How To Keep Your Best Servers

It is well known that one of the constant challenges of the restaurant and bar industry is high turnover. Turnover is costly not only because training new employees means paying extra hours (at a higher wage in many states) for employees who are not generating extra revenue, but also because of lost income.

Every time you have a last minute loss of staff and run your floor slightly understaffed, you are missing out on sales!

So how do we keep good employees?

I have found that honest communication is the key.

Set clear expectations of what you expect of your employees and what they can expect from you. This starts at posting job listings, and carries through employees’ entire tenure with your company! Don’t advertise a full time position if you are only looking to fill two to three shifts a week. Any server or bartender who is out of work will accept the position, only to immediately start looking for something with more hours. On the other hand, there are great employees who are also working artists, students, or even 9-5ers, and are looking for a couple hundred bucks in extra cash each week, and would be more than happy to take a part time gig.

This also extends to dealing with time off requests and other issues. If you reach a point where you are going to be short staffed, let your staff know that! Before you staff up, let your staff know that if everyone needs those days off, you will have to hire more employees, and offer those new employee shifts even when your old staff is available. Often the staff will work it out to cover those shifts, giving everyone their most important time off.

Lastly, understand your staff. There are two main types of hourly employees we deal with. There are career servers, and there are people who are just doing this to make ends meet or earn extra cash.

Knowing which category your staff falls into, and what’s important to them, can go a long way.

If the majority of your staff, or the majority of your top performers, are career servers, stability and guaranteed hours and income are important. Offering set schedules and lots of hours becomes important. Whether it is dealing with a second job, their kids’ schedules, or just setting a monthly budget, they will appreciate a schedule which is relatively stable, or at the very least, posted well ahead of time.

On the other hand, if your staff or top performers are mostly what I call passers through (college students, actors, musicians, comedians, or 9-5ers picking up extra shifts), flexibility is key. Having more staff available to cover requests off will keep everyone happy. Posting the schedule a few days out, allowing time to request off, will be appreciated, rather than a hassle.

Finally, remember that as much fun as we all have, we’re not volunteering at our industry jobs. We are trying to make a living. Make sure that your top performers have the most lucrative shifts. Again, open communication here can make sure that a) your staff also feel appreciated and acknowledged, and b) your non-top performers have an incentive to pick it up.

For example, let your staff know that the weekend shifts will go to top performing staff, because you have confidence in their ability to keep up with the pace of a busy weekend shift and still maintain sales and service standards.

Or, if you have some nights that are slower, rather than schedule two mediocre servers, reward your top servers by letting them work those shifts solo. Again, open communication can make clear that this is not only a reward for strong performance, but also a smart business decision. Their consistent high performance (and reliability!) makes you comfortable scheduling them without a second server, since you know they will show up when they are supposed to, and that they can handle the volume if you get a sudden rush.

In short, understanding what your staff want and need out of their employment with you, as well as making clear what you want, need, and expect from them, can make keeping top performing servers an easy part of your job.


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