It’s Not Only About Hiring…It’s About Retaining Employees

Jul 28, 2021

by Natasha Reta – Culinary Consultant


The restaurant industry has always faced challenges in the field of recruitment and hiring. But having a great team and adequate amounts of staff is essential to great hospitality.  Operators are currently faced with the usual hiring challenges of tracking down serious candidates, streamlining the onboarding process, and retaining the employee for the long term.

Currently faced with the usual hiring challenges or tracking down serious candidates, streamlining the onboarding process, and then retaining the employee for the long term, the issue is further compounded with the newest challenge of the current labor crunch.  Operators will need to make significant changes to the way they hire, focusing on maintaining the retention of quality. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Once you get that employee in the door, how do you keep them there?


hire sign
A hiring sign touts “flexible schedule, great benefits, free sourdough!”


Most frustrated restaurant staff have described leaving good-paying jobs due to a lack of training.  New employees want to feel comfortable in their workplace, yet a lack of systems and training allows for error, confusion, and frustration.  A thorough training program for both FOH and BOH, should be quickly developed and implemented to maintain staff retention. This training should incorporate specific job function training and product training, food safety training, salesmanship, and hospitality.


Company Culture: Yes, it’s Really Important

Okay, so you have the best systems and training, but is your company culture appealing? What do your brand and company say to your future internal guests, your employees?  How do you create an environment they want to return to? Lead by example. Your establishment should be treated with respect just as your guests.  The cleanliness and organization of your operations are a clear observation as to how your company cares.  New employees now say company culture is what keeps them returning.  They enjoy a happy work-life balance and feel respected.


restaurant manager
Lead by example. Proper and consistent restaurant training is crucial.


If you haven’t yet, now is the time to assess these areas of your restaurant operations:

  1. BOH/FOH operations and safety
  2. Overall restaurant cleanliness
  3. Job titles and accurate descriptions
  4. Training systems
  5. Growth opportunities
  6. Company culture

This foodservice labor shortage is certainly challenging for operators to tackle. Critically important is making your team feel valued, well trained, and taken care of.  With some attention to these areas, your operation will manage to survive this current hiring crisis.  Don’t have a robust training and operations system in place?  Synergy Sync is a powerful, flexible, and affordable digital training platform for restaurants look to upgrade performance.  Reach out to us to learn more!


Synergy’s Best of 2019: Restaurant Discovery

Dec 31, 2019

As we wave goodbye to the ‘10s, foodservice news is chock full of food and restaurant trend predictions for the coming decade. For our last newsletter of the year, we wanted to highlight some of the great dishes and concepts that inspired us during our Discovery tours across the country. Some of these locations just might surprise you:


You might think of this Florida city as the home for Disney and Universal Studios, but “The City Beautiful” is also home to a number of distinctive dining and bar hot spots. At the top of our list is BarTaco, a rustic and beachy destination for amazing handhelds and a margarita brimming with fresh-squeezed lime juice. A small menu on both the food and beverage side makes it easy for the kitchen to pump out freshly prepared tacos, rice bowls, and sides. Guests order using a dim-sum-like menu and everything hits the table as soon as it’s ready.

Tacos from BarTaco

On the bar side, Mather’s Social Gathering delivers quality cocktails and an over-the-top experience. A quick trip up the nondescript Mather Building elevator drops you off in a reimagined 1800s-style speakeasy with soaring ceilings and an impressive collection of antiques. Mixologists behind the onyx bar share and stir a collection of classic libations with twists from today. Notable drinks include The Phoenix with a hit of fresh jalapeño that will keep your lips buzzing, and The Grand Frozé with a float of Grand Marnier. Order your favorite spirit with a square ice cube that’s as clear as the summer sky.

Grand Froze from Mather’s
Clear Ice Cube from Mather’s

Orange County, CA

We thought we’d seen it all in the California county that serves as our home base, but there’s always something new happening in the OC. One of our new favorites is CDM Restaurant and Bar, an elegant establishment in Corona Del Mar that’s thankfully close to our offices. CDM combines the upscale comfort of a plush living room with an industrial central bar and edgy speakeasy downstairs, along with a focused men that celebrates seasonal ingredients. A menu standout is the BBQ Heirloom Carrots with pecan butter and an herb dressing, both unexpected and incredibly savory. We sampled this dish in July and can’t stop thinking about it.

