The Complete Guide to Restaurant EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

A deep-dive into what employee engagement means, its importance in the hospitality industry, and how you can properly engage your employees and empower them to deliver a phenomenal guest experience.

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Employee engagement. Just another corporate buzzword, right? Think again. 

Engaged employees are the key to an impeccable guest experience. And for hospitality chains, experience is everything.

Over the past few years, “eating in” has become easier and more fashionable than ever before, with companies like Uber Eats enabling customers to eat restaurant-quality food from the comfort of their sofa.

As a result of this shift in dining habits, restaurant chains must up their game and play to their natural strengths.

Related: The Perfect Recipe for Scaling Your Restaurant Franchise

The main advantage restaurants have over delivery services is that dining out isn’t a convenience, it’s an experience. And the key to utilizing this advantage is, naturally, the humble server.

A smiling face to greet you and show you to your table. Someone to ask for recommendations when you’re not sure what to order. Someone that will go the extra mile to make sure you get what you need out of your dining experience.

Unfortunately, the stress of working in hospitality means that it can be difficult for employees to put on that smiling face and stay engaged in their work. In fact, the average restaurant employee leaves their job after just 1 month and 26 days.

This lack of engagement has very real consequences - unengaged employees cost the global economy $7 trillion every year. 

This guide will show you exactly why employee engagement is so important, and how you can make sure staff across your entire network are engaged, happy and always ready to go above and beyond for your guests.

What does employee engagement actually mean?

First things first - let’s define what employee engagement is actually all about. 

Management consulting firm Aon Hewitt asserts that engaged employees:

  • Say (“Given the opportunity, I tell others great things about working here”)
  • Stay (“I rarely think about leaving this organization to work somewhere else”)
  • Strive (“This organization motivates me to contribute more than is normally required to complete my work”)

To work in hospitality, you have to enjoy interacting with other people, providing help and advice, and pretty much just making each guest’s day a little brighter.
So it follows that an engaged restaurant employee should:

  • Derive personal satisfaction from helping guests and going above and beyond
  • Care about their success individually, as a store team and as a company
  • Feel an emotional connection with their organization and the brand 

But even for the most sociable, upbeat employee in the world, at times working in hospitality can really… well, suck. And that can lead to them becoming unengaged in their work.

Why is employee engagement critical for the success of hospitality chains?

Here are just a few of the problems that can arise from an unengaged workforce:

Compliance with guidelines: Flawless execution of merchandising guidelines are essential to creating a flawless guest experience. But if employees aren’t invested in upholding brand standards, they won’t take care to implement those guidelines correctly. 

Employee turnover: This is already notoriously high in restaurants, increasing to 75% in 2018. Turnover costs businesses a lot of money - both in hard costs, such as hiring and training expenses, and soft costs, like the loss of knowledge and skills. 

Guest experience: A disinterested, uninformed or downright rude employee will inevitably lose business. Not only will the customer probably never come back, but they’ll also tell others about their bad experience. 77% of diners prefer peer reviews over critic reviews - if seen by enough people, a bad review could have a devastating effect on business.

Profit: According to Gallup, companies in the top quartile for employee engagement were 22% more profitable than their competitors. In other words, engaged employees make the company more money. Simple as that, really.

The root causes of an unengaged employee

Employees don’t become disengaged without reason. And if you really want to cultivate a professional environment where your teams feel engaged with their work and ready to perform their best, you have to pinpoint those causes and figure out how to remedy them. 

If you’re noticing a lack of engagement in your teams, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself:

Are we investing enough in the employee experience?

Because of high employee turnover, hospitality chains often don’t put enough effort into creating a positive experience for their staff - which makes employees wonder why they should bother contributing more than the bare minimum.

Implementing technology to make life easier for your teams, and creating tailored training programs to support their development, will show employees that you want them to feel fulfilled and happy at work. 

Related: 3 Ways to Engage Your Restaurant Staff with Five-Star Training


Are messages from HQ being communicated clearly enough across your network?

Even in the social media age, businesses often have trouble communicating between different tiers of their organization, because the way they communicate is stuck in the past. 

Because hospitality workers are deskless, mobile technology is needed to make sure messages are disseminated properly to all employees. Employees that feel like they’re in the loop will stay engaged with company updates.

Related: 3 Top Tips For Making Internal Communications Work For Your Deskless Workforce


Could the relationship between frontline employees and managers be improved?

Communication between regional managers and on-site employees can be strained, as they don’t see each other often enough to form a close working relationship. 

That’s why the time that regional managers do spend on-site - usually to carry out audits - should be spent wisely, giving help and advice to teams rather than simply filling out checklists.

Are we appreciative enough of the importance of restaurant employees?

Hospitality staff are what give restaurants an advantage over delivery services, and their contribution should not be underestimated. 

Positive interactions between restaurant employees and guests have a huge effect on repeat custom. A 2016 study by OpenTable discovered that a staggering 95% of guests said they would go back to a restaurant again if the staff “catered specifically to their personal preferences.”

However, hospitality staff often feel underappreciated or unseen despite their indispensable work, so reminding them of their value will help keep up morale. 

Related: The 3 Top Qualities Of A Great Restaurant Employee

Are we clearly communicating our values and mission to our employees?

