Turnover has traditionally been a concern to most foodservice operators and most have addressed
it in one way or another. A few have re-examined their management styles and put new emphasis
on team-building activities. But it seems that many operators have stayed with business as usual
and lamented that "you just can't get good people anymore" or that "these young kids just don't
want to work." Amid this hand-wringing and chest-beating, the revolving door continues to turn,
perpetuating the low morale and slipshod service that so often accompanies turnover.
The reason that most approaches to turnover are only slightly effective is that turnover is not the
problem, it is just a symptom of the problem. The simple truth is that your staff leaves because they
do not want to hang out with you! If you can find out where the irritations lie, you can start to do
something about them.
If turnover is a worry in your operation, the underlying causes are probably not what you think they
are. If you knew the real reasons that people leave, you would already be on top of them. Don't
think you are alone in this predicament; we all have blind spots. The trick lies in getting beyond our
thoughts of how we think things are or how we want them to be and get to the underlying truth.
An inexpensive but very effective way to find out what it is really like to work in your company and
keep a finger on the organization's pulse is to conduct exit interviews whenever a staff member
leaves. The exit interview process is important whether the departure was their idea or the
Think about it. Smart operators regularly ask their guests how they could do a better job the next
time because that sort of feedback, however stinging, provides insights that can help the operation
improve. Similarly, why not ask departing staff members what changes would make your company
a more pleasant place to work?
The problem is that workers are most likely to be leaving because of something management did,
something management allowed to happen, or because management did not listen to them. If
people felt the company did not listen to them while they worked there, they probably won't feel like
telling you much when they leave. Still, the feedback is essential.
If you want to get to the truth, you may need someone outside the company who is "safe" to talk to
and who will respect the confidentiality of the departing worker. In large multi-unit companies, the
personnel department can often handle this function effectively. Most operators, however, have to
find another way.
One possibility might be to hire someone on an "as needed" basis to interview departing staff
members. The most effective interviewer will be someone the staff did not have regular contact with
during a typical workday. Perhaps you know of a retiree in the area or perhaps a former worker who
resigned to raise a family. Often these people would like a little social contact and a few extra
The advantage of one-on-one exit interviews is that they are more personal and a skillful interviewer
can often get past the departing person's natural defensiveness to uncover the real reasons behind
their decision to leave. The disadvantages are that not all interviewers are effective and the personal
interview approach requires coordinating the departing worker's schedule with the availability of the
Another alternative is to use blind exit questionnaires. These are survey forms given to departing
staff members, a sample of which is included. When the ex-employee completes the form and
sends it to an impartial third party, the intermediary group sends them a $5 reward. Don't expect
anyone, especially departing foodservice workers, to do anything for free! The intermediary protects
the confidentiality of the information source and forwards the completed questionnaires back to the
company for review.
Figuring a cost of only $10 per questionnaire (half of which is returned to the staff member), this
arrangement can be very cost-effective, especially when compared with the costs of turnover. It
saves you the need to add another person to your payroll and avoids the schedule coordination
required with one-on-one interviews.
The disadvantage of the blind approach is that you lose the ability for follow-up questions and
clarification of answers. Still, any valid information on what it is really like to work for you will shine
some light into the blind spots and start to steer you in the direction of necessary operational
improvements. In researching this approach to exit interviewing, I did not find an organization that
was providing this service to the industry . . . so I started one!
I developed an exit interview questionnaire for Hospitality Service Group, a third-party intermediary
that collects and forwards survey results from departing staff members. In addition to 40 pieces of
ranked information, the form also asks a few more open-ended questions.
I acknowledge that it takes courage to actively ask for the truth like this and perhaps you will leave
yourself open to a few cheap shots. But in the process, you will start to see how people feel about
working for you and that can make all the difference. Remember that the working environment that
causes your staff to want to stay is the same sort of environment that causes your guests to want to
return. You don't have to be bad to get better. Good luck!
This material was adapted from the book, "From Turnover to Teamwork: How to Build and Retain a Customer-Oriented Foodservice Staff" published by John Wiley & Sons. To receive a free sample of an exit interview form, to order a copy of the book or for more information on the services of Hospitality Service Group, please call (800) 767-1055.
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© 2004 Restaurant Doctor