Carrots from CDM

We can’t mention Orange County without mentioning one of most respected restaurant companies, the Hillstone Group. No, their locations aren’t new on the scene but any of their Orange County locations serves as a mini-bootcamp on how to operate a great establishment. From the closely curated menu to ingredient prep to order to their teamwork approach to customer service, Hillstone is the platinum standard for food quality and guest experience. Check out our in-depth article on Hillstone in last month’s newsletter.

Chicken Sandwich


The capital city of Texas has long been known as a center for culinary creativity. Our Discovery tour there this fall revealed a commitment to modern food trends alongside traditional food standards. Odd Duck lets their trend flag fly with their playful combinations of down-home, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Mexican, and Indian flavors. A few standouts we sampled included the Green Chile Crab Pimento with everything-bagel-seeded crackers, and the Chicken Fried Fish

Crab Pimento from Odd Duck

Heads coated in a fish bone caramel sauce. Odd Duck cuts loose with their take on mashups, much to the diner’s benefit.

Fish Head from Odd Duck

Riding the traditional train is Terry Black’s Barbecue, one our favorite spots on our Austin tour. You can’t swing a stick in Austin without hitting yet another barbecue joint, but Terry Black’s stands at the top of the wood heap. They focus on the classics – brisket, beef ribs, chopped beef, and sausage – and put their energy into crafting some of the best smoked meats in town. A few sides and sandwiches round out their offering. You won’t find trendy food here, just amazing ‘cue.

Terry’s Black BBQ Pit


Florida’s sultry city to the south lays claim to tons of nightlife and beautiful beaches, but the city’s downtown core is becoming known for its vibrant food scene. Our Discovery tour in Miami revealed some of our favorite dishes of the year.

You wouldn’t expect a restaurant with a Russian name to offer some of the best sushi in town, but Novikov more than delivers. This glamourous hotspot features new style sashimi and premium sushi along with maki, rice and noodles, and wok-fired dishes. One of our many favorites included a grilled king crab leg with a creamy truffle sauce, where the meat was removed from the shell, cut into bite-size pieces, and arranged back in the shell for easy eating.

Crab Leg from Novikov

Another wonder was braised pork belly pressed for 48 hours, cut into cubes, and kissed on the plancha with a sweet soy sauce.

We also marveled at Zuma Miami, a monolithic space in which a cluster of cooks prepare sophisticated twists on Japanese izakaya cuisine. We enjoyed watching the bartenders craft a few whimsical drinks like the Zombie Cocktail, a tequila concoction served in a Day of the Dead mug adored with a tiny straw hat and mint sprig.

Zombie Cocktail from Zuma

In looking back at the restaurants that caught our eye, a few patterns emerge. One, a focused menu of top-notch dishes and drinks. Two, a commitment to quality and culinary craft. Three, a fully realized concept that provides a memorable dining experience. Solid and timeless lessons for all restaurants to heed instead of chasing the latest food fads.

We are looking forward to our Discovery tours in the new year and to unveiling a new set of favorites. Let the Roaring ‘20s begin!


How I Became a Restaurant Consultant

Dec 05, 2019

How did you decide to become a restaurant consultant?

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and working at Windows on the World Restaurant in the North Tower of the original World Trade Center, I had the opportunity to meet and ultimately work for Joseph Baum, who at the time was the most prominent and renowned restaurant consultant in the world who created many iconic New York restaurants.

My exposure to Joe and his team of industry giants who traveled the world helping organizations create new and exciting restaurants and unique dining experiences that changed how people used restaurants was my inspiration.  I thought Joe had the ultimate career and I hoped that someday I would have the opportunity to leverage my knowledge and experiences to help others and become a restaurant consultant.

What was your best memory while attending the CIA? 

