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Restaurant Employee Reward System: Keep Employees Happy

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It doesn't matter if you have the best food in town if your employees aren't motivated to serve it. Customers come to your restaurant not just for the food, but for the quality of your customer service.

Managing restaurant employees can be a challenge, as the hours can be long and hectic. Both workers and managers are often exhausted at the end of their shifts and the hours and workload can be unpredictable. Employees turnover rates are high in the industry, and constantly training new staff can be a grueling undertaking for both management and experienced staff. If your staff members aren't motivated to work, your sales can shrink. Fortunately, with the right practices in place there are ways to reduce turnover and build (or rebuild) a motivated team.

Get your staff involved

Running any business requires lots of good ideas — and a few great ones. Solicit ideas from employees that can make things run smoother, improve sales (and everyone’s income), or help the team break into new markets. Your workers probably already have some solutions to problems regarding inefficiencies or ideas for selling more. It may be that nobody has asked them for for their feedback before. Being part of the process (and the success) helps to foster teamwork and greater involvement.

However, you can't simply hope that your employees will give you their opinions. You need to take the initiative and actively seek their advice. Here are some of the methods of you can get your staff members involved:

  • Create a system for your employees to offer suggestions, like a simple suggestions box. If you prefer a more digital alternative, use an online form like Survey Monkey. Just make sure to regularly check the suggestions that your employees have been sending and acknowledge them.
  • Conduct employee surveys to get their feedback. Surveys will allow you to learn your employee's opinions, ideas, and if they are satisfied in your restaurant or not. Once you have your employees’ feedback, use that to inform the decisions that will help your restaurant and improve their working conditions.
  • Set up teams to generate ideas and make decisions. Team members don't have to be managers. In fact, they can be any of your employees. Your team should generally focus on the development of your employees and how they can help your business. They should meet regularly to brainstorm ideas and solve problems.

Be fair and be consistent

Playing favorites works against the goal of team building in the restaurant business and in most other industries. Not many things can kill the “team spirit” faster than favoritism or arbitrary rules that favor some but not others. In any business, you’ll have top performers and there are ways to reward performance without creating resentment among other workers. Any rewards or perks for a job well done should be acknowledged as such and should be available to anyone.

Treating your employees fairly in the workplace is not just a moral obligation, but it also helps in ensuring the maximum growth of your restaurant. When an employee gest unfairly treated, you lower your employee's morale. A low morale decreases employee engagement and productivity, and an unproductive employee is likely to provide a worse customer experience or to leave. The employee could also consequently file a lawsuit against your company.

  • Listen to your employee. This sends a message to them that their feedback is important.
  • Do not show favoritism toward any employee. Doing this will cause your employee to resent you.
  • Promote employees only when they deserve it, not because of your personal relationship with them. If you promote an employee solely because they are very close to you or they are family, then the promotion will seem unfair to employees who are more qualified to the job.
  • Recognize and reward employees for their accomplishments regardless of whether they are the waiter or the manager.
  • Remember that if it weren't for your employees, you wouldn’t even have this job. You need them and you need to be a part of the team. Don’t treat your employees as if you were the lord of your staff.
  • When you have a job opening, post the job openings for all your employees to see instead of verbally telling your employees about it. By posting job openings, you give your employees an equal opportunity to apply for open positions.

Provide extra incentives

Restaurant jobs can be stressful due to the long hours and demanding customers, and on top of that having to keep a friendly face on despite all that. A good incentive program will help your employees stay motivated. It also makes your employees more loyal to your restaurant and builds a positive and trusting relationship between the management and the staff.

If you have a significant increase in sales for a money-making item, like beverages or other add-ons, could you afford to share a bit of the profits as a reward? Both team and individual incentives can be effective ways to grow your business in areas that boost your bottom line. Incentives don’t always have to be sales-related either. You can also build incentives around improving efficiency.

For example, if your restaurant is short on staff, choose a time period to base your incentives on. It could be a quarter, or a year, or whatever you think is best for this kind of incentive program. Offer a cash reward or gift cards to employees who show they are driving sales or who haven't been absent from work for a definite period.

According to Entrepreneur, the best bonuses are from targeted, behavior-based individual bonuses. This makes your employees more focused to do their jobs better, avoid feeling neglected or uncomfortable, and avoid being difficult. A proficient restaurant employee is critical to the success of your business. Whether it's the chef, the server, or the manager, monitor the progress of your employees and watch who performs the best in terms of customer service and how they help your restaurant to provide a positive dining experience. Then reward your employees accordingly.

Offer free meal vouchers

How nice would it be if your workers could sit and enjoy a meal at your restaurant without having to wolf down their food between tables? A bonafide sit-down dinner for two once or twice a month can turn a haggard employee into a goodwill ambassador who speaks highly about your restaurant with other employees and with potential new customers. How much does it really cost? You can manage expenses by placing a dollar limit on the voucher and by making it available on your slower days.

  • When employees are given a chance to taste the food that they serve, they are more likely to expand on the knowledge of the menu items, therefore leading to better customer service.
  • Providing discounted meals to employees during the days when they don't work encourages them to bring in friends and relatives, thereby bringing more customers to your restaurant.

Offer longevity awards

When you are aiming for long-term success, it's not just the food you need to focus on, but the staff as well. It's the quality of service you offer that has the biggest influence on the experience of your customers as a whole, and this is where your staff will mostly contribute. This is why it’s important to keep your employees motivated and excited when they come to work each day.

However, chances are that most of your employees won’t be with you long enough to earn a 20-year gold watch like corporations used to offer. Corporations face the same challenge, in fact. But you can build a team of more motivated employees and reduce turnover by offering rewards after a certain amount of time as an employee. For example, you can have a 6-month service award as well as annual service awards. Make a big deal out of it. After all, that employee has taken good care of your customers and has saved you the risk and expense of hiring and training a new employee. Remember that finding new employees, training them, and getting them used to the ins and outs of your restaurant business costs money. Better spend your resources into keeping your existing employees than training new ones.

Best practices for providing loyalty awards to your employees

  • Don't just recognize their years of service, but their achievements as well. When you present the award, make sure to mention their achievements and how they were able to contribute to the success of your restaurant.
  • Show other employees what will happen if they remain working at your restaurant by presenting the loyalty award in an award ceremony. Make sure that a meaningful leader presents the award, preferably someone at an executive level or, better yet, the owner himself. This will show how much your restaurant values the contribution of that employee.
  • Make it public. Take pictures at the awards ceremony, then publish them on your social media page. This gives the impression of a good restaurant culture and shows potential customers that you know how to retain restaurant staff and keep them happy.