Restaurants aren’t known for offering job benefits or perks. It’s difficult when profit margins for the industry are often less than 6%, but job benefits are one of the best ways to ensure you keep good employees. Maintaining a low turnover rate means you save money by not having to constantly interview, hire, and train new staff. Keeping employees long-term also means you have a staff that knows your restaurant inside and out and can keep things running smoothly no matter what. In short, job benefits are an investment that improves your restaurant’s bottom line.

If your restaurant can’t support the cost of traditional job benefits, that’s ok! There are many benefits you can offer that are low or no cost and still show your employees that you value their work-life experience.

The top alternative benefits your restaurant employees want

Free and deeply discounted meals

The way to a person’s heart is through their stomach, and giving your employees a free shift meal will quickly endear you to them. For off-the-clock meals, offer a 50% discount. If you have some menu items that are very expensive, you can limit the menu choices. It’s important to note that a 50% discount seems to be the sweet spot among employees — those we spoke to who received smaller discounts were not as satisfied. Once in a while, organize a free family meal. It’s a great way to bring together the team and make them feel valued.

Healthcare stipends

If you’re unable to offer full healthcare benefits, consider providing employees a monthly stipend to offset the cost of prescriptions or doctor’s visits. Restaurant jobs are physically demanding, so it’s important that your staff can get the care they need to stay healthy. Mental healthcare is also extremely important for employees in service jobs. Help employees make this a priority by providing discounted access to online mental health services such as Headspace or Betterhelp.

Commissary privileges

Let your staff place orders through your vendors to get food and supplies at a discount. This benefit won’t cost you anything, and will actually improve your standing with vendors as your order total increases. Keep in mind that you’ll need a system for separating the orders when the products are delivered.

Happy employees equal happy customers

Monthly stipends

You can offer this as a monthly cash benefit so employees can choose how to use it, or you can give them a range of options to choose from such as a gym membership, a public transportation pass, or a grocery store gift card. The key here is that it’s a set monthly amount they can depend on, and they have some control over the benefit they receive. 

Manager support

Support your employees when they’re dealing with a customer who is being unreasonable or hostile. There is nothing worse than enduring a verbal assault from an irate guest only to have your manager come to the table and throw you under the bus. Providing this type of support is a no-cost work culture benefit and one that employees will be relieved to have. Since it’s intangible, it’s important to make this a clear policy so every employee knows they can benefit from it when needed.

Annual bonuses

A little income boost is always welcome, especially around the holidays. These don’t have to be huge but make them more substantial than $20 per person. I can say from experience, a $20 annual bonus is insulting. Note: Among the restaurant workers we surveyed, annual bonuses were preferred over sign-on bonuses which people considered a red flag that you can’t keep staff

Sick days

You don’t want sick employees coming to work, but many can’t afford to call in. Even if you can only offer a few paid sick days, they will be seriously appreciated. As an added bonus, have a generous sick day policy. Don’t make a doctor’s note a requirement for receiving this benefit. If they don’t have health insurance, paying out of pocket to go to the doctor likely costs more than what they’ll be getting in sick pay. Also, don’t make sick employees responsible for finding someone to cover their shift. Let them rest, and give that responsibility to a manager.

Two days off in a row

Restaurant work is physically and mentally demanding. Giving your employees two days off in a row allows them to really relax and enjoy their time off. Juggling multiple availabilities is difficult and you may not be able to provide two days off to every employee every single week. Make two days off in a row for everyone your standard scheduling policy, but make it clear that it isn’t guaranteed; however, it should happen more often than not.

Professional development

Providing professional development shows employees that you value their futures and can provide paths to career advancement. Give employees free membership to sites that provide hospitality training such as Typsy, or ones like Lynda and Skillshare that cover a variety of career and personal development courses. You can also provide a monthly session where you or another industry professional trains your staff on an important aspect of hospitality service.