Restaurant employee turnover dwarfs other industries’ churn rate: roughly 70% annually. Fortunately, each restaurant is more than a statistic and owners have tools to bring their own employee turnover rate down. Creating a positive workplace culture is an important tool in any owner’s toolbox, and there’s an often overlooked way to enhance company culture and decrease churn at the same time: the exit interview.
Exit interviews can be challenging for a number of reasons. Departing staff may not feel like having a heart-to-heart with you. Some operators consider any more time spent with staff so disgruntled they’ve quit a bad investment. But the insights you can get from these conversations are pure gold when it comes to reducing employee turnover and creating the culture you want. It can show the gap between what you want for your company culture and what team members experience on the job.
If you aren’t having formal exit interviews with every departing employee, here’s what you need to know to get started and to get the most out of these important conversations.
What are exit interviews?
Exit interviews are common in the corporate world, but if you’ve always worked in the restaurant industry, you may not be familiar with them. An exit interview is exactly what it sounds like: a conversation you have with a team member who quit. (You can try to have an exit interview with an employee fired for cause, but these discussions are much less fruitful even if they are possible.)
The exit interview shouldn’t be a casual chat. The best ones are based on a structured set of questions you ask every employee when they decide to move on. Recording these answers creates a robust data set that can guide your policies and procedures over time. If you take it seriously it can be a secret sauce for creating a positive work environment and dramatically reducing turnover.
Why should I do exit interviews?
There are two important reasons to conduct exit interviews that will give you short-term results.
First of all, exit interviews can reveal problems you didn’t know about so you can fix them immediately. You might find out there’s a problem with the scheduling system or a specific manager. You could learn that another restaurant is offering skilled line cooks just a little bit more pay than you are. These are sometimes things that can be addressed and resolved quickly.
Exit interviews also offer the opportunity to cement a positive relationship with someone who is moving on. When people leave on good terms, they’re more likely to apply for another job with you in the future and recommend your restaurant as a good place to work to their friends.
Who should conduct an exit interview?
Depending on the size of the company, an exit interview could be conducted by a manager, the director of operations, or someone dedicated to human resources. For many small independent restaurants, the job of the exit interview will likely fall to the owner.
How should you do an exit interview?
There are several ways to do an exit interview. If you can, be flexible about how you offer people the opportunity to give feedback. Convenience will play a role and so will personal preferences. Here are your choices
A face-to-face sit-down interview is the gold standard. This setting allows you to create a rapport with the employee. You can observe nonverbal cues like eye contact and body language. Most people feel more comfortable and open up more during an in-person exchange.
With the increased number of video meetings over the past few years, this is a good second choice if scheduling prevents an in-person meeting. It offers many of the same benefits and the additional perk of being able to capture a recording so you can refer back to it if needed (be sure to ask permission before recording anyone).
Many businesses send a survey for employees to complete. This has some benefits–it requires less effort for both the restaurant owner and the employee–but you’re unlikely to get the same kind of rich qualitative data you would in a face-to-face interview.
Don’t delay scheduling the exit interview. Do it as soon as the employee puts in their notice. Whatever caused them to move will be fresh in their mind, so you can get the best information. You’re also much more likely to have access to them while they are still working for your restaurant.
How to capture data
If you create an online survey using a tool like Survey Monkey or Google Forms, the data will be captured for you in an easy-to-use format. Video calls can be recorded, but you’ll need to comb through them after the fact and transfer the responses to a spreadsheet, database, or file.
However, if you do in-person interviews you can’t expect to remember everything that’s said. You’ll need to take notes, or better yet, ask another trusted team member to attend the interview, especially to take notes so you don’t lose any valuable insights.
What to do with feedback
It takes courage to conduct exit interviews because inevitably you’ll hear things you don’t like. When a departing team member tells you something negative about another employee, it’s important to remember you’ve heard only one side of the story.
Refrain from taking any kind of retaliatory action following an exit interview. Not only does this damage a workplace culture, but you can also open yourself to legal problems. Instead, have a conversation with the other employee. Keep it general instead of specific. Another option is to turn it into a learning moment for the entire team rather than singling out one person. If you don’t keep what’s said in exit interviews confidential, people won’t tell you the truth in them.
You’ll also hear plenty of good news during exit interviews. The things that make your restaurant a good place to work will become obvious as more and more people mention them. Lean into these things and promote them internally. Playing to your strengths is a great way to make a good company culture even better.
Now that you know how important exit interviews are to fostering a magnetic company culture and cutting down on employee turnover, it’s time to put an exit interview script or questionnaire together. The questions should be designed to address your specific goals, but we created a script with 13 questions to get you started.
[NAME], thank you for sitting down with me today to talk a little bit about your time here. Please feel free to skip any question you don’t want to talk about. This shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes–does that work for you?
Great, let’s get started:
- How would you describe our company culture?
- What made you decide to move on from your role? Was there a specific event?
- Did you talk to anyone here about what could make you want to stay before deciding to move on? How did they respond?
- Looking back to when you started with us, how would you describe your onboarding experience or training? What would have made it more helpful?
- How do you think training could be improved?
- How would you describe your work/life balance in this role?
- Did you have opportunities to grow here? What kinds of career opportunities interest you?
- Overall, what are three things could we be doing better to support the team?
- What did you like about working with the team here?
- Is there a specific benefit we could have offered that would have prevented you from moving on?
- What was your least favorite thing about working here?
- What other advice would you have for us?
- Is there anything specific we could be doing to boost morale?
Thank you again for your time today. I have enjoyed working with you and I hope if you’re looking to change roles in the future that you’ll let me know. And please spread the word that we’re hiring. We appreciate any referrals and we hope you feel good about sending people our way.
Good luck in your new role and please keep in touch.