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Brenda Rice
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02.2.21

Six Restaurant Employee Incentives to Keep Your Staff Happy

Happy and motivated employees mean much more than just a pleasant workplace. Research conducted by the University of Warwick’s Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy indicates that happy employees are 10 percent more productive than their unhappy peers. They’re also likely to stick around longer. 

The benefits of highly motivated employees are also profound. Research shows that motivated employees are more engaged employees, a relationship which is linked with putting more energy and passion into their work. Conversely, unmotivated employees are extremely costly to businesses. One Gallup study determined that disengaged employees cost companies a staggering $300 billion in lost productivity annually.

The imperative for restaurant owners looking to curb attrition and improve performance? Employee happiness and motivation matter. All of which begs the question of how to motivate your restaurant staff. Read on for six kitchen staff incentive ideas aimed at cultivating happy and motivated restaurant employees toward a better bottom line for you.

1. Applaud attendance and loyalty.

When your restaurant is short-handed, service is likely to suffer. But that’s not all: A consistently understaffed restaurant may also lead to low morale and, ultimately, attrition. Creating an attendance-based restaurant employee reward system can motivate employees to show up as scheduled, thereby minimizing call-ins and absences.

Rewarding loyalty is also important. Is there a particular employment milestone you’re looking for staff to reach? Rewarding employees who meet this benchmark can motivate others to stay.

Keep in mind that while cash awards are always appreciated, non-cash incentives, such as paid days off, promotions and flexible vacation time, also have value and mean less out-of-pocket spending for you.

2. Implement team and individual incentives for performance.

Wondering whether to set restaurant staff incentives according to team or individual incentives? There are pros and cons to both. While the former motivates staff to work together toward a common goal, the latter lets restaurants celebrate their highest-achieving employees while facilitating competition. Implementing a mix of team and individual performance incentives is a “best of both worlds” solution.

Again, while monetary awards are popular, there are less costly (and even free!) ways to motivate and reward staff for their performance, such as by assigning them preferential sections or big parties. 

3. Establish incremental goals.

How can your staff know whether they’re meeting performance expectations if you haven’t provided clearly defined goals? While long-term goals may make sense from a management perspective, small, short-term and achievable goals work well for empowering and motivating restaurant staff.

But goal setting isn’t just about letting employees know how they’re doing. It’s also a motivational tool in and of itself. According to Edwin Locke’s goal-setting theory of motivation, setting specific and challenging goals (and providing appropriate feedback) directly correlates with better task performance.

4. Acknowledge their efforts.

Praise seems like a natural extension of establishing goals and implementing performance incentives. However, many restaurant managers and owners fall short when it comes to offering staff the positive feedback they crave. According to a Gallup poll, positive feedback is a “logical motivator of performance” and yet “praise is painfully absent.” Not only that, but it costs you nothing.

The takeaway for restaurant owners and managers looking to keep their employees motivated with restaurant kitchen staff incentives? “Because of its power, ridiculously low cost, and rarity, [praising employees] is one of the greatest lost opportunities in the business world today,” says Gallup.

5. Feed them.

Your restaurant staff spends their time serving and preparing food, but how often do they get to sit down and enjoy it? Offering them meals and hosting employee dinners is not only a people-pleaser but also makes sense from a service perspective as it helps front-of-house employees understand the menu better. Some restaurants also give staff the chance to enjoy the “diner experience” by giving them gift certificates for free meals with a guest.

Lastly, providing your staff with snacks during their shifts is a small yet significant way to show that you care while motivating them to care, in return. 

6. Show them they’re valuable to you.

Speaking of showing them you care, today’s workers are looking for more than a paycheck. They’re also looking to be part of something. Giving employees a voice helps them feel connected, valued, respected and engaged.

There are many ways for restaurants to do this and create a win-win situation, including utilizing mobile restaurant scheduling software that gives staff a stake in scheduling, offering “professional development” opportunities such as sales training courses for servers and mixology courses for bartenders, and creating a “wellness program” with access to free or subsidized gym memberships.

Staff retention and poor employee performance are major pain point for restaurants. However, they don't have to be. Investing in employee happiness and motivation by adopting these six morale-boosting tips is also an investment in the comprehensive well-being of your restaurant.

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