Say No To “Poach Clauses”

Three Ways Successful Restaurants Retain High-Performing Employees.

If you work in the restaurant industry, you won’t be surprised to hear that the average employee turnover rate is over 70% (National Restaurant Association) – almost four times the national average of 18% for the total workforce in the United States – and has been that high for several years in a row.

You also have an idea as to why: not only do restaurants employ a high percentage of teenagers (33%) and students (27%), but the high-stress, fast-pace, and relatively low hourly rate that comes with the restaurant environment has a way of sending new employees scurrying for a new job far too frequently. In fact, some restaurants are so frustrated by high turnover rates – particularly from losing employees to competing restaurants – that they’ve resorted to adding “no-poach” clauses to employee contracts in an attempt to limit the amount of turnover.

A high rate of employee turnover in any industry is problematic, but it can be particularly costly in the restaurant industry. Just think of how quickly your hiring costs can add up if you’re paying an average $3,500 – or as much as 33% an employee’s yearly earnings – to replace every employee that leaves your organization this year. And beyond the short-term financial consequences, consider the benefits of company culture you’re missing out on when you can’t maintain a regular roster of engaged, high-performing restaurant employees.

Fortunately, there are more effective ways to inspire loyalty in your restaurant employees than trying to enforce illicit contract clauses – and they don’t have to bankrupt your budget. Here are three ways successful restaurants use training and development as a powerful way to retain high-performing employees:

1. Mobile-friendly training formats engage younger workers

The average age of restaurant employees skews to the student-age population, with almost 33% of teen summer jobs falling into the restaurant industry. On top of that, according to the American Community Survey (ACS), 27% of restaurant employees are enrolled in school.

What’s this got to do with how your company approaches training and development? Everything! Because it’s one thing to offer training and development to check the boxes on your HR to-do list, but it’s another thing entirely to put a system in place that delivers training in the most effective possible format for your employee demographics.

When you offer training and development programs that employees want to use, professional development becomes something employees can easily access, look forward to consuming, and immediately apply to their day-to-day work. For younger employees and employees going to school in today’s modern learning environments – 94% of whom use smartphones – that means an approach to training that is native to mobile devices and tablets and uses educational best practices like microlearning, gamification, and even social media to achieve the most meaningful results.

Wisetail LMS partner Farmer's Table bartender.

2. Clearly identified paths of advancement encourage employee loyalty

If your employees don’t have a positive onboarding experience or a clearly identified opportunity for continued growth, is it any wonder they end up assuming that “one restaurant is as good as another” and become candidates for being poached for a slightly higher hourly wage? We think not. That’s why one of the most powerful ways to encourage employee loyalty – and directly impact your retention and turnover rates – is to proactively invest in your employee’s future with your company and develop a training resource that makes it perfectly transparent how an employee can grow within your organization.

So, we have to ask: how does your current training and development prepare employees for their job at your restaurant both today and tomorrow? Are you offering training and development opportunities that give employees valuable skills and show them how they can grow and stretch within your company?

Employees will only become as invested in their employer as their employer is in them, so it’s up to you to set the bar high. You won’t be alone in prioritizing career pathing for hourly employees: national food service and retail brands across the country like Starbucks and Walmart are tapping into this strategy, offering training, mentoring, career tracking, and education benefits to part-time and full-time workers alike. And they’re seeing incredible results, as in the example of Walmart’s $5 billion end-of-year boost creating 200 management-track training programs and increasing their minimum wage.

3. Well-trained peers build community and encourage each other from day one

Most restaurants focus on training and development opportunities that unlock the potential of the individual employee, and that’s a strong first step. But what creates a truly sticky culture is when your training and development opportunities go beyond getting employees to complete required training content to allow them to engage in a wider community of learning. We’re not talking about a yearly one-off LMS promotion to drive a quick boost in sign-ons and engagement, but rather a sustainable approach to learning that is deeply connected to your wider culture and community strategy.

We’ve come to see that great things can happen when teammates voluntarily sign into the company’s LMS to spend time learning about their job, their co-workers, and their company:

  • New employees can get up to speed and achieve productivity faster (as well as ensure seamless processes and guest experiences across all locations) because they’re a part of a community that naturally reinforces learnings through social interactions
  • Companies can more easily scale the onboarding and training experience because the LMS acts as an on-demand, accessible portal for all culture-related information about your company at the click of a button – particularly helpful if your company experiences a merger or acquisition
  • With access to a digital “common space,” learning and professional growth become shared community interests that build camaraderie and encourage a deeper commitment to the job and the people

If your training and development process is designed only to get your restaurant employees up to speed and out on the floor in a flash, is it any wonder they don’t feel compelled to stick around when they’re offered a slightly better opportunity somewhere else? Tap into the potential of your LMS to build more meaningful community and you’ll find it’s easier than ever to recruit and retain high-performing restaurant employees.


Sarah is a writer for Wisetail. By analyzing and condensing cutting-edge research and data, she helps L&D professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and training. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR.