How to Conduct Exit Interviews at Bars

Image: Patricia Soon / Shutterstock

Many operators are focused on how their guests feel after they leave the bar. But there’s a significant drop-off of those focused on finding out what their employees thought of their time of employment.

This an industry with a retention problem that can leave many awake at night. There can be, however, a silver lining found in capturing honest feedback that has little to no repercussions for your soon-to-be former or former staff member to be critically honest.

Finding out why team members leave can lead to a below-average turnover rate, currently reported to be around 72.9%!

What’s an Exit Interview?

As the name implies, exit interviews are conducted after an employee has put in their notice or been fired. Both groups—quit and terminated—should have an exit interview, although the strategy for how to handle these conversations changes based on whether they decided to leave on their own or were dismissed.

Whenever an employee has told me they’re leaving, my first question was, “Is this a negotiation or a declaration?” This sets the stage early and avoids wasting time pursuing someone who has mentally checked out already. If their mind is made, continue with the exit interview.

Check this out: Stop the Turnover Bleeding

Remember, don’t make these interviews mandatory, but try to encourage them. Don’t withhold paychecks or benefits or the repercussions of losing an employee could be the least of your problems.

How to Execute

For staff members who put in their notice, it’s much easier to schedule an exit interview in the last few days of their employment. You’ll want to state the purpose of the exit interview beforehand, so they know what they’re walking into. Many staffers in this line of work may be newer to the working world, so don’t assume they know what this is or have ever done one before.

The meeting should be done face to face whenever possible and held privately so they can share freely (and to be compliant with various employment laws). Go offsite to a coffee shop if you have a small operation without a private office or room to discuss.

One operator told me that he asked a hostess at the beginning of the day to smile when greeting guest—a fair request given her role. At the end of her shift, she terminated employment herself, saying, “You’re asking me to edit myself and I can’t do that.” In these situations where a staffer quits on the spot or is terminated, an in-person interview may not be possible or safe.

Check this out: You’re Fired! 3 Secrets for Firing Non-Compliant Employees Like a Pro

For these members, operations should look at the questions below and email or text them a survey link, or have the website link to the form when their last check is mailed to them. Many may try to dismiss feedback from this group but it’s important as it gives them the chance to vent and air out their grievances personally to management. This also reduces the chances they take to an online review site; people want to be heard and given that opportunity! Even if you think all their feedback will be negative, there could be a few nuggets of that can be useful to you, and there’s no cost.

Who Should Handle the Exit Interview?

This is crucial, as the interviewer should be able to stay calm, collected and objective. Their primary purpose is to understand and record the information rather than be defensive.

Do an honest assessment. If you’re going to take the feedback personally, you should hand the exit interview over to someone else or try your best to stay on script without trying to push your perspective on them.

What to Ask

Below are 20 questions from Hire by Google with slight modifications made to be applicable to the hospitality industry. Here’s a link to the free template where the originals can be sourced. Note that you should not be asking all 20 questions—pick the top three to five and ask good follow-up questions when you hear something that’s worth digging into.

Your goals should be understanding the employee’s perception of the job; their view of the current management team; and how competitive the market is if they’re staying in-industry, all in the hopes of finding ways to improve the organization.

Check this out: Trouble Keeping Employees? Work on Manager Retention

An important question to add to this list is a modified Net Promoter Score (NPS) question: “Would you recommend this job to a friend of yours, on a scale of 1 to 10?” Every applicant should be asked this question—possibly first—so you can quantitively measure your NPS over time. Even the employees who were fired or quit without time for an exit interview may ignore all of the questions below but can respond quickly by only having to provide a number. 

Role Feedback

  • Why did you accept your role at this bar or restaurant in the first place?
  • How would you assess the quality of any training given to you and did you feel it was ongoing?
  • Were your expectations when hired adequately met?
  • Did you feel rewarded/recognized for your work beyond tips from guests?
  • Was there any aspect of your role that you struggled with?
  • Do you feel that your job description changed since you were hired?
  • What do you feel good about accomplishing in your job and in your time here?

Reasons for Leaving

  • Why have you decided to leave the company, and is there a specific event or occurrence you can point to?
  • How did you feel you were treated by your coworkers?
  • Would you consider returning to this company if a position were available in the future?
  • What are your general feelings about working for this company?
  • Did you see opportunities for development or promotion within this business?
  • What might have been done to prevent you from leaving?
  • Did you ever feel discriminated against, harassed, or otherwise? This is an important question to follow up on if the answer is ‘yes’. Contact your attorney or HR team accordingly.

General Feedback

  • What do you like most about working here?
  • What do you like the least about working here?
  • What do you think of the company leadership?
  • What can we do better in the future?
  • Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Future Plans

  • What are your future plans?
  • What makes your new job more attractive than your present job?
  • Would you ever consider working for us in the future on a part-time or full-time basis?

Follow Up

After each quarter, you should be measuring your turnover rate along with the data you’ve been collecting. Look for patterns that stand out and make it a point to fix them. Not sure how?

Confer with one or two trusted staff members on the issue (or issues) you’re hearing and get their input on how to fix it (or them). Again, they’re on the front lines and have a clearer perspective than the view from above.

Check this out: 10 Ways to Improve Your Employee Handbook

Here’s hoping that many bar owners won’t need to conduct many exit interviews often but that when they do, they glean insight that can drive down turnover rates and build stronger teams in the process.

Need help setting up an exit interview survey for when face-to-face isn’t available? Email me here to discuss.

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