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In exchange for their loyalty, on-property staff want to be heard, respected and given access to better benefits.

waiter and waitressHospitality Technology
Give Employees A Reason To Stay
By Michal Christine Escobar
May 17, 2023

For Tia Morris, Service Director at City Winery in Atlanta, the biggest challenge is not hiring, but retaining employees. “The challenge for me is that people actually feel like they don’t need a job. They’re OK with quitting. Back in the day, other people would get hired and they would retain the job just due to the fact that they needed the job.” To help combat this, City Winery works to “create a positive, welcoming work environment for staff – an environment they can learn.”To lower turnover rates and create a work environment that employees run to instead of run from, consider the following five benefits.

The Attraction to Instant Pay & Digital Tipping

With the cost of food, rent and other necessities continuing to rise, hourly workers are looking for competitive wages. And while offering higher hourly pay could attract workers, access to instant or daily pay options will help retain them. Providing early access to earned wages is one way that many hotels and restaurants are helping smooth out cash flow issues that employees may face.

That’s exactly what Black Bear Diner discovered.

Black Bear Diner has rolled out a number of tech initiatives aimed at further improving and elevating employee hiring, engagement, training and retention.

One of these initiatives is DailyPay, a tech provider that enables back-of-house, hourly team members to receive up to a certain amount of their pay daily, rather than waiting for their full paycheck.

“Since rolling DailyPay out, we have seen an incredibly positive reaction,” said Tammy Johns, Chief People Officer, at Black Bear Diner. “In fact, as a result of the team member response, we are currently exploring offering DailyPay to tipped, front-of-house team members as well in hopes of further increasing retention rates across the board.”

It’s a benefit that is catching on with hourly hospitality workers.

“Hospitality and restaurant workers are increasingly looking for flexible payment options,” explains Darlene Miranda, VP and General Manager of Enterprise Product, DailyPay. “They’re looking for visibility and control over their pay more than ever. They almost demand […] access to their pay immediately after working a shift so that they can pay their bills, spend, save, and invest on their own schedule.”

recent whitepaper from ADP found that 93 percent of employers who offer earned wage access say that it helps them to retain talent. And DailyPay found that the average tenure of employees who used their on-demand payment service increased 27 percent (or an additional 39 days on the job) over non-users.

Access to earned wages isn’t the only financial way to help retain talent. Hospitality employees depend on tips, but workers are often finding their tipped wages are significantly lower than they were pre-pandemic as more guests go cashless. To  help employees get their hard earned tips, several restaurant brands have added digital tipping, including Chipotle and Jersey Mike’s and Starbucks. Mobile tipping is just one of several moves the coffee company has made in recent months to focus on its ongoing goal of improving the employee experience. This focus on the employee experience seems to be working out well for the brand as it has been able to reduce barista turnover rates by more than 9% from a high in March Q2 fiscal year 2022, said CEO Laxman Narasimhan during a May 2 earnings call with analysts.

On the hotel side, BWH Hotels also offers digital tipping for employees.

“We have been receiving an overwhelmingly positive response from our hoteliers since we launched our eTip pilot program in a select group of hotels late last year,” notes Michael Morton, Vice President of Brand Management for BWH Hotels. “They are reporting that it has been a huge success with the staff because guests have been more inclined to leave tips when they see the in-room eTip card with QR code. Speaking specifically to staff retention, our hoteliers are telling us they have seen a decrease in team members leaving to look for higher-paying jobs, because they are making more in tips as a result of this program. One of our hoteliers said that not only do his employees want to stay, but they are recommending his hotels to friends as a great place to work.”

And some digital tipping solutions even allow guests to send along a note of appreciation to go with their tip, says Harman Singh Narula, Co-founder and principal, Canary Technologies.

“This might seem like a small thing, but everyone wants to feel like they’re doing a good job and regular positive reinforcement can be a big help in keeping people at their posts,” he adds.

Publicly Recognize Their Hard Work

In fact, employee recognition for their hard work and dedication is so important, that one company has created a tool to help employees easily receive that valuable feedback.

Technology platform Grata – through a variety of methods including QR codes, SMS messaging, or NFC link – allows customers to instantly recognize an exceptional service experience.

“During a time when hourly workers often feel unappreciated and ‘not seen,’ the Grata technology captures and retains all positive notes of appreciation from those with whom they interacted during their workday,” says Patrick Brandt, CEO of Grata. “Service workers feel validated and appreciated for their hard work while they are simultaneously building brand loyalty for themselves and their employers.”

By making it easy for customers to praise employees for excellent service, frontline workers receive instant praise, management identifies their best workers, and the entire customer experience is elevated, he adds. This data can then be used to recognize, reward, and build reputations for the hospitality employees and the brands they represent.

While not a Grata customer, the Hilton Madison Monona Terrace has an entire program of its own dedicated to employee recognition.

“We’ve also found recognition is a great way of retaining staff,” Morrison says. “We have incentive programs that recognize those mentioned positively in reviews or surveys to encourage associates to continue offering great customer service. As operators, we want to hire associates that want to serve our guests to the best of their availability, not individuals that feel it’s only about a paycheck.”

Provide Physical & Mental Health Benefits

When it comes to retaining employees, hotels and restaurant brands should seriously consider investing in physical and mental health benefits.

“Research has shown that concerns about healthcare are one of the top workplace stressors, so offering competitive health insurance options can be a great tool for attracting and retaining talent,” notes Brittany Schmaling, Senior Data Analyst, Ceridian. “Benefits like paid sick leave and paid time off can also make hotels and restaurants more attractive employers and drive improved retention. Managers can leverage reliable data to predict staffing needs and even protect employees from burnout by tracking time off.”

