Employee Retention

What Matters Most in Retaining Workers

Published Sunday, January 1, 2012
by Jackie Abrams, Communications Manager
PeopleWith the unemployment rate at 8.6 percent, leaving 13.9 million unemployed Americans nationwide looking for work, the 12.8 million-worker restaurant industry shouldn’t seem to have difficulty filling positions. But, all that might be about to change.


Economic improvement is on the horizon, and many believe that the talent war—the fight to attract and retain top employees—has recommenced. Restaurants and their club counterparts will need to prepare for the future and reposition themselves to attract and retain top talent as the economy improves.

Historically, the restaurant industry has had a problem with employee turnover. Over the last ten years, for example, the average quick-serve nonsupervisory employee left his or her job within a year.  Though the turnover rate for non-management personnel is not as high for fine dining establishments, the problem still persists. At its lowest point in the last three years, fine dining turnover within the first year averaged about 57 percent. Now that some feel the recession is behind us, the turnover has crept back up to about 62 percent in the first quarter of 2011 and is expected to continue rising. For the most part though, those in non-managerial positions are keeping the jobs they have, rather than venturing out into the questionable employment market—for now.

Those in management, however, are taking a slightly different view. More experienced and educated workers often have more employment options, and, in most dining segments, those workers are beginning to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

Source: People Report, Human Capital Intelligence, Q1 2011

Part of the problem is the perception of restaurant work among non-management workers themselves—employees believe that food service positions are dead-end jobs. Even those jobs that pay well are often viewed as temporary positions before an employee moves on to bigger and better opportunities.

Good benefits and competitive pay may work well for attracting new employees, but they’re often not enough to retain many food-service workers. When clubs and restaurants compete in the job market, higher wages help with that goal. However, now that the labor market is beginning to improve and new opportunities appear on the horizon, clubs and restaurants will need to do more in order to retain top talent. Employees are now considering their long-term potential within an organization and are looking for opportunities for career growth. Clubs can help keep employees invested in their jobs by promoting a culture and perception that food servers are simply at the first stage of their career and that loyal employees have future growth potential within the club.

One way to do that is by instituting an employee development program, where the strongest performers are identified, and then prepared for future leadership positions. According to Technomic’s Executive Vice President Darren Tristano, employees will be drawn to an organization that “provides training programs, career-path development, above-minimum-wage labor rates, and provides a culture and camaraderie that a lot of younger Millennials are looking for.”

Since retaining current employees is always less costly than hiring new ones, clubs should consider making small incentive-based advancements available to kitchen and serving staff to give them a sense of accomplishment and delineate a path for job and career growth. Small, five, 10 or 25 cent raises for completing specific training objectives or acquiring certain skills can be excellent external motivators without breaking the bank. When employees receive affirmation that they’re performing well and have a future in the club, it helps to increase morale by creating a positive work environment and building loyalty.

As the job market continues to improve, loyal employees are more likely to stay with the club, even when other opportunities arise. When employees know that they have a future with the club, and most importantly that the club is willing to invest in that future, they will want to invest in it too.

Jackie Abrams is the Communications Manager at the National Club Association

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