How to Level Up Your Restaurant Employee Management

a photo of Sujan Patel, Zoomshift

Sujan Patel, Zoomshift

5 min read

Oct 12, 2021

How to Level Up Your Restaurant Employee Management

At its heart, the restaurant industry is about service. And the employees you rely on for that great service need to be managed strategically. There are many factors that can go wrong in restaurant service, so training your staff well is key.

Of course, any great restaurant relies on excellent management. Looking at the right high-level strategies will create a culture of success. Here’s how to lead and manage your team for a more efficient, fun, and high-quality restaurant experience:

1. Determine staff structure

Your restaurant staff is the lifeblood of your business. And it’s about more than hiring the right people. You also need to structure which positions to hire in the first place. Here are the steps to getting the right structure in place.

List Various Types of Roles

Restaurant staff are divided into various segments, depending on whether they are management, customer-facing, or behind the scenes. For most restaurants, staffing will include the following at a minimum:

Kitchen / BOH (Back of House)
Servers / Bartenders / FOH (Front of House)
Delivery (especially important with the rise in off-premise since the onset of COVID)

Define Requirements

Once you know your general team structure, it’s time to get more specific. List out the details of how many people you need for each area of the business. Be mindful of busy times of day that may require extra staff. It’s better to have more than you need at any given moment rather than being short-handed.

2. Hire smart

Bringing the right personnel on board is crucial. Hiring makes or breaks any restaurant. Yet, most businesses don’t think enough about onboarding new talent. Here are some important elements to consider when hiring:

Sourcing Candidates

Struggling with where to find good talent? Most restaurants do, but the platforms to use are fairly straightforward. Start with the following:

Social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin)
Word of mouth / Referrals 
Job ads (Hired, Monster, ZipRecruiter, Indeed, Harri, Culinary Agents, etc.)
Staffing agencies

With so much competition in the restaurant industry at the moment, make sure you’re clearly showcasing company benefits and salary ranges to encourage more candidates to apply. Transparency is crucial in increasing employee (and prospective employee) engagement, leading to increased happiness and retention. In fact, a recent study “found that over 70 percent of professionals want to hear about salary in the first message from a recruiter. With 59 percent stating that salary was the leading factor to feeling fulfilled in their career, understanding pay and benefits is clearly top of mind during the job search.”


Once you’ve sourced your potential candidates, your job isn’t done yet. It’s now time to refine your interview process. While each restaurant is different, you should be looking for all of the following criteria before hiring someone:

Fit for the role (experience, personality, professionalism, etc.)
Strong answers to difficult interview questions

Deciding which candidate to hire (or pass on) is crucial in creating a workplace that employees will recommend and a culture that will boost retention. Ensure that you’re not only hiring for hard skills (e.g. experience within their specific vertical) but also soft skills as well (e.g. people or time management). The best candidates offer a combination of the two, but remember: you can always train someone to do the hard skills of a job. Soft skills like teamwork, problem solving and communication are harder to teach, and yet are crucial to smooth operations at a restaurant.

3. Onboarding

A tailored and robust onboarding program will increase your employees’ skills. It will also boost the overall customer experience while cutting down on management time. Not having a good onboarding process is a recipe for confused and unproductive employees.

Ensure your onboarding program has:

Service training (when and how to greet customers, restaurant health and safety practices, etc.)
Food / beverage knowledge (which wines to recommend, what dishes the restaurant is known for, etc.)
Restaurant knowledge (history, interesting facts)

This three-pronged approach ensures that your employees know the business side, as well as the people side, of your restaurant.

4. Optimize restaurant reservation management

If you accept reservations or have a virtual waitlist, then you need to ensure you have the right process in place to both meet and exceed your guests’ needs. Otherwise, you’ll deal with problems like delayed seating, frustrated customers, and declining repeat visitor rates.

