“Good help is hard to find.” We’ve all heard that saying for as long as we can remember. Yet through all of the years and generations it remains true. Changing times and technological advancements have transformed the ways we go about finding staff, but one thing has not changed: the need to retain good pizzeria employees, especially during a pandemic.

Today’s workplace presents a myriad of challenges that employers never encountered even a decade ago. Labor costs are skyrocketing due to drastic increases in minimum wages. Competition for top-notch staff is at an all-time high. Social media presents a “grass is greener over here” scenario to your staff. And whatever the reason may be, there is an undeniable difference between the millennial work ethic and that of previous generations. So when we finally find great staff members, how do we retain them over the long term?

If every restaurateur in your market is a “good guy to work for,” what sets you apart?  You don’t want those great staff members leaving you to go work down the street. It’s imperative to do everything in your power to keep them eternally satisfied so they never develop a wandering eye. Let’s examine a few ways in which you can stand out from the crowd of employers.

1) Show them the money. 

Are you the stingy Uncle Scrooge who wants to get away with paying everyone minimum wage? If so, don’t be surprised if your retention rates are low. You get what you pay for! To retain good pizzeria employees, pay your skilled and conscientious staff members an appropriate, decent wage, and they are less likely to look elsewhere for more money. Take into consideration the stress and hassle of seeking and finding a good, reliable person to replace that staffer who left you for a better-paying job. When you finally find that person, isn’t it worth an extra dollar or two an hour to ensure they will remain happy with their compensation and stay with you?

2) Manage your own expectations. 

You built your business from the ground up. You put your own hard-earned money into it and worked countless hours to make it succeed. Truly great staff will treat your business as if it were their own, but they will never have the same level of dedication you have as the owner. Your expectations of staff members need to be realistic. Browbeating them because they’re not exactly like you will defeat the goal of retention.

If you struggle to retain good pizzeria employees, the problem might be you, not them, says Michael Androw, owner of E&D Pizza Company in Avon, Connecticut.

3) Be flexible. 

Like it or not, many staff members have more going on in their lives than just working at your restaurant. School schedules, family responsibilities, and other obligations matter to them. Being considerate to their needs can go a long way. Consider creating set schedules so they can comfortably attend to their other commitments. If your employee never has to worry about getting coverage for that Tuesday dinner shift so she can make it to her Chemistry 101 class, she will appreciate you, as her employer, and her job a lot more—and will be less likely to look elsewhere for employment.

4) Build camaraderie. 

Don’t make staff members feel like worker drones—treat them as integral members of the team. Try making them lunch or dinner with a pizza or two. Consider providing staff uniform shirts. Even when they don’t work for you anymore, they will still break out that shirt from time to time. Also invite your vibrant young staff members to be included in your restaurant’s social media posts. It will liven up your feed, and they will feel like part of the team. Then they’ll be less likely to abandon “their” team, and you will also create a network of brand ambassadors.

5) Show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T. 

That’s right, Aretha. This is a big one, yet it often gets overlooked. You might say you respect your staff, but do you show it? If you have the attitude of, “They work for me, and I give them a paycheck,” don’t be surprised if retention is low. We all go through those periods when we desperately need a good staff, and we’d kill to have one. But what about the good times? Do we truly appreciate our people then—when everything’s going smoothly and the money’s pouring in—and remember how much it stunk before they were there? Take a moment every day and thank your people individually. Look them in the eye. Shake their hand. Give them your heartfelt thanks and appreciation for their hard work. Everyone appreciates positive recognition and reaffirmation. Something as simple as this can make you that “good guy to work for.”

As we strive to retain good pizzeria employees in a difficult labor market, we need to remember why people leave. They are not retiring. They are looking for better options. Make your pizzeria that greener pasture, and they won’t be motivated to look elsewhere. Retaining your best employees can be difficult, but in many cases, you are the problem, not the staff. Take the time. Put forth the effort. Your people will appreciate you, and the bad times will be fewer and farther between.  

Michael Androw is the owner of E&D Pizza Company in Avon, Connecticut, and a pizzeria industry consultant.