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Healthy Choices: Offering Benefits to Restaurant Staff Helps with Retention, Hiring, and Growth

Attracting and retaining restaurant employees has never been an easy task, but as the food service industry continues to navigate through choppy and challenging waters, hiring, rehiring, and holding on to staff is more critical than ever.

According to industry reports, four in five operators say they are short at least one position, with servers and dishwashers being cited as the most in-demand roles. Without team members to fill your most important roles, service can be deeply impacted. Dine-in guests wait longer to be served and delivery customers wait longer for their orders. All of this leads to a poor guest experience that can deter your customers from returning to your establishment. As a restaurant operator, one of the best ways to create a positive work environment is to provide a stable paycheck and restaurant benefits.

While the average American switches jobs every 4.2 years, the average restaurant employee changes jobs every 56 days, which makes staffing an enormous concern for restaurants today. With over 50% of owners and managers reporting that staff retention was their greatest challenge in 2022, how can food service businesses attract talent? Providing healthcare and other benefits to employees just might be the answer.

What’s Changed?

This sudden surge in restaurant employee demands for benefits started during the recent healthcare crisis when the hardest-hit segment of the workforce began to realize that they wanted a better quality of life than they had before.

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, healthcare and mental health benefits have become the top priority for workers in the food service industry in 2022, and as the new year begins, this trend is on the rise.

Today’s restaurant workers are looking for more from their employers, so much so that if they don’t find what they’re looking for at their current job, many will leave and find other work at businesses that offer benefits and other lifestyle amenities. For some, this can even mean leaving the industry altogether. With more than 60% of restaurant employees saying they are more likely to apply for a position at a company that offers healthcare benefits than one that does not, 80% of unhappy restaurant staffers report that they’d be more likely to stay at their current position if benefits were offered. So, the solution seems simple, doesn’t it?

It might not be quite that simple, however, because despite increasing awareness of the effects that access to benefits has on employee retention and hiring prospect abilities, only a bit more than half of all US restaurants actually offer benefits to their restaurant staff. This number is lower for smaller/independent establishments.

In an industry where the margins are already paper thin, the truth is some restaurants simply can’t afford to offer benefits. According to a recent survey, 80% of small and independent restaurants do not offer their staff any benefits, and it appears that cost is the main reason.

If restaurants could figure out how to offer the benefits that workers need and demand, employees might stay in their roles longer. But challenges for employers to hire and retain workers have led to staffing shortages, which is directly impacting many restaurants’ ability to thrive, losing an average of $5,284 per employee while a position is not filled.

Why Savvy Restaurants are Offering Benefits

Providing benefits is a great retention strategy because it not only shows employees that you care about their professional and personal well-being, but it gives your team a morale boost. All of this leads to a happier workplace and a more productive operation.

Offering benefits can also inspire and motivate prospective employees to desire to work at your business. Making sure your benefits program reflects the values of your company culture and how you want your employees to be treated could be the difference between whether a candidate decides to apply to your restaurant or your competitors.

More Important Factors to Consider

Managing a mixed workforce made up of both part-time and full-time employees can be complicated. But there are important factors that owners need to take into consideration when evaluating their benefits programs.

One factor the restaurant industry faces is government mandates. The Affordable Care Act requires all small businesses with 50 to 99 to offer every employee health insurance. And though many restaurants do not employ over 50 employees, the pressure for smaller businesses to attract staff in the face of competition makes the mandate’s effects trickle down to almost every corner of the industry.

Whether you are obligated or not, offering a group health plan can help increase retention and boost morale by letting your employees know you care about their well-being. And providing your team with access to medical care may also lead to fewer staff absences and sick days.

Important Things to Know About Obtaining Benefits Through the Marketplace®

Types of Benefits

Restaurants can offer a range of benefit programs to employees, from health insurance that covers annual physicals and vaccinations to plans that only cover medical, dental, and/or vision insurance. With different levels and plans of coverage, both part-time employees and full-time employees have the ability to choose the most optimal plan for themselves and their families.

The following are different types of employee benefits you may choose to use for your restaurant.

Healthcare Insurance

One of the biggest retention strategies in the restaurant industry today, aside from wage increases, is to provide health insurance for restaurant employees.

Mental Health and Wellness

With long hours and shifts, restaurant workers can experience depression, sleep problems, and stress. That’s why providing mental health and wellness resources can be very beneficial to help improve employee attentiveness and prevent burnout.

Additional Resources:

  • Subscriptions to mental health apps like Talkspace, or Calm

  • Stipends for therapy

  • Workshops on wellness topics

  • Discounts on gym memberships

  • Offering mental health sick days

Beyond Healthcare

  • Professional Training and Personal Development

  • Dental

  • Vision

  • Telehealth

  • Life and accidental death and dismemberment insurance

  • Vacation and sick benefits

  • Free meals

  • Paid time off

  • Maternity and paternity leave

  • Childcare

  • Tuition reimbursement

  • Profit sharing

  • Transportation

  • Volunteer days

An employee benefits program can not only attract new talent and hold onto the high-performing staff you already have, but keeping employees happy helps increase productivity and sales. In a time when restaurants are still feeling the ripple effects of supply chain and labor shortages, it’s more important than ever to find ways to reduce staff turnover and stand up to the competition.

Even if you already offer health insurance, there is always room for improvement. The new year is the perfect opportunity to review current plans and explore options for making changes that could improve hiring, increase retention, and boost revenue as 2023 approaches.

By Eileen Strauss


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