I had to fire an employee the other day. The process was painful for all involved. The impact on the restaurant operation was significant and left me wondering what we could have done to avoid the crisis. The reality is that increasingly, restaurants are a workplace with three factors that make them stand out from other industries; they are multicultural work environments, places with a high degree of challenging interaction (both customer and employee) and operate with very few defined retention goals.

As I work this problem out for myself I have come to realize that retention in the restaurant environment needs to take a three prong approach. First, we need to be more aggressive in our institutionalizing of multicultural values. We need to be focused on building strong lines of communication by offering training in both English and Spanish and ensuring management has the tools to clearly communicate with all staff.

Secondly, we need to spend some time setting expectations with our staff on handling stressful situations around conflict that goes beyond the traditional framework of customer service. We need to make sure that everyone in the restaurant can speak with confidence when handling an unhappy customer as well as conflict with a colleague. Too often dealing with conflict is put off for a later date. When we do this we loose the opportunity to not only resolve issues while they are still small, but to set the expectation that everyone is responsible for their own actions. Teach employees how to separate emotions for facts, deal with the problem and then work with them to address the emotions.

That last element to improving retention is to take a look at our policies and managerial habits with a focus on the future. The number one reason an employee leave their job is because of their manager. We know we feel pain but we don’t set goals on how anticipate problems. From an HR perspective this issue may be the greatest tool to turn your retention around. With clearly defined goals, business’ are in a better position to determine whether or not the employees they are hiring are inline with the standards of customer service and professional experience required to be successful.

In my work with the hospitality industry I am clear on how this three prong approach can work and have seen quite a few success stories when this approach is rolled out. All of us want our employees to be productive and represent our restaurants in the best light but hoping that hiring the right person will fix our problems is unrealistic. We need to attach retention from a more holistic perspective in order to accomplish meaningful change and improve the bottom line.

Published Friday, January 13, 2006

Bryon Peterson is the President of Human Resources Group International. HRGI is a group of human resources consultants with over 25 years of experience in the field. HRGI provides comprehensive human resources products and services to businesses throughout the United States, and Canada. Its mission is to provide an integrated and highly effective working environment for companies and their employees.

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