FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT: Profits say a lot about a business, but an employee survey may say more.

Jan. 5, 2004

Ever wonder what your employees think about working in your restaurant?

If not, you should. It's one of the most valuable things you can know.

If your people are less than satisfied with their jobs, it can cost you plenty in a host of ways, including absenteeism, high turnover, low productivity and more. Unhappiness with supervisors, management styles, training, working conditions, lack of supplies and poor equipment can all be reasons your employees may not be doing their best--even looking elsewhere for employment.

Being in the hospitality industry, restaurants need happy employees even more than they need good food. Unhappy and dissatisfied employees are not only more likely to leave you, but while they remain on your staff, they're more likely to have less-than-positive interactions with your guests.

Customer surveys reveal that the number-one reason people don't return to a restaurant is because of an attitude of indifference on the part of an employee. The last thing your restaurant needs is employees with negative attitudes.

What's the matter?

Many restaurants conduct employee satisfaction surveys to get an accurate sense of what their people feel about their jobs, how they're being treated and the overall working environment. Here's an overview of how to administer such a survey and how to get the most benefit from engaging in this process.

* Survey questions should get to the heart of the working environment issues that have the highest potential for causing job dissatisfaction. These would include:

· recognition for good work

· adequacy of training

· management style of supervisors

· level of teamwork

· tools and resources available to do a good job

· sense of involvement in the business

· how much management cares about employees

· quality of communication between management and staff

It's important to make the survey as short and precise as possible. Design it so you get the information you need in a format that will take no longer than 15 to 20 minutes to complete.

The most effective way to get that done is in a department meeting or one all-staff meeting. Have the surveys ready to be completed during that time.

When you introduce the idea of the survey, you're bound to get some questions. Here are some positive, suggested answers:

· What's going on? "We are conducting an employee satisfaction survey."

· Why? "To be a successful restaurant, it's important for us (in management) to know what you think about your jobs and to gauge your level of satisfaction with working here."

· If I'm frank with the truth, will anyone in management be mad at me? "The survey is returned without names and kept confidential." Assure employees that they will not be asked to sign the surveys and their responses will be held in the strictest confidence.

· How will the results be used? Tell them that the goal of making this a better place to work and the potential benefits for the employees. This will make your people more eager to respond.

· How long will the survey take to complete. Emphasize that it will be short, to the point and take less than 20 minutes.

· Once the boss has the answers, then what? Promise to schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss the results and propose ways to correct any shortcomings.

· Thank the employees. Thank your people for their time, participation and honest responses.

Interpreting the Results

Tally the results of each question and look for patterns and obvious areas of discontent or problems. Look for two things in particular:

1. Problems or issues contributing the most to an obvious area of discontent. For example, a management style that's causing people to feel unappreciated or feel their hard work goes unnoticed.

2. Problems or issues that would be easy to fix, such as constantly running out of supplies like glasses, ramekins or dishes.

Make a list of those issues most responsible for causing any areas of discontent and make recommendations of what actions to take to improve these situations.

Sharing the Results

It's very important to share the results of the survey with your employees in a timely manner. One of the biggest mistakes companies make in the survey process is failing to communicate to everyone the results of the survey and what actions are planned to improve weak areas. I cannot stress this enough: People need to know the results of the survey, what you plan to do with the information and that their time in completing it was well spent.

Here are some basic principles for sharing the results of the employee survey:

· Be timely. The quicker you interpret the results of the survey and share the results with your people, the better.

· Be candid and direct. Tell your people what they collectively said the company is doing well, and say where the staff believed improvements could be made.

· Tell what will happen next. After you discuss the results, let people know what action the company is taking to make corrections or improvements.

· Ask for suggestions. If appropriate, ask your people for suggestions for improvement in certain areas.

Acting on the Results

If you don't plan to take action based on the survey results then don't conduct an employee satisfaction survey. You're better off doing nothing than beginning the process and failing to improve on weak areas.

On areas that need improvement, pull your management team together to brainstorm possible action plans. In restaurants where this sort of involvement has never occurred, owners are almost always amazed at the positive energy and the creative ideas that result from involving people in the process.

Conducting the Next Employee Satisfaction Survey

Employee satisfaction levels can ebb and flow based on a number of constantly changing factors. Many companies conduct employee satisfaction surveys on a regular basis to stay abreast of their employees' level of satisfaction.

Surveying on an annual basis appears to be enough time for corrective action to be taken from the prior survey and the results of those actions to be fully integrated into the organization. Annual surveys provide feedback with how well the prior year's changes were received and also reveal new weaknesses that may now exist.


Think of the potential benefits for you and your business with a staff of happier, more satisfied employees. Less turnover, more teamwork and better customer service are just a few of the possibilities. If you're serious about creating a more positive and productive working environment, consider conducting an employee satisfaction survey with your people. If could be a major step in the direction of creating a better restaurant and more successful business.

Members of Jim's Web site,, can download employee satisfaction survey templates designed specifically for independent restaurants. For more information, visit

Topics: Financial Management

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