How to prevent employee burnout in the restaurant industry

As persistent understaffing continues to plague the restaurant industry, owners and managers are desperately wondering how to prevent employee burnout. Left untreated, employee burnout can cause increased turnover, absenteeism, workplace accidents, and poor customer experience.

 This problem is compounded by managers who struggle to spot the warning signs of burnout, leading to detrimental effects on both employees and overall business operations. The good news? With the right strategies you can prevent many of the unhealthy industry standards that lead to burnout and help your employees and business perform at their best.

What is employee burnout? 

According to the World Health Organization, burnout is an occupational phenomenon caused by untreated chronic workplace stress. 

The most common symptoms include exhaustion, work-related cynicism, and decreased job performance. Between 2020-2021, 52% of hospitality and food service workers left their jobs due to burnout, making it a particularly important issue for restaurant management to address.

Why is employee burnout so common for restaurant employees?

Over the past few years, employee burnout rates have been on the rise. This was amplified by the unprecedented stress of the pandemic. Unfortunately, the service industry was hit particularly hard due to extended periods of closure and reduced occupancy. As a result, many restaurants were forced to lay off members of their staff. Now, years later, restaurants are struggling to attract the personnel they lost. 

Under normal circumstances, working in the restaurant industry is a grind. Employees regularly work long shifts without adequate breaks to refuel, recharge, or even sit down. But chronic understaffing, demanding customers and the inability to take personal time off have created a pressure cooker that even the most resilient minds would find hard to endure. 

Without addressing the cyclical battle of understaffing and employee burnout in the restaurant industry, the repercussions can extend far beyond your employees and have a detrimental impact on your business operations.

The negative effects of burnout on your employees and your business

While restaurant burnout directly impacts the wellbeing of your team, the negative effects of employee burnout can impact the overall success of your business as well. From increased turnover and absenteeism to workplace incidents, the effects of burnout can be detrimental.

In this section, we’ll examine the ways burnout can spill over into other areas of your business — so you can identify the potential risks and take proactive steps to mitigate them.

Increased turnover

The restaurant industry has always struggled with higher levels of employee turnover than other industries. But recent pressures have pushed the average turnover rate to an astounding 75%. Not only is this a troubling statistic for those who need to sacrifice their income for their well-being, but it’s also bad for business. From investing time in interviews to onboarding and training new hires, replacing an employee can cost up to two times their annual salary

Beyond budgetary concerns, persistent turnover can actually cause more burnout as your remaining employees shoulder the burden of being understaffed. Unfortunately, without preventative action, this can create a vicious cycle that can be difficult to escape. That’s  why addressing burnout is so very important.


As anyone who has worked in the restaurant industry knows, it can be both a physically and emotionally taxing job. This type of chronic stress can negatively impact the immune system, causing burned-out employees to call in sick more often. 

Much like with turnover, increased absenteeism places an incredible burden on your staff. Not only are they forced to pick up the slack by taking on more shifts, but they’ll have additional tasks to complete during their existing ones. Over time, this can cause a cyclical burnout problem and toxic workplace, which can lead to substantial staffing and service issues for your restaurant.

Workplace accidents

Employee burnout can also lead to more workplace accidents and injuries. The combination of chronic stress and fatigue can negatively affect memory and lead to poor decision-making. Sure: small, careless mistakes like forgetting to ring in a customer order might not be catastrophic. But more serious incidents involving food safety can put your staff and customers at risk.

Poor customer experience

​​Unsurprisingly, the negative impacts of employee burnout can significantly affect your customers’ overall experience. Whether it’s an overcooked meal, a rude server, or slow service, customers always notice when your employees aren’t at their best. With online reviews playing an increasingly critical role in the success of a restaurant, this can lead to substantial losses over time.

How to recognize burnout in your restaurant employees

Given how negatively employee burnout can impact both your employees and overall business, restaurant managers need to be able to identify the symptoms. This way you can proactively provide the help your employees need.

  • ​​Physical exhaustion: It’s no secret that restaurant positions are more physically taxing than the average desk job. Without adequate time off this can lead to physical exhaustion that is difficult to recover from. So, if you hear an employee consistently complain about being tired or sore: listen. It could be the first sign of burnout.
  • Frequent illness: As mentioned above, chronic stress can negatively impact the immune system, causing burned-out employees to succumb to illnesses more often. This can present as chronic headaches or stomach issues for your team, and increased sick days for your business.
  • Personality changes: If a previously bubbly and positive employee suddenly adopts a more cynical point of view, it’s a pretty telltale sign that they’re struggling. Unfortunately, cynicism can spread across a workplace like wildfire, sometimes creating a toxic workplace. It’s important to notice shifts in behavior before others adopt a similar mentality. 
  • Signs of substance abuse: While a post-shift beverage may be the industry norm, substance abuse is a persistent problem in the restaurant industry. Employees dealing with burnout are particularly at risk of becoming reliant on alcohol to make it through the day. Keep an eye out for signs of intoxication like slurred speech, slow movements, or inappropriate behaviors.
  • Decrease in performance: A sudden decrease in overall performance can also be an indicator of employee burnout. Chronic stress and exhaustion can impede judgment, resulting in careless mistakes and in more severe circumstances, workplace accidents.

How to prevent employee burnout in your restaurant

While it’s helpful to recognize the symptoms of employee burnout, it’s equally as important to understand how to prevent employee burnout from happening in the first place. When implemented properly, the following strategies will help alleviate workplace pressures and promote a healthier atmosphere for your entire team.

