Restaurant Exit interviews – Boosting Restaurant Success

A diner’s first experience and impression with your restaurant lies in the hands of your employees. They are the first faces they see and people they will interact with. Without a doubt, employees shape the expression on the face of your restaurant. This expression can change rather quickly however, as restaurateurs here and abroad face an inevitable, resource-intensive issue, people quit; rapid turnover.

Employees will leave your restaurant for an array of reasons. Moving to a new town, going back to school, new career choice, health restrictions, and retirement are just a few of the common reasons people will move on.

If you weren’t aware, you could probably make a close guess that the average restaurant employee lasts less than two months as found in this 2017 data study. In addition, approximately 3 in 10 restauranteurs find job openings difficult to fill which gives evidence to a significant hiring crisis in the modern restaurant industry. It was also found that 36% of restaurant operators in 2017 dubbed staffing as their greatest challenge!

While you may have established some wonderful working-relationships, don’t despair to see them go. This presents a wonderful opportunity for your business to grow via valuable insight to the experience of working for your establishment. So just how can you go about acquiring this insight? A restaurant employee exit interview.

What is an Employee Exit Interview, Why Should You Conduct One?

A strategic exit interview is one of your greatest assets. It can help you understand what brings employees through the door each shift or why they are taking leave. It will clue you in to the perspective of those hot on the grill, pun intended! When done properly, exit interviews prove to serve you fresh intelligence about what does or doesn’t work within your establishment, unseen challenges and opportunities, and how your restaurant stacks against the local competition.

Perhaps you have just experienced an exodus of staff. Are you certainly aware of why they have moved on from your establishment? Conducting an exit interview gives employees a chance to transparently communicate their choice to pack up. Was there a lack of professionalism in management? Maybe management overlooked scheduling concerns or failed to recognize a job well done during a late-night reservation

The very interest to conduct an exit interview with genuine concern for employee’s professional well-being will have high chances to yield a willingness to participate and offer valuable information. As stated by the Harvard Business Review, “the exit interview reinforces the values of the organization” and “may be one of the most powerful, yet least understood” of management processes.

Restaurant Exit Interview Technique, Tactic, and Etiquette

An exit interview befits not only your business quality but also the individuals involved.  Here are some main factors to consider when conducting an exit interview.

Take Care in Your Timing

Aim to schedule the exit interview at the halfway point rather than upon given notice when emotions are most likely heightened. This way, both you and the staff member have had time to process the action. But, it happens before they have completely checked out mentally. This will boost the chances of having a candid, sensible conversation.

Treat Outgoing Staff with Respect, No Matter What

The way you conduct yourself and treat your outgoing staff member will challenge your values. It will also speak volumes to that employee, those retained, and others they share with about you and your establishment as a whole. Respect is a foundational building block and should be upheld with the greatest care no matter how frustrated or frank the conversation may be. Create an environment where opinions, ideas, and even frustrations of are valued. This will increase willingness and foster productive, positive feedback for you while earning a potential customer and ambassador. People do not often return to a place of previous employment unless they were able to leave in a positive manner gained by understanding and respect from their employer.

Listen and Invite

Open the interview by informing of your intent to solicit feedback with a commitment to improve the overall restaurant experience for both staff and customers. Discerning the difference between waiting your turn to respond and simply listening to understand will in turn earn you respect and increase the likelihood to hear an open perspective. This is the employee’s chance to be heard, it is your chance to listen and learn from them. Observe their body language as well, as this can communicate much of what may not be said. Upholding a professional, working-relationship pattern should be maintained during an exit interview to support future ambassadorship. So don’t let your emotions get in the way as this experience can feel like losing a friend. Likewise, do inform your outgoing employee of your wish to maintain a good relationship with them after they have left the doors of your establishment.

The Interviewer and the Structure

It has been found that interviews conducted by second or third line managers typically receive more honest feedback because they are one step removed from the employee. Also, outgoing employees feel valued when a person of such position participates in employee relations. This will reflect positively on your establishment values as well.

Structuring these interviews can be done with several methods. Paper and pen surveys, online questionnaires, phone conversations, or personal face-to-face interviews are common options. They are all viable and can all serve to well-retain insight about what it’s like to work in your restaurant. While a face-to-face interview is preferable, consider who you are talking to and the questions you will need to ask. Sometimes, telephone or written interviews can elicit greater honesty. Rather than engaging a standard list of interview questions, consider the unique individuality of each position and employee prior to conducting your interview.  Base your questions around this. Have a few more standard, broad questions which will help to spot trends. Combining both approaches can leave room for unexpected responses and uncover areas of frequent dissatisfaction within your restaurant inner-workings.

4 Standard Questions to shape your interview

As a bonus, we will include some standard questions you can ask your outgoing staff. Keep in mind that the goal of a successful exit interview is measured by positive change it generates for both your business and the individual. 

Why are you leaving your job with us?

Everyone can expect some version of this basic, forthright question. There are many reasons staff pack up and head for the door. While wages or professional treatment can be some of the top reasons, don’t assume or guess. Just ask.

Were you well-equipped to do your job?

This one can uncover much about restaurant policy, management, and procedures. What a person needs to feel adequately equipped for their job is typically specific to them individually. You may hear about things like staff numbers during peak hours, up-to-date technology, and training opportunities provided by your restaurant. 

What skills or qualities should be sought in a replacement?

They know the job best, after all, they were the one performing it! This is also a good time to bestow recognition and appreciation on your outgoing employee for what they have done well; encouraging them as they reflect can jog their mind to specific qualities and skills needed for the job. In turn, you can gather valuable insight to consider for your job posting, putting emphasis on those skills and qualities.

What can we do to improve this restaurant?

Asking this question will likely raise many personal opinions. Asking for suggestions about improvement clearly acknowledges to the outgoing employee that there is room to improve overall quality and experience. It demonstrates humility and willingness to accept feedback about your establishment. When you ask an open ended question, it provides opportunity for the exiting employee to talk about pressing matters at length from their perspective.

We have covered the why and how about implementing exit interviews in your restaurant structure and also some basic questions to get you started. May this also serve as an encouragement to regularly invest in conversation with your employees about their experience working in your restaurant, why they chose to stay with your establishment, and why they may consider leaving. The Exit interview should be a culmination of regular conversations between management and employees. It should focus on retention and ongoing relationship. You can influence the expression your restaurant presents; happiness has a domino effect, aim to be the start.


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