One of the questions many of my restaurant clients have asked me is, "Where are the employees?"

With everyone howling about the labor challenge and so many restaurants competing for the same people, it's important to remember that our best recruiting strategy is employee retention.

You've already found performers. Today's real challenge isn't finding new people, it's keeping the best ones we already have and making sure that they're feeling happy, challenged, fulfilled and excited about what they're doing. Why not focus the next six months on making the employees - the performers you already have - even better.

One of my greatest challenges as a consultant is helping managers understand the importance of treating people as assets rather than commodities. Many people think recognition - like saying a simple thank you - is just plain common sense, but some people are more comfortable than others with this sort of interaction. Restaurant managers aren't typically trained to motivate and develop young workers. Instead, most employees are belittled and berated by managers who don't understand the concept of basic people skills.

I encourage you to take a close look at your operation and ask these questions about yourself and your management team:

Do you view your employees as valuable assets?
a. One of the most important things you can do in order to encourage employees to work well is to show you care about them. If they're sure you care about them and are committed to their success, they, in turn, will care about you and your business.

b. What can you do to show your employees you care about them?

Do you provide recognition and incentives for excellence performance?
Recognition is a leadership tool that can help retain your best employees.

Both formal recognition programs and informal types of recognition make a statement to the employees about what's important to the business and what's valued by leaders of the business. Employees need to know how their job performance fits into the company’s operation and what their impact is on the business.

Recognition also builds self-esteem in an individual, reinforcing desired behaviors, and helping to create an atmosphere of appreciation and trust. Effective recognition contributes to job satisfaction and pride in one’s work, promotes empowerment and involvement and creates loyalty to a company.

Do you give small-unexpected rewards for jobs well done?
In the last week has every employee been recognized for good work?
In a football game you don’t just cheer for a touchdown but for a 1st down and a good catch too. Appreciation should be in the moment.

I challenge you to list 10 inexpensive ideas for how you can recognize performance and reward employees.

Have you created an atmosphere where your employees feel respected and appreciated?
Employees should know they make a difference. Managers should look for opportunities to serve employees just as employees look for opportunities to serve customers.

Do you give your employees timely performance reviews?
Feedback is essential to happiness in the workplace, helping to build self-esteem and create positive attitudes

As a General Manager in addition to providing my employees with feedback on their performance I solicited their feedback by including three questions in all my performance reviews:

- What is your greatest frustration about your job?
- What new skill would you like to learn?
- What needs to be fixed, changed or eliminated?

It is amazing what you can learn if you close you mouth and open your ears. It is also amazing how many wonderful ideas were implemented that were not mine but my employees.

Do you coach, educate and develop your employees?
Many of my clients' employees have asked me, "Does anyone at work encourage my development or care how well I do?" Sadly, they truly don’t know the answer.

Management must be available to lead, coach and direct every step of the way. Take advantage of coachable moments and teach something new every shift. Then catch them using what you taught them - and recognize and celebrate!

Do you have well-designed fun training programs and use them consistently?
The most successful companies in every industry have learned the immeasurable benefits of training. It's critical that training be an ongoing process. You're kidding yourself if you think you can take a new hire, train for three shifts and leave it at that. Training is an investment of time, money and personal commitment. Keep it fun, interactive, have a plan and make a commitment to every employee in your restaurant and you will reap long-term benefits.

I challenge you to work with your management team on a few or all of the ideas presented today and set three month, six month and one year goals for your team.

When employees are happy, customers are happy and managers are happy. Maximizing retention minimizes turnover and certainly helps you in your recruiting efforts. The lower the turnover the better the service, the greater the teamwork and the higher the profits.