One of the trickier aspects of managing restaurant staff is effectively incentivizing your workforce into bettering their performance. It can be a real struggle for managers in both the front and the back of house. Human nature leans into inertia, so trying to force an employee to change behavior will likely lead to resistance. So how exactly are you supposed to motivate your employees into helping you run a tight shift?
Consider the big picture.
The first thing you need to remember is seemingly simple: don’t hyper-focus on the problems. If you only focus on what you see going wrong in your restaurant, your staff will only focus on the negatives, too.
Have you ever been at a job where, even when you made the changes asked of you, your manager ignored the improvements and started picking apart another aspect of your work? It probably didn’t give you a lot of incentive to work harder in the future, right? So why should your staff try to change their behavior if you only pick out the problems and never acknowledge their hard-earned improvements?
Effective managers not only address the issues, but they also talk about what things their people are doing right. Laying out which goal points they’re already achieving can encourage your employees to keep working at that level — and shows you’re paying attention to their good work. For example: if your servers have been diligent about giving good recommendations to first-time guests, let them know you’re proud of how well they’ve learned your menu! If your kitchen staff goes a whole shift without any dishes sent back to be fixed, congratulate them at the end of the night.
Don’t punish indiscriminately.
When one employee shows a lack of care, use it as an opportunity to encourage your other employees to stand up. For example, if someone is unexpectedly missing from a shift, you might be tempted to lecture the remaining shift members in order to guilt people into clocking in on time. But your staff could interpret this response to mean you’re willing to punish people who actually did what you told them to do.
Instead, you could offer your staff members on shift an extra dollar an hour if they make no mistakes the whole shift. You’re essentially taking the money you would be paying the missing staff member and giving it to the workers for not only being in on time, but doing top notch work in spite of being a person down.
Giving employees specific incentives for improvement is a much better selling point than just complaining about the problems. It takes a negative situation and turns it into an opportunity and motivation for success.
Find out what incentives are meaningful.
You have many options for incentives, but the most effective incentive you can offer your staff is the one the staff actually wants. Being able to offer them the incentive they want the most will not only make them happy, but will show you’re actually listening to their needs and understand where they’re coming from.
For some employees, the most appealing incentive is always going to be cash rewards. But if you have a lot of staff members who are parents, offering flexible scheduling options as rewards could take major stress off their shoulders.
But how do you know what your employees want in reward incentives? Ask them, either with easy-to-fill-out anonymous surveys or simply at a roundtable employee meeting. Find an opportunity to get your workforce’s take on the kinds of things they would want and need from rewards. This will both give you valuable information and send your employees the message that you’re listening because you care about their points of view.
What should be rewarded?
Avoid offering rewards (monetary or otherwise) just based off check totals. It’s unfair to workers on slower shifts. In fact, those workers might see the rewards as impossible for them to win, and there goes any motivation for them to improve. In the bigger picture, it’s important to emphasize performance over longevity, too. Expecting employees to wait five years for their first big recognition, especially when they are busting themselves to work hard every day, is disincentivizing.
Instead of going off check totals or years of service, think about speed and accuracy. You can also do full shift incentives, where everyone needs to both hold each other accountable for accuracy and efficiency, but also help each other when they get in the weeds.
If you offer catering, give bonuses out to employees who refer their friends and family to the catering service. Same goes for big event reservations – rewarding your staff for helping your word-of-mouth marketing can be a win for everyone!
Another way to encourage good work is to engage your employees deeper into the business. Ask your servers what changes they’d make to improve traffic. Ask your kitchen staff what they’d do to slim down on food waste. Having open lines of communication can allow your staff to share ideas on how their section of the business can be better.
Getting your staff thinking of bigger improvements beyond just their day-to-day responsibilities nudges them towards being more invested in the success of the business. But if they give you ideas, you need to take them seriously. Nothing pops a worker’s enthusiasm like trusting their manager to listen and getting a dismissive reply. Let them see their ideas go into the restaurant, and they’ll be more excited to be part of the team.
Want more tips on how to retain employees, as well as hire, train, and discipline? Download our free eBook on “Restaurant Management for Success” today: