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Beyond the Paycheck: Quality of Life Perks That Drive Satisfaction, Dedication, and Retention

In the 24/7/365 restaurant industry where the work day extends far beyond the 9 to 5, work-life balance has become increasingly important to workers. In the past, it was (and likely, still is) common for chefs to work from open to close, managers to stay until the early morning hours, and servers to work back-to-back shifts, all while raising families and attempting to maintain healthy relationships beyond the walls of the restaurant.

While a competitive paycheck might help entice new talent  to come through the door, it takes more than money to keep them there.  Without an investment in workplace culture, detrimental consequences like burnout, employee dissatisfaction, resentment, and high turnover could result. This can have a huge trickle-down impact on the quality of a restaurant’s customer service, ultimately affecting its bottom line.

Shifting Priorities

Since 2020, when workers were given the opportunity to take a breath and reassess their lives, there has been a seismic  shift in employee attitudes and priorities.  

No longer amenable to accepting lower wages, impossible schedules, and lack of quality healthcare for their families, restaurant staffers began demanding a better home-work balance, improved workplace culture, flexible scheduling, and benefits packages, just like the rest of the workforce. In fact, according to one survey, quality of life perks have become the top priority for workers in the food service industry in 2024.

Today’s restaurant workers are looking for more from than a paycheck their employers.

Where financial perks had always been the main incentive to work and work harder, a new focus on work-life balance has taken over.  Not only does sparking a balance between personal life and work result in a more satisfied workforce, but it produces better results for businesses as employees are more dedicated, motivated, and likely to stick around. 

A recent study revealed that 38% of employees have missed life events  like birthdays and anniversaries  due to a lack of a proper work-life balance and 60% of employees blame their bosses for the negative effects of this poor work-life balance.

The good news is that savvy business owners and managers are finally taking notice, recognizing that a healthy work-life balance is also healthy for an organization's bottom line. 

Across all income levels, the top predictor of workplace satisfaction is not money. Rather, it is the workplace culture, the values of the organization, the quality of leadership, career opportunities, and family-work life balance.  Among these key factors, compensation and benefits are consistently rated among the least important when it comes to workplace happiness.

Though money isn’t the main driver of employee satisfaction, a person’s workplace priorities tend to change as their income rises. 

We’ve unearthed some of the leading forces that drive job seekers to choose the jobs they do and what causes workers to love or leave their job in 2024.  

Work Culture  

21.6% of workers in the lowest income groups in the restaurant industry such as dishwashers and bussers cite the work culture of the organization as a driving force behind satisfaction at work, compared to 23.4% of those in the highest income groups, such as managers and top-level servers.  

Quality of  Leadership 

20.4% of lower income earners compared to 22.8% of higher income earners cite quality of leadership as driving factors. 

Opportunities for Advancement

Rising from 17.5% among lower paid staff to 22.8% at higher pay levels,   long-term concerns like leadership and growth opportunities, rather than day-to-day concerns like pay change as income levels rise. 

Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance declines in importance at higher income levels, falling from 13.2% among the lowest earners  to 9.5% among those in higher income brackets.  

Compensation and Benefits

In addition to being among the least important factors, compensation and benefits fall in importance as income rises. For those earning less than $40,000 annually, pay accounts for 12.8% of workplace satisfaction. As salary rises, the power of financial compensation and benefits falls sharply, dropping to 9.8%  for those earning more than $120,000 annually.

Love it or Leave It

In the restaurant industry, it has been said that positive energy is infectious and negative energy is contagious. Having a crew that consistently shows up to work bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to work is in the best interest of the business. But in order for staff to be ready to hit the ground running when their shift begins, it’s equally important for employees to know that they’re also showing up for the people they  care about beyond the walls of the business. 

Just like previous generations, compensation will always play a role when an employee constemplates their career choices, but today’s workforce seems to be quite aware that money alone doesn’t buy happiness. There are a few things you can do as a restaurant employer to make the work-life balance a part of the employee experience.

Cultivating a  workforce that is satisfied and productive vs. one that isn’t isn’t always easy. In the always-hectic world of food service, an industry  that’s evolved more dramatically in the last five years than almost any other industry, and where margins have become increasingly tighter,  it’s become more important than ever to find ways to compensate employees with perks  that extend beyond the paycheck. 

Here are a few strategies to get you started. 

Consecutive Days Off

Restaurant workers are keenly aware that they will rarely get off on the weekends,  but two consecutive days off, wherever they fall, are enough time to rejuvenate, spend quality time with friends and family,  and run errands. Though the five-day work week, with staff being able to count on  two consecutive days off, can be difficult to attain  in the restaurant industry, it’s not impossible.

Encourage Managers to Use Accrued Vacation Time

Americans fail to use 429 million vacation days every year, partly because many workers are afraid that if they leave their post for an extended period, their job would suffer. But a recharged employee is a productive one, so make sure your staff knows that they are encouraged to take their accrued vacation time and that their job will be waiting for them upon return. 

One Hour Breaks

Instead of expecting your employees to eat in the kitchen while juggling their tasks, make sure each staff member receives a full one hour break during their shift that they can take away from the restaurant. This will give them time to run errands, have a meal with a friend, or visit a child at daycare, so they can come back to work ready to tackle the rest of their shift.

Health and Wellness Initiatives

Work-related stress costs U.S. companies $30 billion a year in lost revenue due to sick days and absenteeism. Promote your employees’ wellbeing through health and wellness perks such as: 

1. Discounted (or complementary) healthy meals

2. Gym membership  

3. Required breaks 

4. Nap rooms 

5. Wellness activities like yoga, meditation, and running clubs

6. Health trackers such as FitBits and Apple Watches

8. Free Healthy Snacks

Benefits Package

While the average American switches jobs every 4.2 years, the average restaurant employee changes jobs every 56 days, making staffing an enormous concern for restaurants today. With over 50% of owners and managers reporting that staff retention was their greatest challenge in 2023, providing healthcare and wellness benefits to employees just might be the answer.

Family-Centric Perks 

Family-centered perks are a great way to attract and retain employees.

This includes: 

  • Family leave (paid or unpaid), beyond what is required by law. 

  • Paid paternity leave

  • Paid maternity leave beyond 8 weeks

  • Dedicated mother’s rooms for nursing moms

  • Pet insurance

  • Take your child to work days

  • Company picnics for employees and their families

  • College scholarship or savings program

  • Free park or museum passes for employees and their families

Daycare Benefits

This perk is so important, we felt it merited its own mention. One of the greatest reasons workers with families cite leaving their jobs or not returning to work after the birth of a child is daycare costs. Offering your workers with children perks such as a dollar-for-dollar day care match benefit can go a long way towards attracting quality workers.

Alternatively, if your restaurant is large enough, and the need is great enough, consider starting an on-site daycare facility. There are even businesses that offer sick rooms manned by nurses to accomodate mildly ill children, allowing parents to be close by but still earn their much needed pay. 

Community Involvement 

More than half of all millennials employed in the U.S. said a company’s charitable work influenced them to accept a job offer.  

Show your employees you  care through community-oriented perks such as:

  • Time off for volunteering

  • Company days of service

  • Charity donation matching

  • Restaurant-sponsored charitable events

Career Development 

Millennials make up the largest generational group of employees today. According to Gallop, 60% of this group cite professional development and career growth as important factors when considering a job opportunity.

Employee development perks such as those listed below can help attract talent in today’s highly competitive food service market. 

  • Mentor chef program

  • Paid sabbatical for chefs to travel to other cities or countries to develop their skills.

  • Tuition reimbursement

  • Restaurant  library/study area

  • Lunch and learns with restaurant industry leaders

Cultivate Trust Through Training

As a restaurant manager or owner, it’s important to take time away from the business to recharge. So it’s critical to be able to trust in the people you work with to get the job done even when you’re not  there. To do that, it's imperative to share your knowledge and be proactive in training and delegating so when you do need some time off, you can take it, with the peace of mind that the business won’t fall apart in your absence.  

Take Away

With margins tightening and labor costs rising, it’s good to know that there are mutually beneficial ways to compensate employees in ways that do not involve a pay raise.  By offering non-pay-related perks and the ability to recharge, your valued staff will stick around, you’ll attract the best new talent, and the restaurant's workplace culture will improve. 

But at the end of the day, the perks you offer should align with your organization’s values and mission. Being strategic in non-monetary compensation can help cultivate a culture that supports employees’ needs and forges a positive, healthy,  and profitable environment.

By Eileen Strauss


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