The Exit Interview is Too Late

Pizzeria distributor

The Exit Interview is Too Late

There is no hotter topic right now than employee engagement, what to do with Millennials at work, and how to keep great people on the team. In the food and hospitality industry, we are faced with constant pressure to keep costs in line while delivering a great customer experience while at the same time keeping our best people happy at work.

As a speaker and trainer, I spend a lot of my time helping businesses figure out how to engage their team to drive results and improve service. The secret to getting it right is something called “the stay interview.”

Most restaurant leaders have heard of the exit interview — the Human Resource ritual of interviewing employees as they depart your restaurant. The goal is to get an inside view into why they are leaving, what might have gone wrong, what was going well, and any other discernible fact that can be achieved as someone heads for the door.

In great organizations, the information is used to improve the employee experience to hold on to great people, reduce turnover, and decrease labor costs from the revolving door of staffing. In poor organizations, they don’t change much.

But what if you spent some time learning more about what makes your team tick, what gets your crew pumped about work, and what exactly you could do to better support them in their work? Most managers are busy running shifts, managing food cost, counting inventory, and looking for ways to boost sales while keeping the P&L in line.

It’s easy in all of this to put off important conversations with your team. If you have an exit interview process in place, you probably keep thinking “I wish I knew this earlier so I could have done something before you quit.” This is where the “stay interview” comes in. Its a simple way to engage your team and learn more about their experience at work.


The goals of a well-designed stay interview are three-fold:

  • Learn about what keeps them engaged and what could make it better
  • Get ahead of the things that might lead your rockstars to leave you for the competition
  • Communicate to your team that you value their experience

The funny thing about engagement is that it starts by simply engaging your team in a conversation and then taking action on their advice. Here are three ways to start using stay interviews to increase your employee engagement which ultimately improves your customer experience, bottom-line, and entire restaurant:


#1 Get specific — ask great questions that give you actionable feedback. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • What makes you excited about coming to work?
  • What do you like most and least about working here?
  • What keeps you working here?
  • If you could change something about the way we work or your job, what would you change?
  • What would make working here better for you?
  • Do you feel like you are getting enough feedback? Recognition? What would you like?
  • What talents are not being used in your current role? Is there anywhere you’d like to do more?
  • What else would you like to learn while working here? How can I help?
  • What motivates (or demotivates) you?
  • What can I do to best support you?
  • What can I do more of or less of as your manager?
  • If you were me, what would you be paying attention to right now?
  • What might tempt you to leave?
  • Do you have suggestions about how we can improve the restaurant?

#2 Operationalize it — great intentions without a strong process have no chance in helping your business. Here are some ideas to help make this stick:

  • Schedule them for 30, 60, or 90 days after an employee’s start date. Use a calendar to log them.
  • Create a list of all of your employees and work your way through by scheduling 1 or 2 a week. When you finish the list, start back at the top again.
  • Make it public by posting your schedule for stay interviews where the team can see it. This will help hold you accountable and give them a chance to help in getting them scheduled.
  • Print the list of questions above and ask the same ones each time. This will reduce your anxiety and make it easier for you to focus on the employee.

#3 Take action — these conversations have the power to drastically improve your business if you are willing to take action. Here is how to get started:

  • Pick one thing from each conversation and ask the employee to help you get it started.
  • Take notes and share with your leadership team. Have each person own something and report back on efforts to improve.
  • Set reminders to follow up with the employee about the work you have done to make improvements.


Stay interviews can help you engage your team, improve your service, and make significant changes to bottom-line results — all you need is a lots of trust, a little initiative, and the plan above to get started.



Mike Ganino is a keynote speaker, trainer, and consultant that helps hospitality brands craft engaging and high-performance cultures. He is a restaurant veteran having served as Chief Operating Officer and Partner at Protein Bar and in key leadership roles at Lettuce Entertain You, Potbelly Sandwich Shop, and Yum! Brands. His work with industry leaders like ChowNow, Pressed Juicery, Uber,  and PeopleMatter has left audiences engaged and entertained. He’s written about creating a great culture for two books: Bar and Restaurant Success and The Better Business Book. Mike writes about positive leadership and culture for Huffington Post and Ariana Huffington’s Thrive Global.