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Local Restaurant Industry Study Shows 90% Employee Turnover Rates

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And more insider details

Andreas Klinke Johannsen/Flickr

A recent study conducted by the restaurant industry job listing and hiring platform site Instawork holds illuminating (but also obvious to anyone who works in a restaurant) details about the local climate for restaurant workers, revealing startlingly high turnover rates especially among line cooks and other back of the house workers. The study was released as part of a recent panel discussion hosted by Yelp — a company chefs and restaurateurs view with, er, mixed feelings — whose goal was to outline solutions to what many industry leaders see as an outright hiring crisis.

Turnover rates among restaurant workers in the Bay Area weren’t even across the board: Instead, they were 90 to 120 percent for back of house staff and far lower — 50 to 80 percent — for front of house workers. For context, overall national restaurant industry turnover was a little over 70 percent last year according to the National Restaurant Association.

Julie Howe, an HR director at the local Indian restaurant chain DOSA who sat on the panel, argued that the greatest challenge in terms of worker retention is scheduling. According to the study, back of the house workers in the Bay Area have 2.3 jobs at a time on average. Since it’s tough to juggle different jobs and shifts, Howe suggested that restaurants need to create flexible scheduling for their employees in order to keep them. And, just in case of absences, the more workers who can be cross-trained to perform different jobs in a pinch, the better.

According to Instawork’s data, the hardest positions to fill at restaurants are line cooks, dishwashers, and hosts and hostesses. To attract and retain workers in that last group, Howe suggested one solution that’s been positive at DOSA: Adding hosts or hostesses to the tip pool, from which they’re often excluded.

Instawork’s panel, it should come as no surprise, plugged its own platform as a useful tool in combatting the challenges of hiring. Yelp’s role in the discussion, which it hosted at its headquarters, was less clear — perhaps a (rare) opportunity to cast itself as an unequivocal friend to the restaurant industry.

But are Instawork’s features — like faster interview scheduling and replacements for that old-school “help wanted” sign with a “text to apply” poster — really silver bullets in the hiring crisis? After all, one of the tenants of the study was the suggestion that long commutes deter employees. As housing costs rise precipitously in urban areas like San Francisco and Oakland, hiring challenges aren’t going away anytime soon.