6 Professional Development Ideas to Retain Your Restaurant Staff

Staff retention is one of the greatest challenges that restaurant owners face today. According to the  National Restaurant Association, annual restaurant turnover rates routinely exceed 70%. Poor restaurant staff retention raises the costs of recruitment, hiring, and training. Constant employee turnover can also diminish the quality and consistency of your service offerings.

Your restaurant can gain a competitive advantage by taking steps to improve staff retention. But in order to cultivate a workplace where employees wish to remain, you need to create pathways for growth, enrichment, and advancement. Start by building restaurant work culture around opportunities for meaningful professional development. 


6 professional development strategies for improving restaurant staff retention


By creating professional development opportunities, you demonstrate a willingness to invest in the people who make your restaurant work. This, in turn, gives your personnel a sense of security, ownership, and engagement, all of which can significantly reduce turnover and the costs that come with it. 


“If your staff are constantly learning and evolving, and they’re seeing results for themselves, they don’t have as much of a reason to be looking outside for something else” said Glenn Flood, a restaurant leadership training consultant. “Most people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers, and sometimes it’s about managers not empowering employees to succeed.”


Below are six professional development strategies that you can use to empower your employees, reduce turnover, and improve restaurant staff retention. 


1. Set up vendor-led workshops

Create educational opportunities for your employees while strengthening your relationship with local vendors. Reach out to your dairy, meat, or produce reps to discuss learning opportunities for your staff. 

“With a fish purveyor, for example, you can ask to bring your staff to see the facility, the production line, how the fish is processed and fileted, and have them teach about seasonality and why to buy local,” says Ray McCue, a master instructor at Johnson and Wales University. “If they want to keep doing business with you, they’re likely to offer you these opportunities.”

Some vendors may welcome a site visit. Others may prefer to conduct educational sessions in your restaurant. Either option is likely to be highly enriching for your staff, especially those with the desire to grow and advance in the hospitality industry.


2. Request tasting session with alcohol reps

When building restaurant work culture, it helps to create learning opportunities that are also fun for your employees. Reach out to your beer, wine or liquor reps to request a tasting session. 

Give your team a chance to learn more about product origins, signature ingredients, and recommended food pairings. And encourage your staff to ask questions.

“People want to go to places where the waiter comes over and says enthusiastically, ‘Let me tell you about this bourbon’,” says McCue. “If we can educate the staff and they can educate the consumer, that’s a win for everyone.”


3. Encourage mentorship

Mentorship helps employees learn and grow. Mentors can also provide a strong model of leadership for those aspiring to advance in the industry. Facilitate mentorship opportunities by tapping into your industry network and contact industry leaders in your circle to identify candidates for mentorship.

Likewise, encourage members of your leadership team to be proactive in seeking out mentors on their own. Take time to regularly emphasize the value of mentorship during one-on-one meetings with team members who show leadership traits. Point team members toward opportunities for mentorship, whether through direct outreach to local industry leaders, event attendance, or membership in professional associations like the James Beard Foundation, the  American Academy of Chefs, and the American Culinary Federation

You can also encourage internal mentorship. Ray McCue recommends a “buddy system.”  Build mentorship directly into your restaurant’s culture.

“Pair each new employee with someone that’s been at the organization for a while. It’s a proven method to help train people and get them on board,” says McCue.  


4. Leverage online training and classes 

There are countless online resources you can use to teach and inspire your staff members. For instance: 


  • Typsy offers online classes on a wide range of topics such as food plating fundamentals, Instagram for hospitality, and “sake for restaurant owners”. 
  • MasterClass offers a video series featuring famous chefs like Alice Waters and Thomas Keller, along with a wide range of online leadership courses.
  • Rouxbe offers online culinary courses that cover an eclectic range of topics including knife skills, seafood literacy, and food waste management.


Some of these resources require paid membership. Is it worth the investment? Discuss it with your staff. Find out if the members of your team will actually take time out of their day to tune in. 

If the end result is a more educated and inspired team, and consequently, higher restaurant staff retention, a solid online educational resource may be well worth the investment. 


5. Create opportunities for internal cross-training

There are plenty of learning opportunities right within your restaurant’s walls. 

Do you have a line cook interested in learning about pastries? Or perhaps you have a server who’d want to shadow a sous chef for a day. McCue notes that “Showing people the benefits of what other people do in the organization is a huge part of creating synergy with everyone who’s working side by side in a restaurant.”

In addition to building restaurant work culture based on mutual respect, this gives your employees the chance to improve their own value to the organization, and perhaps even advance to long-term leadership roles.


6. Create a conference budget

Industry conferences offer incredible opportunities for networking, learning, and inspiration. Earmark a budget for industry events and send members of your leadership team to represent your brand.

This is also a great opportunity to let your staff take the lead on their own professional development. Give team leaders a chance to choose the conferences and events they wish to attend, and pay their way. Show your willingness to invest in the future that your team leaders envision for themselves. 

“Many of the good performers do this,” explains Glenn Flood. “They invest heavily, and you can reconcile it by looking at the retention of your staff.”


Nurture Your Team

The professional development ideas above all have one thing in common. Each method offers your employees an opportunity to feel valued. If you wish to improve restaurant staff retention, start by nurturing your team’s ambition. 

Invest in the growth, education, and advancement of your employees. Your team will reward you by driving your restaurant to greater success.


Written with help from Grace Dickinson.

[Photo courtesy Ketut Subiyanto]