A Lesson From Gabriel Stulman on Restaurant Turnover and Employee Engagement

December 2015


Owning and managing restaurants is a 24/7 job. One thing that can make this time a bit easier is hiring the right people and actually keeping them around! Even for seasoned restaurant owners and managers, restaurant turnover is a huge problem. A few of the top issues that cause restaurant turnover are:

1. The restaurant industry benefits are not on par with most other industries

2. Most restaurant employees have second jobs

3. The hours are extremely demanding and high stress

In comes Gabriel Stulman, CEO of Happy Cooking Hospitality, with a TED talk I would recommend to everyone owning or managing in the service industry. You can find his TED talk here but we have outlined many of the important points below.

Stulman puts a huge emphasis on the people in his company. He says that, "restaurants are the perfect case study for employee engagement." He's right. How do you add value to this kind of low margin, high pressure work place when you aren't able to raise salaries, provide extensive vacation time or include many other perks?

You need to get creative. Especially in the service industry, your people are your brand. You must invest in them and make them feel like they matter. Here is an alarming statistic Stulman lays out on the table to get you thinking about why this is SO important.

Restaurant Turnover

Cleary we have a problem. Here is how he is aiming to fix it.

Hiring: Hire externally for entry level positions and promote from within when you're looking to fill a role closer to the top. Stulman says that they are often passing on more qualified external candidates and hiring potential from candidates within the company already. This makes the company more attractive to new, entry level employees because almost everyone they see in management positions, once started at the bottom, right where they are. It also gives you a wealth of knowledge between employees who are training and employees who are being promoted, making the transition much easier. Stulman also notes that amplifying these internal promotion stories is so important.

These stories breathe life into newer employees and position your restaurant as a place for career growth, not just a stop along the way.

Collaboration: When Stulman talks about collaboration, he doesn't mean just working as a team on the floor during your shift. He is referring to collaborating for the general improvements of the restaurant and company as a whole. He uses an example from the bar staff at his restaurant. A few times a year they get together as a group and essentially have cocktail hack nights where they create and vote on new cocktails made by their peers. The winner of this competition gets their cocktail featured on the menu. He says this does a few things for their staff:

It increases the personal involvement in what they are doing.

It improves the standard of quality, because the person who created the winning cocktail feels personally responsible for how that cocktail is being made by all of their peers.

It gives you another reason to spotlight different employees and recognize them for their efforts.

Identifying Passions and individual interests: This was one of my personal favorites. Stulman starts off by saying that usually, businesses ask their employees to check their passions at the door in exchange for the passions of the company. He questions this way of thinking and challenges people to do the opposite. Instead, why not learn about the passions of your employees and see how those could potentially align with the passions and interests of the business. To outline this, he talks about one of his employees whom he saw carry a camera to work with him often. When he dug into why, he learned that this employee had a passion for photography on the side and really enjoyed it. There came a time when Stulman needed to open a new restaurant and had hired a few photographers to take pictures of the food and decor for the website. He then remembered his employee and the camera he always carried around and decided to ask him to help out. 

This is a great example of aligning passions with the needs of the company and it left that employee feeling personally invested, understood and appreciative. He ended up writing a note to Stulman thanking him for creating an environment that didn't feel like work.

2015 has been a year of many changes in this industry especially as it relates to employee working conditions, wages and benefits. As companies are trying to figure out how to make their restaurant a more attractive place to work while dealing with extremely low margins, Gabriel's pointers become even more relevant. 

To quote another restaurant industry expert, Thomas Keller, "Have the legacy of your restaurant be the success of your people!"

For restaurant and bar tools and technologies that can help you engage employees AND customers, download our guide below!

Grab Your Copy: 2015 Restaurant  Technology Buyer's Guide

Topics: bars, restaurants

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