When optimizing restaurant reservation management, aim to adhere to the following tips:

Reservations – Market all your available reservation times online, and don’t forget to offer upsells and experiences as well. Upsells, like a bottle of wine or tasting menu, are a great way to not only drive revenue ahead of a guest’s visit, but also make it easier for your team to execute on these offerings while in-service.
Virtual Waitlists – Virtual waitlists are an easy way to capture more data on your guests that can be used for marketing post-visit. Offer your waitlist online as well as at the restaurant to make it easy for guests to stop in and dine at your venue.
Embrace Technology – Use software like SevenRooms to manage reservations, waitlists, seating management and marketing automation. The right tools give you the data your need, at your fingertips, to help drive revenue and repeat business.

5. Ongoing training

Don’t stop with onboarding. Once you have your team put together, continue to improve the quality of your staff. This isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, as restaurants require various roles each with their own knowledge. But common restaurant training includes:

Niche Skills – There are some skills that restaurateurs take for granted, that most people don’t actually know. For instance, wine presentation is a complex dance involving the presentation of the bottle, pouring correctly, and serving in the correct order.
Cross Training – In the restaurant business, someone is always bound to get sick or call in their shift for other reasons. When you find yourself short staffed, you need your team to be cross trained so they can fill in the gaps.
Regular Training Reviews– People don’t learn something once and remember it forever. Instead, to build a fast memory so that team members are proficient at their jobs, you need to provide consistent reminders of their core training.

6. Improve employee scheduling

With so many moving pieces, scheduling restaurant employees is a challenge. Identifying who is qualified to work in certain areas — such as waiting tables or tending the bar — is just one aspect. Additionally, communication and transparency issues can occur if the process is not managed properly. Here are some ways to make scheduling less of a headache:

Communicate to confirm availability
Give plenty of notice
Try to provide time off when requested to avoid burnout
Use software that helps you create digital, shareable schedules and track time.

7. Hold company meetings

Meetings are important to hold at a regular cadence either daily during pre-shift, or on a monthly basis. It’s important that you don’t hold meetings simply out of tradition, but for valid reasons. Otherwise, you will lose your team’s attention.

Make sure your meetings are addressing mission-critical issues like:

What’s Been 86ed – Alerting staff of ingredient shortages avoids upsetting customers who may have otherwise ordered their favorite dish before the kitchen is able to communicate to the server about missing items
Specials – Inform servers of today’s featured menu items, and provide detailed descriptions. The more in depth the better, as waiters can use this information to make specials sound more enticing to guests
VIPs – Inform the team of any special events or guests coming in that day. While every restaurant should strive to treat their customers incredibly all the time, certain guests and party sizes require more preparation.
Customer Complaints – Perhaps patrons are annoyed at servers being on their phone in the dining room while their drinks run low. Maybe John’s smoking habit is beginning to affect the guest experience. Address any new complaints at every meeting.
Restaurant Policy Updates – Changing the uniforms? New city regulations being implemented (such as recent COVID policies)? Give your staff a heads up so there are no surprises later on that affect service.

8. Employee motivation

Restaurant work is challenging. Long hours on your feet, running around or cooking in the kitchen catches up to you. So it’s no wonder the restaurant industry has such high turnover, despite the fact that it has its perks.

You can increase your team’s motivation by:

Income – For FOH employees, focus on money motivation (great service equals great tips). For BOH employees, find ways to provide benefits like health insurance, free meals, or more frequent breaks.
Pay On Time – People in the restaurant business rely on their paychecks, and often can’t afford missing one. If your pay period is every other Friday, don’t be even a day late. It could lead to staff resentment.
Comment Cards – Get anonymous feedback so that employees have a voice. As long as they feel they can change aspects of the restaurant that are problematic, they’ll be more patient with the implementation.

The tips above are just the beginning of what you can do to keep employees motivated. If possible, brainstorm every quarter with your management team, or with your wider employees. Attempt to think of two or three things you can focus on in the coming months to boost motivation without straining budgets.

Effective management for long-term employee retention

Managing restaurant employees effectively is more important than ever, especially with continued staffing, supply chain and operational challenges related to COVID. Employee restaurant management isn’t easy. It takes hard work, sharp thinking, and consistent habits. Luckily, with these key steps, you can provide better employee and guest experiences across the board.

So don’t keep wondering why your restaurant employees aren’t performing up to expectations. Take decisive action by implementing the tips above. The result will be a happier, more productive team that leads to more revenue for your business.

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