Noodles & Company is one brand taking the mental health of its associates seriously. It offers its team members wellness, counseling and other support at no cost to them through LifeWorks. Through this benefit, team members can access 24/7 mental wellness and counseling support; legal support; financial counseling; and much more.

“With a culture focused on Uncommon Goodness, we believe that mental wellness starts from the inside out,” said Stacey Pool, Chief Marketing Officer at Noodles & Company. “I believe that the best thing anyone can do for themselves is to invest in their mental health, and therapy can be an impactful part of that journey.”

Good mental health also means creating a safe and inviting place to work, says Maggie Smith, PHR, SHRM-CP, Vice President of Human Resources at Traliant. Employers should ask themselves, do my employees feel safe enough to speak up, raise concerns, offer ideas, voice an opinion, admit mistakes and ask for help without facing negative consequences? Traliant found that benefits of a psychologically safe workplace include lower employee turnover, higher team performance metrics, more creative problem solving, better customer service, and greater willingness to work overtime or stick it out with the company during uncertain times.

“Associates want their voices and recommendations to be heard, as most associates want to work for employers that value their input,” Morrison says. “General Manager roundtable discussions, all-associate rallies, […] DEI surveys and associate opinion surveys often help us to better understand the wants and needs of our associates. It is a great way to help them feel heard and can also contribute to bigger positive changes.”

Overworked Associates Want Robotic Help

As the labor shortage in hospitality continues, hourly workers are feeling the strain. A few years ago, robots as restaurant servers or housekeeping aids were often viewed by employees with fear as they wondered if they’d lose their job to a robot. Today, however, employees with robotic “colleagues” are often very grateful for the help they provide.

“General managers of hotels tell us that hourly workers want more flexibility and autonomy in their jobs and place a higher value on work-life balance, benefits, and job security than ever before,” notes Michael O’Donnell, Chairman & CEO, Relay Robotics. “This has led to an increase in demands for better pay and working conditions. Service Delivery Robots help hotel managers meet these growing requests. They can lift the loads and spirits of burdened hotel workers, allowing them to work at the top of their license.”

Not only can robots alleviate some of the workload for hourly workers, but they can also help these same workers gain more job satisfaction by allowing them to focus on more highly skilled customer facing jobs.

“People in service roles are looking for more fulfillment in their jobs,” notes Brady Watkins, President of SoftBank Robotics America. “They don’t want to do the menial repetitive tasks they’ve been doing before like vacuuming, bussing tables and disinfecting. To retain workers, hospitality companies need to make their employees feel supported and give them opportunities to upskill,” he adds. “This can be done by alleviating the burden of repetitive tasks and investing in solutions that automate these tasks so employees can focus on higher level, customer facing jobs that increase job satisfaction and drive revenue.”

The Hilton Madison Monona Terrace recently added a robot named Munson to its team. Munson helps out staff in a variety of ways. For instance, it can take bussed items back to the dish pit area, deliver food to a table if the server is tied up with another guest, serve guests in the lobby a snack during high traffic periods, serve appetizers to guests during an event, or deliver food to a buffet line that is in need of replenishment.

“Munson isn’t here to take away jobs,” Morrison explains. “It’s here to create greater efficiencies and assist our associates so they can deliver highly personalized service to our guests. We’ve had newer associates say they LOVE the robot. It can even help with recruiting as people want to be at a property that values innovation.”

Don’t Forget Scheduling Flexibility

Salaried and corporate workers got to work from home during the pandemic, but hotel and restaurant workers didn’t. And while it’s still not possible to serve hamburgers from the comfort of your bedroom, hospitality workers are looking for greater shift scheduling flexibility from their employers.

“Avoiding employee  turnover is important to us,” said Nuria Bernat, Director of Operations at Sweet Accommodations in Barcelona.  When possible, Sweet Accommodations lets guest experience staff work from home. Using the cloud-based platform Cloudbeds, “We’ve switched over to digital check-ins for many of our properties, which has helped to reduce the time we’ve needed for traditional reception work by two full work days,” explained Bernat.  “But we didn’t reduce our receptionist’s hours. Instead we changed her position to guest experience manager, and her job is to check on the guests, offer tips and advice, and arrange custom experiences and tours for our guests in the city. She even leads some of those tours. This helps with retention, because who wouldn’t want to be paid to do fun activities with guests? I’m happy to say that in the last three years, we’ve only had one person resign.”

More employees are demanding a good work-life balance. At The Landings Club’s eight restaurants, FOH and BOH operations are rolled into the UKG scheduler, where each team member can go in and write their ideal schedule, post open shifts in the app or pickup extra work, explains Josh Page, assistant director of food and beverage.

“Our hourly associates are looking for and expect a good work/life balance,” Morrison says. “To better accommodate our staff’s needs, Hilton Madison Monona Terrace is finding ways to be flexible with scheduling. This includes offering more part-time opportunities and on call help. Shift start times and end times have also been an area where we have better accommodated our hourly associates.”

Retaining hourly workers in the hotel and restaurant industries used to be a fairly simple equation: decent pay and a decent manager. But in a post-pandemic world, that equation no longer inspires loyalty. On-property staff are looking for far more, from scheduling flexibility to mental health benefits to digital tipping. But it’s not just about the benefits. They’re also looking to work in a safe place where they feel heard and respected.

“At Hilton Madison Monona Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin, our hourly associates – now more than ever – are looking to be part of something bigger. They want to be heard and want to feel like they are contributing to the success of the operation while also being challenged,” says General Manager Derek Morrison.