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Restaurant Workers Express Low Levels of Job Satisfaction, Survey Shows

COLUMBUS, Ohio – About half of restaurant employees surveyed recently expressed low levels of satisfaction with their jobs, according to a new study.

A quarter of the employees showed average levels of satisfaction while the remaining quarter said they were very satisfied with their jobs.

Thomas George

The results are not good news for restaurants, which seek a satisfied and motivated staff to make customers happy, said Thomas George, co-author of the study and associate professor of hospitality management at Ohio State University’s College of Human Ecology.

“I was surprised by how low satisfaction levels were among the employees we surveyed,” George said. “I expected to have more employees who were at least in the middle range of satisfaction.”

The results suggest restaurants may need to do more to develop good relationships with their employees, George said.

“Managers need to be prepared to give up some control and increase their levels of trust in their employees. Giving employees the opportunity to make relevant decisions concerning their jobs may lead to increased job satisfaction.”

The study, published in the current issue of the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research, was based on the dissertation of George’s former student Murat Hancer, now at Adnan Menderes University in Turkey.

The researchers surveyed 798 non-supervisory employees (such as waiters and cooks) of a casual, regional restaurant chain. The employees worked at more than 50 different restaurants. While the fact that all employees worked at one restaurant chain somewhat limits generalizing the study’s findings, George said he believes the results would be similar for employees of other casual restaurants across the country.

The employees all completed a short form of the Minnesota Satisfaction Questionnaire, a well-known and accepted instrument used by researchers to study job satisfaction.

George said that, not surprisingly, restaurant employees were least satisfied with their pay and with opportunities for advancement. Employees were most satisfied with job security and their ability to provide service to customers.

In general, women and older employees were more likely to express satisfaction than men and younger workers. Those who had worked at their jobs less than three months tended to be more satisfied.

In addition, employees who had the opportunity to work in a variety of positions were more satisfied than those with set positions such as waiter or cook.

But why were there such low levels of satisfaction in general?

“I think food service jobs tend to be seen as transitory, and many people see them as only temporary positions while they look for other opportunities,” George said. “There are employees who make this a career and are very happy, but they may be a minority.”

But George says the low satisfaction levels should concern managers and owners.

Studies have shown that employees who are more satisfied may have higher quality relationships with their customers, with the result being that customers have a more satisfying experience, he said.

But there are steps managers can take to make restaurant workers more satisfied with their jobs, according to George.

In a related study, published recently in the International Journal of Hospitality Management, George and Hancer looked at the role of “psychological empowerment” in non-supervisory restaurant workers. This involved surveys of 924 employees of three Midwest restaurant chains.

These results suggested that employees may feel better about their jobs if they are given more appropriate levels of responsibility. For example, waiters might be given more leeway, within reason, to help solve problems for customers, make menu substitutions and to make customers happier with their experience.

“Managers need to be prepared to give up some control and increase their levels of trust in their employees,” George said. “Giving employees the opportunity to make relevant decisions concerning their jobs may lead to increased job satisfaction.”

Given that there isn’t much that managers can do to dramatically improve pay or the physical working environment for restaurant employees, the most realistic way to improve satisfaction is to increase the level of psychological empowerment of employees, he said.

“The restaurant industry is very competitive and if restaurants want to keep their customers, they have to focus on keeping their employees satisfied as well as productive,” George said.


Contact: Thomas George, (614) 292-6219; George.2@osu.edu Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu