In a recent series of Forbes articles on motivating employees, Victor Lipman addresses the idea of how to motivate employees when things like salary increases and bonuses simply aren’t an option. Many of the suggestions that he makes might be more appropriate for those working in corporate America (such as office space, free parking spaces, and bigger-ticket items like sporting event tickets, spa weekends, and fancy dinners), but those in the restaurant industry could still benefit from applying his ideas.
So what kind of creative motivators might work for your employees? It depends on both your restaurant and your employees, as well as the type of behavior you want to see from said employees.
So, for example, if your restaurant has launched a customer loyalty program or an email program and you want to motivate employees to get customers to sign up for the program, you might hold a membership contest for those who sign up the most people with prizes like gas cards (or any other prize that would appeal to your employees). Of course, you’ll want to make sure that the contest can work for all employees, not just servers, if you want a real motivation boost, so you might consider offering one prize for servers and another prize for non-servers who might be motivated to get friends and family members to sign up for the program.
There are times, however, when only one group is affected by a motivational factor. For example, maybe you’ve noticed that servers are regularly getting orders wrong or that the food coming out of the kitchen isn’t prepared correctly. In those cases, it’s fine to directly target the group that you want to be motivated, but the trick is to make sure that whatever motivator you’re using won’t make the employees who aren’t eligible for it jealous, as you don’t want productivity to drop in some other area of your restaurant. Maybe those who make the fewest mistakes could be offered a better schedule or an additional break. You might also consider instituting a “Server of the Month” and “Back of House Employee of the Month” program to reward those who go above and beyond the regular call of duty each month.
Of course, sometimes you don’t have to offer a prize or reward to motivate your employees. As Lipman points out, simply saying “thank you” can go a long way toward keeping your employees motivated. If they know that you appreciate the work that they do, and you’re ready and willing to praise and say thank you when someone does something well, you might find that your employees are more willing to work a bit harder and do a bit more, even if they aren’t getting any other reward for the behavior than a thank you.
Sometimes it seems more important to single out an employee who’s done something wrong, but acknowledging when employees do something right might be even more important. That acknowledgement can encourage an employee to keep doing things right, and, when other employees see the positive response another employee gets, they’ll be more likely to emulate that behavior. A simple “thank you” can create a cycle of positive behavior which can have a significant effect on the morale of your employees and the service your customers receive.