Story Highlights

  • Turnover is dizzyingly high for U.S. restaurants
  • Disruption to the traditional service model intensifies this problem
  • Engaging managers can combat employee turnover

I visit the same restaurant every time I crave their classic burgers and salty fries. Sometimes that means driving a significant distance -- or past a different location -- but it's worth the effort.

Why am I willing to spend extra time and fuel to go to my favorite restaurant?

Their people. The team at this particular restaurant is obviously engaged -- thriving under the leadership of a committed and enthusiastic manager.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many restaurants in the country.

The average annual turnover rate for fast-food restaurants in the U.S. is a sobering 150% -- in other words, a restaurant's entire workforce, plus half of new hires. According to TDn2K's 2018 Recruiting and Turnover Report, the average cost of turnover per manager for restaurants is $13,867.

Sure, the transient nature of the restaurant workforce plays a part. But for many restaurants, a disengaged work culture is also to blame. Disengaged employees are more likely to leave and less likely to engage customers.

This is an ominous problem as the industry faces evolving consumer demands and disruption to the traditional service model. For restaurant leaders, optimizing customer experiences to boost customer loyalty is more critical than ever.

One of the most potent strategies for combating turnover and improving customer experiences is investing in manager engagement -- that is, managers' involvement in, commitment to and enthusiasm for their jobs. Gallup analytics show that manager engagement has a ripple effect on team engagement: Employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged managers.

In turn, boosting team-level engagement can dramatically reduce turnover. For high-turnover organizations, highly engaged business units achieve 24% less turnover. Engaged teams also have higher customer ratings. This can promote restaurant outcomes: Gallup studies of casual dining and fast-food restaurants found that customers who are fully engaged make more visits per month to that restaurant -- 56% more and 28% more, respectively -- than actively disengaged customers.

By optimizing managers' engagement, restaurant leaders can deepen team-level engagement, improve turnover (along with myriad key business outcomes) and create customer experiences that garner loyalty.

Discover three practical interventions to help restaurant leaders engage their managers:

1. Find and cultivate high-potential managers.

People can learn skills and gain experience, but they cannot acquire talent -- it is an innate capacity for excellence. When managers have the right talent for the role, they are more likely to thrive in their jobs and be energized by their work.

In fact, Gallup analytics show that 54% of managers with high talent are engaged at work -- twice the percentage of managers with limited talent. High-talent managers are also more likely to be strong and effective brand ambassadors who understand and deliver brand promises -- and more successfully engage customers.

Talent cannot be detected on a resume. To find star managers who are more likely to be engaged, organizations must use advanced analytics to identify candidates who possess core dimensions of manager talent.

2. Make learning and development a priority.

The desire to learn and grow is one of 12 basic employee needs. By helping managers advance their abilities, leaders can improve manager engagement and equip managers to coach employees to exceptional performance. Effective manager development hones managers' innate talents -- highlighting what matters most to a rapidly evolving workforce and how managers can meet employees' basic needs.

Manager development should not be a one-time event. From mentoring to formal coaching to group classes, leaders should continually invest in learning and development opportunities for managers. Gallup finds that people who have consistent development opportunities are twice as likely as those on the other end of the scale to say they will spend their career with their company.

3. Emphasize managers' strengths.

All workers -- including managers -- are at their best when they take a strengths-based approach to their work. A strengths-based approach to manager development helps increase the likelihood that managers will be engaged and internally motivated.

Leaders are responsible for providing managers with leading-edge tools and training to identify and develop their strengths. Leaders should also understand their direct reports' strengths and how they can support managers in making the most of those strengths.

In turn, managers who understand their own strengths can better develop workers' strengths and harmonize the strengths of their team members to cultivate exceptional performance.

The ultimate outcome of targeting manager engagement is something all leaders crave: near-perfect customer experiences that leave customers hungry for more. It's a powerful effect that I've personally experienced -- and I'll keep coming back again and again.

Take a closer look at what Gallup recommends for better management and to reduce employee turnover:

Bailey Nelson contributed to this article.

Gallup