Whether you’re a small pizza business or a large company, good customer service is the key to success. Without enough well-trained and professional employees, however, it’s impossible to give good customer service. What’s more, if an employee isn’t happy, they won’t stay in their position. According to Nation’s Restaurant News, “In 2022, full service witnessed a 14% increase in turnover compared to 2019. Limited-service restaurants saw a whopping 24% spike. Each quarter in 2023 saw a gradual decline in turnover, but it was still higher than pre-pandemic norms.”

I’ve got more than a half-century of experience in the restaurant industry, and over the years, I’ve experienced common pitfalls that I’ve learned to avoid. In fact, I’ve even written a book called My Name is Joe And I AM A Pizza Man, which shares my entire professional journey—from arriving as an immigrant to New York when I was 16, to exceeding my dreams by owning and operating various restaurant concepts. I am now the owner of the renowned Washington, D.C. landmark Il Canale (Yelp’s No. 14 in the Top 100 Pizza Spots in the U.S. for 2024) and A Modo Mio (featured in 50 Top Pizza as having one of best 50 pizzas in the U.S. for 2023) in Virginia.

Those of us who work in the business know that when you trust an employee and treat them well, yet for some reason they leave, it can be hard to bounce back. You suffer three times: once with the loss of the employee whom you believed in, the second time from being understaffed, and a third time for having to replace and train someone to fill their position. Even now, it always hurts me to lose an employee, not because of money, but because they decide to leave to move on with their life. In my personal experience, I can honestly say that they usually have come back. Nevertheless, it still creates a lot of additional work and problems. When people do come back, there are mixed feelings, and I have to rebuild the professional relationship from scratch. Sometimes you can’t re-establish the same rapport as you had previously. For this reason, I do everything in my power to retain happy employees.

Related: Joe Farruggio pens a memoir about his life as a “pizza man”

By employing the strategies in this article, you’ll also be able to ensure that your employees are happy and made to feel like a top priority—whether you are physically present or not. When you are starting a business, or going through changes, there are always ups and downs, but if you follow these principles, you’ll eventually get the right staff together, and keep them. And when you finally get the right employees to work in each of their respective positions, it really changes things. I’m extremely proud of my teams in each of my concepts. They, along with my customers, are the ones who are responsible for helping my American dream come true.

If you’re interested in reducing turnover, here are 7 steps to take:

1. Keep your employees happy and treat them as individuals. In the restaurant business, you and your employees are working in close conditions and spend a lot of time together. For this reason, I like to treat employees as if they are a part of my family. It’s important to get to know them to find out what drives them to perform their best. Some people are driven by money alone, others like recognition, while some enjoy learning and growing. You may have employees who like all three. Taking the time to treat people as individuals by finding out what inspires them will help them to feel and perform their best at work.

Another important thing to consider is that sometimes your employees are your family. While this scenario provides built-in trust, commonalities and familiarity, it can also create some additional challenges. Just because your employees are family members doesn’t mean that they have the same vision, dreams, goals and work ethic that you do. You still must put in the same amount of effort to make them as happy as you would a stranger, sometimes even more. It’s important to treat family member employees equally and as well as the others so that they don’t feel taken for granted.

2. Offer profit sharing. I like to help my employees earn more money than an average job with profit bonus sharing. I wish that every restaurant would do that because it improves production and makes employees happy. We take a percentage of our profit and give it to the salaried and hourly employees along with bonuses. This can be worked into a business plan. I split 20% of my non-tipped employees. I have been doing this for 10 years, and I have dishwashers and others who stayed with me far above average for that reason. This improves people’s lives and is a policy I would like to enforce everywhere.

3. Pay them well. One time I had an employee who was having a difficult time, and everyone wanted to fire him. When I learned what he was going through in life, I increased his pay, and nowadays he’s one of my best employees. He treats our customers beautifully, as if it’s his own restaurant. That’s the difference between my style and the style of someone who opens a restaurant only to get rich without caring about employees.

4. Treat employees like partners. I believe that what I started at Il Canale was a business in which I could make my family equal partners with me. When the family left the business, however, I realized that I need to make sure that my new employees earned well and were treated like family so that they would be motivated to do well. This is the way in which I motivate my staff. Many employers hire people for only the one job that they are trying to fill, but I hire with my future needs in mind. We’re working for the same purpose, to make customers happy and to make a profit. It’s a win-win for everyone.

5. Hire for the future. I try to hire partners, or people who could potentially become partners, instead of hiring people to stay in assistant or managerial positions. I tell everyone that that is my goal when I hire them, that they should plan on moving up. I don’t see my staff as labor; I see my staff as people who are part of the future of my restaurants.

6. Don’t overwork people. Our industry is notorious for having salaried people work ridiculous hours. I don’t allow managers to work more than 45–50 hours, because it becomes unproductive. I don’t think an owner should be in their own restaurant any more than that either. One productive person is better than two that aren’t productive.

7. Communicate and care. Often people go through a period of family diseases, sickness, etc. There can be a time when you lose a good employee because you don’t understand what they’re going through. It’s important to communicate with people so that you can understand them and help them out when times are tough. This not only helps you to retain employees but increases a sense of loyalty as well.

Award-winning restaurateur/pizzaiolo/chef Joe (Giuseppe) Farruggio was born and raised in beautiful Agrigento, Sicily. With more than 54 years of restaurant, entrepreneurial, and culinary experience, he is now the owner of the renowned Washington, D.C. landmark Il Canale (No. 14 on Yelp’s “Top Pizza Spots in the USA, 2024)), as well as the rapidly expanding 90 Second Pizza concept and A Modo Mio (featured in 50 Top Pizza as having one of best 50 pizzas in the U.S.) in Virginia. A key player in the D.C. restaurant scene since 1978, he started by working in a pizzeria in New York in 1970, just five days after he came from Italy on a ship called Michelangelo with his family. My Name Is Joe And I Am A Pizza Man, Farruggio’s first book, is a memoir co-written with award-winning, best-selling author Thierry Sagnier. In addition to telling the quintessential story of an immigrant achieving the American dream, it offers valuable lessons for restaurateurs and pizzaioli searching to make their dreams come true. Equally inspirational and thought-evoking, Farruggio’s biography will motivate readers to follow their passions while increasing their profits. When he is not working, running or spending time with family, Farruggio enjoys sharing his life and business lessons with students and entrepreneurs of all ages.