My education at CIA was an incredible experience, and the Chef’s and instructors were fantastic.  What made it memorable was the ability to take classroom education and skills and then apply them on weekends while working at Windows On The World Restaurant. For the first two months I was pitting olives in the Garde Manager Kitchen, and then one evening, there was a kitchen altercation, and the next thing I knew, I was making soufflés and decorating cakes in the pastry kitchen. Being avid skiers, The Chef and I hit it off immediately. As a result, he moved me around many parts of the kitchen, and I got an amazing education working in the busiest restaurant in the world. 

A very close CIA friend managed to land a part-time job working on the Rockefeller estate in Tarrytown NY, on weekends.  Because all of the exclusive parties and events at the estate he needed a Co-Chef to assist in all of the food preparation and service.  It was often a laid back event allowing us to get to know many of the guests as they were always excited to hang out in the kitchen and watch us prepare the food. From those experiences we got to know many political leaders and foreign dignitaries like Dr. Henry Kissinger and his wife who were regular guests. 

What did you do after you graduated from the CIA?

After three years at Windows On The World, I decided I wanted to learn more about Dining Room Management, so when a new opportunity presented itself as a Maître D at a highly regarded restaurant in Theater District, I decided to make a career move. It was an old school restaurant with excellent table service and lots of tableside cooking.  I was given the challenge to learn the business from another perspective and hone my dining room hospitality skills and improve the guest experience through elevated table service.

In the late ’70s, I decided to move back to Aspen Colorado and try and open a food service business with my close friend from the CIA. After carefully surveying the market we determined that the two big voids in the marketplace were catering and a need for a great bakery to service the local restaurants.  Given the lack of real competition and affluence in the market, we believed we could be successful if we could raise enough capital to launch the business. We found a great location and obtained a small loan, which allowed us to purchase used restaurant equipment at an auction. We leveraged our education and work experiences and began catering private events and baking European style breads and desserts.  As young entrepreneurs we made everything from classic charcuterie, croissants and wedding cakes to ice carvings and sold them to restaurants and hotels. The catering portion of the business began to get a lot of traction and we picked up many private parties from wealthy business people and celebrities like the Bee Gees, Diana Ross, Lucille Ball, the Kennedy’s and several international political figures who had private aircraft and always wanted the best, so catering was always an over the top event. 

In the late ‘80s, I was recruited by El Torito Restaurants, the largest Mexican dinner house chain in the world, to run all food service for a 220-unit organization with twelve restaurant brands and $420M in sales annually. Working for a national brand that was in a huge growth and acquisition mode and working with fantastic restaurant operators was a unique opportunity. My responsibilities were broad and included menu innovation for domestic and international restaurants, quality assurance, kitchen operations, training, and supply chain.  This exposure to food, beverage and how to run highly efficient operations gave me the confidence and skillsets that I believed would be extremely useful as a consultant to small to mid-sized companies. 

How did you make that transition?

They Synergy Team
They Synergy Restaurant Consulting Team

I realized that I had obtained a lot of knowledge working for El Torito, and I had a great gift of helping restaurant managers be successful. As an entrepreneur I wanted to do more with my education and experiences so given the contacts that I had made in the restaurant industry I decided this timing was right to make a career move. I wanted to create a small restaurant consulting company that would focus on helping restaurant operators optimize their financial performance through menu innovation and restaurant operating efficiencies.

In 1988 I launched Synergy Restaurant Consultants. I was very fortunate (and lucky) to land several large accounts that occupied all my time. I knew it was time to expand, so I reached out to my close friend Danny Bendas and former business colleague who also happens to be a CIA graduate and industry professional, to join me on this new journey. Since then we had the pleasure of working with over 270 domestic and international chains and over 1,600 independent operators. Over the years our team has grown with talent from around the US and globally. I am so thankful for my business partner and the incredible team we have built. Their contributions have genuinely made Synergy a leader in the industry and a better company.

What is your biggest accomplishment as a restaurant consultant?

