even appreciate or enjoy the stress a restaurant environment presents.

But stress in a restaurant can also lead to costly conflicts, so it’s helpful for managers to identify stress and work to eliminate it when possible. Some strategies include:

  1. Get to know your employees. Managers who build relationships with their employees will be more likely to identify signs of stress and burnout.
  2. Help when needed. Identify the source of stress, and provide extra support when possible. For example, if a server was just sat two tables at once, a manager can delegate another server to greet and take drink orders for the second table.
  3. Adjust schedules. As managers get to know employees, they’ll also be able to learn which types of shifts employees prefer and work best at. For example, a server who prefers a night shift may get overwhelmed with a breakfast rush. Some servers may prefer working doubles because it helps them better manage their schedules, while others might be burned out by the second shift. Communicate with your employees about when and in what parts of the restaurant they prefer working so you can set them–and your restaurant–up for success. According to Gallup research, employees who use their strengths at work are significantly less stressed and more productive.

When significantly stressful events happen in a restaurant, such as a customer yelling at a server, provide your staff with the support they need in the moment. This support can include allowing them to go home early and having others cover their tasks, or giving them a break away from the restaurant to regroup.

Handling employee turnover

Compared to industries that employ full-time workers, restaurant turnover rates tend to be higher. For years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported leisure and hospitality turnover rates have been the highest among industries, with turnover rates of 70%+ since 2017.

Restaurant turnover happens for a variety of reasons. Some workers leave in search of full-time positions that offer better benefits, including paid healthcare. Many workers take restaurant jobs to supplement other jobs or pursuits, such as education. The physical toll of working in restaurants can also push people out of the industry.

To retain your best workers and reduce restaurant turnover, managers can:

  1. Promote in-demand worker benefits, such as health insurance and retirement plans.
  2. Offer flexible schedules that accommodate worker requests.
  3. Provide opportunities for advancement, such as moving into management roles.
  4. Offer restaurant location transfers, when available.
  5. Foster a positive work environment that supports work-life balance.

When you hire workers, ask them what they’re looking for in the workplace. Continue to have these types of conversations with your current workers. Do what you can to provide the in-demand benefits your top talent requests.

Nurturing employee growth and satisfaction

To help retain a strong staff, try to reduce turnover and create a unified working environment for all current and new employees. It’s important for managers to invest in their employees. Strategies such as feedback, rewards, recognition, and career advancement opportunities can help you succeed.

Restaurant training and development opportunities

Many employees want learning and development opportunities that help them grow their skillset on the job. According to a report from the Society for Human Resource Management, 68% of workers said they’d stay with their employer throughout their career if the employer provided upskill opportunities.

While not everyone who’s working for you may consider a long-term restaurant career path, learning and development opportunities could at least motivate employees to stay with you longer instead of quitting to work at another restaurant. From the moment you hire employees, work with them to create a career development plan that provides a roadmap for how they’d like to see their career progress at your restaurant. For example, a prep cook may want to become a sous chef and executive chef someday.

With a career development plan in place, you can offer the right training opportunities to upskill your staff and promote from within, which helps with retention and employee satisfaction.

Recognition and rewards

Employee recognition programs and incentives can go a long way in making employees feel like you value them, which can translate into better results for your business. According to Quantum Workplace, businesses that have formal recognition initiatives have 31% less voluntary turnover and are 12x more likely to have strong business results compared to companies that don’t. Employees are also more likely to be engaged at work, which increases productivity.

In a restaurant, employee recognition can create a positive, competitive atmosphere that motivates employees to increase ticket sales and customer satisfaction. For back of house staff, management can also recognize employees for consistency and exceptional performance.

Ask your team members how they’d like to be recognized so you can get ideas for your own employee recognition program. A simple monthly gift card or cash prize could be a significant way to decrease turnover and improve production at your business.

Feedback and performance evaluations

Employees are more likely to improve when they know what they need to work on. Managers can provide daily feedback in casual sessions when a worker is ending a shift, as well as in more detailed review sessions that go deeper into an employee’s performance.

For any restaurant performance evaluation, managers should:

  1. Highlight the positive aspects of an employee’s performance.
  2. Identify areas an employee can improve upon.
  3. Suggest action steps to improve performance.
  4. Provide a future date to re-evaluate performance and provide further feedback.

If an employee’s performance is suffering, a manager should practice empathy and active listening skills to help discover the potential root of the issue. Clear communication can help an employee properly express themselves, so your management team can provide the exact support needed to improve performance.

Management made easy with the right restaurant POS system

Restaurant management jobs can be rewarding, and sometimes challenging, careers. With high turnover rates in the industry and a unique blend of physical and mental stress, managers must be able to balance diverse needs in fast-paced environments.

The right POS technology can help make managing restaurant employees easier. With Clover’s innovative solutions, managers can access employee management features, permissions, scheduling, employee time tracking, payroll, and more.

The Clover restaurant POS system enables managers to work on the people-focused tasks employees need to succeed, while the technology helps automate the rest.

Why wait? Get started with a Clover restaurant POS System today to elevate your business.

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