Employee engagement is at the top of the list of New Year’s resolutions for many restaurant owners and managers. And why shouldn’t it?

When engagement is dialed in and working, the synergistic effect it has on your staff is amazing! Decreased turnover, a happier workplace, and more committed employees. Definitely all desirable outcomes, right?

And with turnover a constant industry problem, 2016 is the year to implement changes. Here are seven simple strategies to boost employee engagement in your restaurant.


  1. Discuss employee progress and growth.

Employees need to know where they stand, and they need to hear it often. Providing positive, constructive feedback, especially at predetermined intervals, is a great way to set expectations and meet that need.

Interestingly, the younger segments of the workforce require more frequent feedback. These employees are used to constant input and quick turnarounds.

  1. Offer ample training and advancement opportunities.

A whopping 72% of Millennials feel that their skillsets are not being used to the fullest. If you have nearly three-quarters of your staff feeling underutilized, engagement is going to be suffering too.

Providing opportunities to advance or cross-train allows employees to showcase their strengths in other areas and roles. They’ll also be less likely to look for employment options outside of the organization.

  1. Be clear in your expectations.

Expectations should be set from the beginning, ideally during the hiring process. And with each new project or endeavor, expectations should be reiterated.

For example, if you expect employees to greet each patron in a specific manner, you have to be clear about that with each and every employee. Leaving someone out of the loop is never good and can quickly lead to resentment – or worse, disengagement.

When you lay the groundwork for expectations, employees then have a benchmark to measure their performance against. They won’t have to guess where they stand, how they’re doing, or if they’re meeting your expectations.

  1. Provide the best pay, benefits, and perks possible.

For most employees, it’s really not all about the money.

However, pay, benefits, and any additional perks can help increase an employee’s commitment. So if it’s not possible to increase wages, perhaps offer one free meal per shift, an extra day of PTO, or a modified work schedule.

Alternately, honesty and an open communication policy are becoming the fastest-growing perks. Never underestimate the value of transparency.

  1. Lead and manage by example.

Leading by example has never been so important. A 2014 Global Workforce study showed that 72% of employees are highly engaged when both leaders and managers are perceived as effective.

It’s critical that extreme care is taken in who is tasked with leading or managing the staff. There are definite differences in the responsibilities of each role, but collectively, they should operate smoothly.

  1. Reward – not stifle – ambition and creativity.

Seventy percent of on-the-job learning happens informally, so encourage your staff to ask questions, offer up ideas, and express their creativity.

These brainstorming sessions may take place at team meetings or during employee reviews. Suggestion boxes are great too, since some employees may be too timid to openly share their ideas.

Be sure to address each suggestion though, whether privately with the submitting employee or publicly with the team. Otherwise, employees may doubt your commitment to take their suggestions seriously and will be reluctant to participate in the future.

  1. Focus on the bigger picture.

It’s easy to become short-sighted and think only within the confines of the restaurant. However, your employees are multifaceted individuals and have other interests that aren’t career-related.

Show them you do too. Host benefits for the community, help clean up a local park, or invite your staff to serve at a soup kitchen. Not only will it foster teambuilding and engagement, but the greater good as well.


This post was written by Carrie Luxem, the founder and President of Restaurant HR Group, a full-service HR group based in Chicago, IL. Carrie will be sharing her wisdom from over 15 years in restaurant human resources through guest-posts on the Homebase blog.

You can find job descriptions, hiring guides, and more from Homebase and Restaurant HR Group in our free HR resources. For additional help, please call us at 888-506-0718 or emailsupport@restaurantHRgroup.com.