I wouldn’t say building a highly regarded national brand with an impeccable reputation and being recognized as industry leaders and subject matter experts in all areas of the restaurant business. Instead, I would like to believe that Danny and I, along with the rest of our team, make a positive difference in people’s lives. That is what brings me the most happiness and fulfillment.


Pivot, Refresh, or Perish

Jul 31, 2019

Over the last few years, the restaurant industry has experienced a broad range of significant changes that have made it very difficult for so many mature brands to achieve a level of meaningful profitability.

  • The restaurant landscape has become very competitive and over-saturated.
  • Many mature brands fail to innovate and have become fatigued.
  • Once-loyal guests have gravitated to more innovative brands that meet their dining needs and fit their lifestyle.

In addition, rents continue to soar, staffing continues to be a real challenge, and continued pressure from minimum wage increases and numerous delivery options have made it extremely difficult to achieve a reasonable ROI or operating profit. Finally, many mature brands have lost or watered down their company culture, which is impacting their morale and the ability to attract best-in-class talent.

Many of the guests that frequented your restaurant 10 to 20 years ago have new dining needs, and their food and beverage expectations have evolved to demand a more contemporary experience. If your restaurant décor hasn’t been refreshed in over ten years, there is a good possibility the restaurant is looking a bit outdated. This could be having an impact on your guest frequency and top-line revenue.

While updating your decor is important, the bigger issue is your menu and your innovation engine. Are your food and beverage creativity and plate presentations keeping up with the changing dining trends? The reality is if your guests are not taking pictures of your food for their Instagram feeds or talking about your food and beverage on social media, that’s a problem.

If you agree with my basic assumptions, then you need an innovation strategy to pivot so you can refresh your food and beverage while updating some of your key décor needs. When it comes to menu innovation, the Synergy Team can truly help your drive frequency and top line sales with practical solutions that deliver results based on your budget. Give us a call; it will be one of the best decisions you make for the sustainability of your restaurant brand.


New Pizza Concepts We Love

Feb 22, 2019

How did you celebrate this month’s holiday? No, not Valentine’s Day. We’re not talking about President’s Day either. For us, National Pizza Day, inspired us to recollect and celebrate some of our favorite pizza concepts, including one we recently helped to get off the ground! 

We don’t like to brag, but at Synergy, we have some very talented folks with amazing palates, who’ve traveled the world sampling pizza — you can be sure our picks for tasty pies are top notch.

Last year, Synergy had the privilege of working with a new pizza startup out of Plano, Texas. The owners envisioned not only a place to eat freshly created and delicious pizzas (plus salads, lasagna, and wings), but also a place where people could feel good about what they’re eating.  

The Synergy team helped them develop a concept that focuses on premium ingredients (fresh pizza dough, hand-picked veggies, non-GMO and organic meats, gluten-free options, and house-made sauces) with an elevated guest experience in the restaurant and catering to busy guests by always offering free delivery!

One of the latest pizza concepts we’ve come to appreciate is Doughbird in Phoenix. Their menu twist is awesome — wood-fired pizzas and free-range rotisserie chickens. It’s a unique mashup concept that we truly admire and appreciate from Fox Restaurant Concepts.

From fast-fired to Neopolitan, deep-dish to square cut, we love pizza in all of its formats so much we don’t need a national holiday as an excuse to dig in.


Industry Veteran Bruce MacDiarmid Joins Synergy Restaurant Consultants

Oct 24, 2018

Synergy Expands Capabilities with the Addition of Bruce MacDiarmid to the Team

Synergy Restaurant Consultants is expanding their reach into new high-growth strategic opportunities through a valued partnership with noted industry veteran, Bruce MacDiarmid. “We are thrilled to have Bruce part of our team as we share a common vision of helping and inspiring others to succeed.” Bruce embraces our culture and mission that “ultimate success in the restaurant business derives from a consistent focus on enhancing the overall guest experience.” Innovation and operating efficiency are the keys to delivering that long-term success. Having Bruce on the Synergy team allows us to leverage his unique range of industry experience thereby offering our clients the insights gained through a successful career leading and operating multi-unit concepts in multiple restaurant segments.