Regardless of what industry they’re in, people want to feel like their work has meaning. Properly communicating your business’ core philosophy and mission statement to employees will help promote a sense of team spirit and keep them focused on a common goal.

Are we providing enough opportunities for employees to grow?

With turnover rate in retail now at 75%, it’s very easy to dismiss employee engagement concerns with a “well they’re just going to leave anyway” kind of attitude. 

All this does is make existing employees feel like they don’t matter, and put potential employees off applying. 

If you show your staff that hard work will be recognized, they might just stick around long enough to prove that making an effort to engage employees is worth it.

Are we offering enough incentives?

Offering employees a little something extra as a reward for their hard work - be it a bonus, an after-work pizza party, or the chance at a promotion - is a great way to drive engagement, and will also boost your reputation as an employer.

How to effectively engage your retail employees

Download: A Guide to Restaurant Employee Engagement

When it comes down to it, employee engagement really isn’t rocket science. If you put more effort into creating a positive and nurturing work environment, your teams will respond well to it. Here are 3 ways you can do that: 

#1 - Give restaurant employees the tools they need to spend more time with guests

Restaurant staff can’t create the perfect customer experience if they’re spending most of their day dealing with low-value admin tasks. Streamlining store operations with mobile technology will improve not only customer experience, but employee engagement, too. Here’s how: 

  • It demonstrates your credibility as an organization to your teams. Invest in technology that makes life easier for staff, and they’ll invest their time in doing their best.
  • It increases job satisfaction. Working in a customer-facing role is ultimately about helping and interacting with people, and it’s what your employees signed up for. Helping them focus on that will boost engagement. 
  • It empowers employees to become more autonomous. An empowered restaurant employee has the tools they need to use their skills and help guests. When you know you’re trusted by your employer, you can’t help but feel more engaged in your work.

#2 - Rethink training

Training is what keeps things running smoothly. It’s what helps staff become the knowledgeable, friendly and helpful experts who make eating at a restaurant infinitely better. And yet, whatever training retail employees receive doesn’t seem to be working.

Here are the changes every restaurant chain needs to make to their training:

  • Make it short: Short, frequent bursts of training (also known as microlearning) have been proven to help learners retain knowledge better.
  • Make it interactive: Training is far more engaging if it involves interaction in the form of quizzes and challenges.
  • Make it relevant: Each employee has different responsibilities and priorities, so no two employee learning tracks should look exactly the same.
  • Make it social: Social learning makes learning collaborative by encouraging and facilitating knowledge sharing. 
  • Make it empowering: Training is a huge part of an employee’s progression in their role, and they should be able to decide what they want to learn. 
  • Make it measurable: An engaging training program correlates training completion to KPIs like customer satisfaction and lifetime value.

#3 - Motivate with meaning

Engaged employees are motivated to go above and beyond - but businesses are missing out because they’re not providing their staff with the motivation in the first place.

If your employees don’t see the value of what they’re doing every day, guests won’t either. The work they do is indispensable - it’s up to the retailer to motivate teams by reminding them of that fact! Here’s how to go about it:

  • Challenge: Create complete transparency around goals and progress. Seeing real numbers around the progress teams have made is a real source of motivation and team bonding.
  • Communicate: Authentic communication of brand values from leadership creates an emotional connection with employees, and sharing knowledge and best practices between employees boosts teamwork
  • Reward: Never underestimate the power of recognition from your peers. Seeing your name at the top of a leaderboard or getting a shoutout from head office can go a long way for engagement. 

Where to start

Before anything else can happen, first you have to figure out why your employees should be engaged in the first place. 

Too often, the main question in the hiring process is what the prospective employee will bring to the table. But this is a two-way street - it’s just as much about what the employer can do for them. 

So why, exactly, should employees actually want to work for you? What are you offering them? 

If you can’t answer that question, there’s work to be done. 

All the technology and training in the world can’t engage your employees if there’s nothing behind it. 

Once you’ve determined what your value is as an employer, you can work on providing that value by making employee engagement a priority. 

We might be a little biased, but we think YOOBIC’s employee engagement solution is pretty great.

Key Takeaways

Employee engagement (or rather, a lack thereof) is one of the biggest challenges facing hospitality today. 

Hospitality chains would be nothing without the hard work of their staff, but if they’re given very little in return, they’ll go elsewhere. And even if they don’t, guests will sense their disinterest and they’ll dine elsewhere. 

But it’s really not a difficult problem to solve. To ensure your staff actually enjoy their jobs, you should:

Couple Restaurant iPhone Standing@3x

Equip store teams with the tools and technology to eliminate friction in daily tasks, so they can focus their efforts on guests

Restaurant Deskless Training 2

Adapt training to the realities of deskless work, so employees actually have the time and inclination to learn and retain information

Restaurant employee@3x

Show employees the meaning and value in what they do, and how they contribute to the success of the brand

Engaged employees are a brand’s greatest asset. Nurture them, and you’ll see a dramatic change in the quality of customer experience.


YOOBIC is an all-in-one platform that helps multi-site businesses such as retailers, restaurants and hotels deliver the perfect customer experience across every location. With YOOBIC's physical experience platform, you can connect, engage and inform your workforce with modern, interactive tools that are tailored to today's frontline workforce.