top of page

The Art of Retention: Holding Onto Your Best Hospitality Staff

Image of a waiter typing an order into a POS system.
Photo by Michael Wave

Hello, fellow food lovers and hospitality aficionados,

Let's talk about the most significant factor a restaurateur needs to master, one that's not on any menu but forms the very soul of a successful enterprise: Retaining quality staff. Much like crafting a classic cocktail or orchestrating a flawless service on a bustling Saturday night, it's a feat that requires skill, patience, and a lot of understanding.

In the dynamic world of hospitality, turnover is an ever-present challenge. Did you know that the hospitality industry, prior to the pandemic, experienced a turnover rate of over 70%, peaking as high as 75%? It's a startling statistic from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that underscores the magnitude of the challenge we face. But where some see an insurmountable mountain, we see a call to elevate our game.

Now more than ever, we need to understand the art of staff retention. It's the secret ingredient that distinguishes the merely good from the truly great.

1. Competitive Compensation

This is a no-brainer, and yet, it's worth repeating. If we want to hold onto our best employees, we need to pay them their worth. A 2022 Payscale report indicated that hospitality workers who believe they are paid below market are 50% more likely to leave, even if they aren’t. That's a perception that translates into loyalty.

Many operators are switching to extreme tip pools to offer workers higher, more consistent hourly pay. A much larger improvement over the $2.33 + tips that have been the standard for over two decades.

Aside from the money, have regular conversations with your team about compensation; it should not be a mystery how much they will make.

2. Development Opportunities

Our industry thrives on dynamism, and so do our staff. In a survey of employees, 7shifts found that 1/3 of employees are looking for recognition in the form of promotions. Good restaurant and bar operators are always learning and wanting to improve, if your business cannot develop your employees they will leave you for someone who can.

3. Foster a Respectful Work Environment

With the rise of the “Karen” it is more important than ever to protect our front-line employees from hostile customers. This is something Anthony Bourdain often passionately spoke about. Our kitchens and dining rooms should be places of respect, diversity, and teamwork. The Harvard Business Review revealed that 98% of employees stayed longer in a respectful work environment. Let's make sure everyone feels they're a valued part of the team.

4. Work-Life Balance

The old image of the overworked, under-slept chef or server doesn't cut it anymore. The mental health of our staff is paramount. It's high time we reevaluate our norms to encourage a better work-life balance. Unsurprisingly, 38% of employees have missed important life events (birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, funerals, etc.) because of bad work-life balance practices.

5. Recognition and Reward

Finally, remember that everyone likes to feel appreciated. A simple "great job tonight" or an Employee of the Month award can go a long way. An appreciation culture reduces the turnover rate by a significant 31%, according to a 2022 study by Zippia. That same survey stated that 29% of employees had not received recognition in over a year.

In the end, it's about cultivating a sense of belonging, of community, that ensures our best people stay our best people. Because the secret ingredient to any unforgettable meal, any unforgettable experience, isn't just what's served on the plate—it's who’s serving it.

The art of retention, much like our industry, is all about the heart.



Head shot of Marc Lapierre, founder and CEO of Clock'd

Marc LaPierre is a 10-year veteran of the food and hospitality industry, Certified Staffing Professional, and CEO/Founder of Clock’d + SEEN. From cooking in James Beard award-winning kitchens to opening and managing a nightclub in Mexico, he worked every job in the industry. Today he connects professionals looking to advance their careers with clients eager to find an all-star team.

bottom of page