How Restaurant GMs and Managers Can Retain Their Best Wait Staff

How to be a great fine dining or upscale casual general manager or ownerAny restaurant manager worth their salt is going to read this and have some pondering to do.

Or not.

If you’re a stellar fine dining or upscale casual general manager or restaurant owner and you’re already doing record sales, have a backlog of return guests, and a super-happy restaurant staff (especially waitstaff), then this is not for you.

The point is, it is a rare thing to have a super-happy restaurant staff where everyone is satisfied with how things are going all the time.

I say this as a waiter of 4 years experience (before retiring for self-employment, crediting a lot of my own business knowledge from working in restaurants) who got to work for several different companies in different cities to include Houston, TX and heavily in Los Angeles, CA.

It is my goal to provide a few tips from the ground level of how restaurant managers can decrease waiter/server/bartender turnover and increase retention of their best employees.

So let’s get started.

Tips to Retain Your Very Best Restaurant Waiters, Servers, and Bartenders

1. Don’t play favorites with your wait or bar staff. I know many GMs at restaurants have a tendency to turn a blind eye to all sins committed by their hottest, youngest, and sexiest servers and bartenders.

Whether it’s a male general manager ogling that hot blond with big boobs whose cleavage gives the Grand Canyon a run for its money, to the female manager who cannot seem to stop being smitten by the jerk bartender with biceps and a dickhead attitude- you’re going to have to think with the upstairs head when making scheduling and disciplinary decisions.

Action Step: Have set criteria on how people get rewarded and punished. Don’t overlook your less flashy staff because they may very well be your most reliable and dependable, and least likely to lose your restaurant money during crunch time. Also look for cliques that develop among your staff and keep an eye out on if they are up to no good either individually or as a small group. These toxic employees may very well be encouraging your best staff to leave if they get away with their nonsense long enough.

2. Schedule the personnel who consistently make the highest sales and sales volume on a consistent basis. Creating an environment in which positive performance is regularly rewarded and acknowledged will make all servers and bartenders feel not only that their success lies in their own hands, but that upward mobility within the restaurant is a possibility.

That does not mean it has to be cutthroat, but give more focus on results and guest satisfaction when it comes to counting up the till at the end of the night than just how you feel about certain servers.

Action Step: Encourage servers to spend more time spieling the features and looking for opportunities to sell that 2nd glass of wine, while regularly reminding servers that the best sections and shifts will go to the top sales performers. Regularly hold contests where the sales winners receive Amazon Gift Cards. Give out a free bottle of the featured wine to the server who sells the most in a night or even a month.

3. Make personal care and human happiness a long-term goal for your staff, and prove it to them. Many-time championship winning NBA coach Phil Jackson once brought in a Yogi to have the entire Chicago Bulls professional basketball team sit around and meditate. Meditation is good for lowering blood pressure (the NBA and restaurant work are stressful) and increasing well-being.

Action Step: For a restaurant manager, it is a drop in the bucket to bring in a meditation expert to lead a 10 – 15 minute meditation session during the pre-shift meeting. If a server or waiter makes fun of the process, send them out of the room or send them home. If someone raises religious objections, tell them it’s ok to pray to God as well.

Conclusion on How Restaurant GMs and Owners Can Keep Their Best Employees

Before I left the service industry and hospitality space, I worked in every concept of Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group which is now a publicly traded company on the stock exchange, and got to practically open one of their Del Frisco’s Grills at the heart of the Santa Monica Pier in West LA.

I have seen it all. Unexpected restaurant closings (McCormick and Schmicks, Burbank CA). Restaurant declines (Zengo, Santa Monica CA). Top examples of great restaurants with the most professional and exceptional waitstaff (Del Friscos Double Eagle at the Galleria in Houston, TX). Getting fired from a Gordon Ramsay restaurant which later closed down in a class-action suit for not paying its employees (The Fat Cow, The Grove in Los Angeles, CA).

But I’m sure you’ve seen even more than me as a restaurant manager. That’s why this blog post is not meant to be definitive, but rather just to offer up some more ideas to make your life, and the life of your wait and bar staff, easier.

Good luck out there 🙂


creator of the Waiting Tables Video Masterclass, an excellent resource for servers, bartenders, and restaurant managers alike

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