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Inaugural Juan's Flying Burrito Blog

Employee Retention Blog

COVID afforded many people working in the service industry a chance to explore other career paths.  Closures and reductions of hours related to occupancy restrictions and social distancing pushed career restaurant and bar employees to seek other avenues of compensation.  We have seen several start their own businesses, or enroll in undergraduate or graduate programs that became increasingly accessible due to distance learning environments.  The suspension of in-person learning for pre-k to 12 pushed many caretakers, both hospitality and otherwise, out of the workforce and into the home.  These vacated positions in all industries allowed for numerous opportunities to earn a living outside the walls of our industry.


Service industry work, under normal circumstances, is a taxing environment.  Interpersonal interaction in every direction can exhaust even the most outgoing person. The long hours on your feet, the hot kitchen, the heavy lifting, it all takes a toll.  Toss in a long-standing culture of the swashbuckling, scallywag restaurant veteran, walking with a pocketful of cash and a sea of enticing venues to enjoy the company of the other spattered tattered soldiers of the night-time weekend dinner rush, and you have an un-rested, tested, disrespected, toxin-ingested, abused and used staff.  It's truly no wonder at all that we as restaurateurs experienced an exodus throughout the pandemic.


The shutdown gave my partners and I the chance to really think about who we are as employers and what our responsibilities are to our staff.  Naturally, safety was top-of-mind, as we watched rates of infection climb.  Could we sell food and drink safely?  Could we sell food and drink with fewer staff?  Could they maintain social distancing and still be efficient?  The second responsibility was the most basic relationship we offer, a day's work for a day's pay.  How do we preserve the ability for the staff to earn a living in this climate?  Is the pay scale equitable in relation to other positions both within our indusry and outside it?


Operating safely and still earning a living for all involved was clearly a priority, and it became even clearer that work could be done to make our company more attractive to not just our own staff, but to other restaurant and bar employees.  We also discovered we could take it a step further and begin to compete with jobs ouside of hospitality, as well.  It all came down to those 2 tenets we identified early on:  safety, and ability to earn.


Let's start with keeping people safe.  There is more than one way to look at having a safe workspace.  One side is incredibly black and white, where you keep staff free from physical harm with well-maintained premises, and proper tools and training.  This kind of safety is not a real brain-buster.  Most municipalities have very specific rules to adhere to, or guidelines to follow, regarding fire safety, lighting, flooring, equipment, you name it.  Be a good operator and take care of your physical space, and generally this kind of safe can be attained.


The second side of having a safe workplace should be just as black and white, but to be successful, you need to see the gray.  There are numerous definitions of harassment, and many of them are truly obvious, such as "don't hit" and "watch your mouth."  However, there are so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways for a team member to feel harassed, and the number one tool is a culture of acceptance and tolerance.  The ability to listen to staff issues as they arise with an open mind can make the difference between being dismissive of what may seem like clashing personalities, versus identifying behavior that does not fit the culture of the company.  An unsafe team member is not afforded either of the 2 tenets we identified, since it is hard to be able to do your best work when energy is consumed by feeling unsafe.


Also tied to safety is the physical and mental well-being of the staff.  We found a few simple ways to do this.  It was clear from the get-go that the COVID precautions would make even the most normal of routines more stressful, that everything would take longer, everything would cost more, everything would be a little different.  Our first move was to reduce the length of the shifts, so staff could get home at a reasonable hour, be able to get rest, and feel like they had the time to care for themselves physically and emotionally.  We closed a day or two a week to give everyone (ourselves as owner/operators included) a chance to reset.  We very slightly changed our long-standing industry-wide position of "the customer is always right" to "please respect our employees as they do their very best to serve you" to address the small but loud segment of the population that loves to upset the apple cart.  We listened to our staff and their concerns as things reopened, happily finding ourselves way down on the cautious end of the spectrum regarding maximum occupancy.  


To stay competitive beyond the pandemic, we expanded our benefits.  We provide $25,000 in life insurance for all staff who work at least 20 hours a week, completely free of charge.  On top of that, we provide a $150 monthly credit towards the purchase of the other company benefits, including major medical, dental with orthodontics, vision, and additional voluntary life up to $100,000 per employee and $50,000 per spouse.  We provide paid time off for all staff, employees enjoy a shift meal allowance, and we reimburse $50 towards the purchase of slip-resistant footwear.  Our benefits encompass both tenets, providing improved compensation as well as better health and personal safety.


A day's work for a day's pay.  It sounds so simple, but we all know it is not as simple as that.  We know that compensation is a huge piece of the puzzle, but equally as important is regular feedback.  As a team member, it is important to know what tools are needed to continue to grow in the workplace.  Regular one-on-one reviews are part and parcel to that.  Sometimes a review will give a team member the chance to offer their own feedback to management, which is incredibly invaluable, and points back to the ability to listen to staff as a valuable part of Juan's culture.  Sometimes reviews are opportunities for advancement.  Reviews are always part of the employee retention program.  It is incredibly important for team members to know exactly where they stand with their supervisors, and our review processes provide that regularly throughout the year.


When I sat down to write our inaugural Juan's blog post, I really wanted to talk about all the things we did to improve employee retention.  Ultimately, it turned into a big humblebrag for the company, and that really was not my intent.  I sat here for a while, reading and re-reading, and to be perfectly honest, I'm proud to be the company we are. Healthier, wealthier, happier.  I love our Juan's fam, I love how outgoing and involved Juan's is, I love how my partners and I can be arm's-length, but still open-armed.  It's a delicate dance, but luckily our dance partners have some funky fresh moves and can feel the beat.