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Labor Shortage Retention: 6 Restaurant Employee Appreciation Ideas

October 27 2021 by Luke Siedow

showing-appreciation-to-restaurant-employeesLosing a good employee not only disrupts your operations; it impacts your bottom line. Industry studies estimate average turnover could be as high as $5,864 per employee when factoring in hidden productivity loss, recruitment, training time, and other expenses.1

Losing your investment in the exiting employee is definitely a consideration, but in the midst of the ongoing labor shortage, there's more at stake. Will you find a replacement? When?

In the meantime, your team shoulders more hours and more stress. They may also be at risk of leaving if you don't act quickly. You may not be able to hire right away, but you can take immediate steps to retain the workers you have.

Employees are more apt to stay if they feel they are genuinely appreciated for the work they do. Recent human resources data confirms that employee recognition leads to 63% of workers remaining on the job.2

To help your team feel the love and to boost your retention rate (especially during the labor shortage), use these simple restaurant employee appreciation ideas:

Restaurant employee appreciation ideas:

1. Reward Longevity

2. Acknowledge Exceptional Performance

3. Give Employees a Voice (and Listen to It)

4. Make it Fun

5. Encourage Professional Growth

6. Say "Thank You"

1. Reward Longevity

In many ways, your team holds your restaurant's success in their hands. They are responsible for the quality of your food and service — hallmarks of your reputation.

Retaining and motivating your team is essential, but long-term restaurant employment isn't always in employees' plans. You can flip the script by cultivating a culture of longevity.

Develop a longevity awards structure, perhaps based on 6 month and annual employment milestones. But don't stop at time of service! Create awards that call out individual achievements and identify how they contributed to restaurant success — and make that conversation public.

Present longevity awards when the whole team is present to encourage staff appreciation and celebration, as well as reinforce the reward of long-term service. Don't forget the power of social media. Use your platforms to post pictures, updates, etc., to spread the word about your team. 

2. Acknowledge Exceptional Performance

A staff member chose to pick up an extra shift to cover a busy time of day. A hostess pitched in by bussing some tables. A new employee had a successful first shift. Whatever the reason a team member does above and beyond, celebrate it! Have your manager set aside time in team meetings to acknowledge exceptional performance.

Further, consider establishing a staff appreciation fund that only management knows exists. Every time a customer tells you how great their server was, raves online about the friendliness of your pizza delivery person, or mentions any other positive experience, put a little cash in the fund. When an appropriate time comes, use it to treat everyone to something special — perhaps a year-end bonus.

3. Give Employees a Voice (and Listen to It)

Talk with each staff member about how they define a "desirable schedule" and try to accommodate as many adjustments as is feasible. When possible, provide consistency from week to week, and rotate holiday hours. Consider using scheduling software to help manage this aspect of your operations.

Likewise, give employees opportunities to provide honest feedback about everything from job duties and larger operational activities to restaurant decor and the food you serve. 

Whether done as a group or through confidential surveys or suggestion boxes, being proactive in seeking your team's advice demonstrates they have a stake in decision making.

4. Make it Fun

All work and no play can lead to drudgery. Create opportunities for your team to express themselves and add in a little competition, too. Around the holidays, have a white elephant gift exchange or an ugly sweater contest where the winner gets a gift card or day off. Celebrate other events throughout the year including staff member milestones and birthdays, and plan team activities to build camaraderie.

5. Encourage Professional Growth

Invest in your employees by offering opportunities for continuing education such as safe serving training for bartenders, sanitation and food handling training for kitchen staff, or even drivers' safety training for delivery drivers (insurance companies are typically happy to provide this at little or no cost).

6. Say "Thank You"

Words have incredible power. Praise for how a server handled a contentious customer or a note about how well someone ran the kitchen can be inspiring. 

Commit to being purposeful in your compliments. A heartfelt thank you that details why you’re thankful can go a long way in motivating employees to go above and beyond, and costs nothing. Provide specifics, such as: “You have no idea how grateful I am that you put away those boxes without being asked.” Acknowledging that little things truly mean a lot often motivates team members to continue to find opportunities to contribute.

If you have a smaller team, you might even take the "thank you" to the next level with small gifts personalized to the team member's hobbies and interests. Bigger teams present a bit of a challenge in this respect, but don't rule out the possibility.

It's important to remember that everyone is feeling the effects of the restaurant industry's labor shortage. It's equally as important to implement these and other restaurant employee appreciation ideas. During these turbulent times, respect, engage, and acknowledge your employees to increase their job satisfaction and your retention rates.

Equipping your team with the skills they need to succeed and appreciating their effort empowers them to do their best on every shift, even when understaffing crunches time and ramps up stress.

Support and maximize your team with the best practices and advice found in The Efficient Kitchen: Doing More With Fewer Employees. Click the button below to access your copy now.

Efficient Pizza Kitchen Operations


1Decision Logic, The Real Cost of Restaurant Employee Turnover, Undated

2Apollo Technical, 17 Employee Recognition Statistics That Will Make You Think (2021), June 11, 2021

Categories: General Operations, Restaurants

Luke Siedow

Written by Luke Siedow

Corporate Chef, Alive & Kickin' Pizza Crust
Not only is Luke a trained culinologist, but he has managed a successful pizzeria – and currently owns one! Luke brings value to a number of areas throughout Alive & Kickin’, including sales, culinary, and product showings – experience that makes him able to solve even the trickiest challenges operators face. Luke is also the face of Alive & Kickin’ in many of our demo videos!