Bruce MacDiarmid
Bruce MacDiarmid

MacDiarmid began his career in restaurant operations eventually taking on executive roles in training, operations and marketing. His record of accomplishments includes; award-winning brand building, the creation of scalable restaurant concepts, financial turnarounds, menu development, technology implementations, restaurant design, marketing, human resources and labor optimization. His financial expertise and leadership skills most recently were highlighted in the Pacific Northwest as President and CEO of Shari’s Restaurants where he was instrumental in reinvigorating the brand and guest experience. He received a bachelors degree in Business/Marketing from California Polytechnic State University and attended graduate school at San Diego State University. He has served on multiple boards including chairmanship roles.

“Success in the restaurant industry is all about moving quickly to stay with the trends, and being nimble enough to engage customers continually,” says MacDiarmid. “One of the greatest challenges today, regardless of the dining segment is continuing to add value to the guest experience in an environment of constantly escalating labor cost pressure,” adds MacDiarmid, explaining that delivering that value requires an unwavering focus on the customer.

There remains significant upside to the restaurant operators who step up their game and take advantage of all the new opportunities with an eye on innovation and efficiency.

MacDiarmid looks forward to helping Synergy clients improve their operations, execution and financial performance “I am excited to join the team of professionals at Synergy. A team led by founding partners Dean Small and Danny Bendas who have demonstrated a 30-year track record of helping clients with their revitalization and growth challenges. The fact that the company was founded and is currently lead by two graduates of the Culinary Institute of America speaks volumes to their passion and commitment to the restaurant industry.”

About Synergy
As a premier restaurant consulting firm, Synergy Restaurant Consultants is a team of restaurant management professionals that develops innovative ideas and creates sustainable brands to drive top-line sales. Our restaurant consulting team specializes in both launching new restaurant startups and jump-starting struggling or financially distressed brands. Since 1988, Synergy has been a strategic resource to more than 250 national and independent restaurant companies within every dining segment. The company is based in Newport Beach, California.


How will you improve your restaurant in 2013?

Jan 09, 2013

As restaurant consultants, our goal is to help you make your restaurant as
successful as possible. Sometimes, our clients aren’t sure exactly where
they need help or what needs to be done. Regardless of your specific
situation, it’s all about maximizing your restaurant’s efficiencies.

We help owners elevate their restaurants, from independently-owned, to
national franchises and chains, to the next level:

Synergy Restaurant Consultants: 25 years of restaurant success. Contact us
for more information on how we can help take your restaurant to the next
level of success in 2013.


How to Choose a Restaurant Consultant

Apr 14, 2010

Any qualified restaurant consultant brings experience, credibility and the ability to find information most restaurant owners never access. Consultants can advise restaurant owners on a variety of issues including menu design, concept development, interior spaces, development assistance, financial information services and real estate. Our product, or deliverable, can take the form of a written report or, as is often the case with Synergy, a hands-on approach.


The term “restaurant consultant” is actually a very broad definition encompassing a wide variety of disciplines and areas of expertise. Within Synergy Restaurant Consultants we have experts across the spectrum: real estate, design, litigation, accounting and operations. While the consultant you may need can vary widely, the selection process and client/consultant relationship are very important and quite similar. Whether you select Synergy or one of our competitors, it is important to know how to select the best firm for the problem or project you have in mind.

how to choose a restaurant consultant

Once you have determined you need a restaurant consultant, you begin the search process. Here are some basic steps:


  1. Begin a preliminary search. The goal here is to contact different consultants who appear to be qualified to serve your needs. Similar to receiving quotes on products, it is better to identify more than one consultant. One good place to start is talking to restaurant business colleagues for a referral. Discover who they have used in similar situations and if they were satisfied
  2. Pare the group down. Discuss the project with your preliminary search group. Narrow the list down. When you have two left, go to step 3.
  3. Ask for written proposals, company brochures, references and other collateral
  4. Analyze the proposals. Look at each proposal carefully; if you have any questions, ask the consultant to explain them. Check references, also.
  5. Select the best consultant. Based on your analysis, pick the most qualified consultant to perform the project.