1. Check in with your employees

Employees may choose not to disclose their struggles to employers for various reasons. Some may fear losing their job, while others may feel stigmatized about discussing their mental health concerns. So, unless you have a particularly close relationship with your staff, you’ll have to do some digging.

Establishing a weekly or monthly check-in with your staff will allow you to monitor behavioral changes, improve your relationships, and increase the likelihood that they’ll reach out for help. With our built-in messenger tool, you can easily communicate with individual employees, collect feedback after their shifts, and get automated reports on overall employee sentiment.

2. Actively manage break times

Although there are varying laws that dictate both the frequency and duration of breaks for shift workers, they’re rarely enforced. Despite being hungry, tired, and desperately wanting a break, the average server rarely sits down to eat a meal. More commonly, busy servers grind their way through shifts fueled by fountain soda and sheer willpower. With shifts ranging from 6-10 hours, it’s easy to see how this can lead to physical and mental exhaustion over time.

So, if you’ve been wondering how to reduce employee burnout, the first step is simple. Actively enforce employee break times. Make it a non-negotiable and foster a supportive environment that ensures your employees won’t have to sacrifice their tips for a much-needed break.

3. Create consistent schedules

Long hours and inconsistent schedules can make it impossible for restaurant workers to establish a healthy work-life balance. One of the most common scheduling concerns from servers, hosts, and kitchen staff is being scheduled for an opening shift the night after closing. There’s just not enough time to regroup from the night before, leaving restaurant workers tired, grumpy, and not at their best. 

The good news is you have the power to change that. Most managers don’t take the time to note shift preferences amongst their employees, let alone establish rules that prevent burnout.

Although it may be difficult to create a schedule that makes your entire staff happy, the free staff scheduling software from Homebase allows you to create schedules with employee availability in mind, reducing the likelihood of schedule-induced burnout.

4. Be flexible

Although consistent schedules will help your employees create routines that promote their overall well-being, life doesn’t always go as planned. For that reason, it’s important to allow for some scheduling flexibility. With our free staff scheduling software, your employees can easily swap or pick up shifts, as necessary. All you have to do is approve the swap.

Remember, as a manager you have the power to establish the culture of your restaurant. Rigid scheduling that doesn’t leave flexibility for the realities of life will only damage team morale. Being open and accommodating shows your employees that you care. And when employees feel valued, their performance and attitude reflect that.

5. Hire more staff

When you sit back and think about it, all the strategies in the world won’t help reduce restaurant burnout if you’re chronically understaffed. Asking your employees to consistently work overtime or pick up extra shifts is unsustainable. Not only will adding a few positions alleviate the pressure, it can also afford your employees the flexibility to take time off to recharge.

Since the restaurant industry is struggling to attract new hires, you may have to join other restaurants in providing incentives such as higher wages, health benefits, and paid time off. All of which have the dual benefit of promoting employee well-being and reducing burnout.

6. Provide conflict resolution training and support

While we’ve grown accustomed to believing that the customer is always right, this mindset can be detrimental to your team’s well-being. Anyone in customer service can tell you just how quickly a difficult customer interaction can turn a good day into a bad one. This is true, whether an employee is struggling with burnout or not.

Training your staff to diffuse these types of situations and stepping in to protect them when customers are being disrespectful will help to reduce emotional distress and subsequent burnout symptoms.

7. Utilize paid time off

When employers encourage personal time off, 68% of employees are happier at work. But it takes more than a long weekend to reap the benefits of a vacation. Finnish researchers found it takes eight vacation days to unwind enough to reach peak happiness. So, although a day or two is better than nothing, paid vacation policies will give your employees the time they need to fully recuperate.

As a small business, it can be challenging to provide benefits like paid time off. Luckily, Homebases’s software makes it easy to implement and track time off. Plus, you’ll more than recuperate the costs of offering paid time off by reducing common symptoms of burnout like turnover and absenteeism.

8. Introduce wellness initiatives

While the restaurant industry is known for being a constant grind, your restaurant doesn’t need to operate that way. Implementing wellness initiatives can help you attract new hires while providing invaluable benefits to your existing staff. This could include anything from discounted gym memberships to company-wide wellness days, or anything in between. 

If you’re not sure where to start, go to the source and ask your employees. A wellness initiative only provides benefits if your employees use them, so don’t be afraid to collaborate on this one!

Prevent employee burnout with Homebase

Homebase makes it easy to keep tabs on employee morale, create schedules based on their availability, track time off requests, and approve shift swaps, so your employees can get the rest they need to avoid the negative effects of burnout.

Get started today.

How to prevent employee burnout FAQs 

What is employee burnout?

Employee burnout is a form of work-related stress characterized by physical and/or emotional exhaustion, diminished feelings of achievement, and loss of personal identity.

What are the signs of employee burnout?

While the signs of employee burnout vary from person to person, the most common signs include exhaustion, recurrent illness (and absence from work), irritability, impatience, and frequent mistakes or accidents.

How can burnout in employees affect your business?

Your business may suffer various adverse effects due to employee burnout, including elevated staff turnover, decreased productivity, increased absences, compromised food safety standards, and reduced service quality.

How can restaurant managers and owners help to reduce employee burnout

Restaurant managers and owners can help reduce employee burnout by routinely checking in with their staff, creating consistent and flexible schedules, hiring more staff, mitigating stressful encounters, encouraging breaks and PTO, and introducing wellness initiatives.

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