10 Ways to Incentivise Your Restaurant Team

Management 11 minute read 5th October 2020

Did you know that nine out of ten restaurants employ less than 50 people?

Whether part of a big chain or an independent operation, modern restaurants typically run small, tight teams. And that makes the role of restaurant owner or manager even tougher when you take into account how high staff turnover is in this sector.

Last year, it was revealed that the US hospitality industry suffered its highest level of restaurant staff churn in 2018 since the credit crunch recession. In the UK, the employee turnover rate in hospitality is roughly double that of the national average.

Then, we have the lasting impacts of COVID-19 - whatever they’re likely to be. How can restaurant owners keep hold of their staff base if they’re equally concerned about the ability for the business itself to survive?

The answer is a simple one: your business will survive if the team remains in place and fully incentivised to do their best work.

It’s not about money

Ok, it is to a degree; we do, after all, go to work to earn money in order to put food on the table and keep a roof above our heads.

But incentivising restaurant staff doesn’t have to revolve around money. It’s actually about giving them the tools they need to undertake their jobs effectively, ensuring they feel empowered to make their own decisions, and giving them a hefty pat on the back when they achieve anything - big or small.

So, how do you incentivise staff without simply handing out bonuses and bigger pay checks?

how to incentivise restaurant staff

1. Find some low-cost perks

This strategy is just like giving customers incentives to return to your restaurant. In those instances, you look for perks that are low-cost for your business but of high value to them.

For staff, it’s no different; casual dress days, an additional day off work or a cinema ticket are just some examples of the perks you could offer your team.

You may simply decide to give out a chocolate bar to everyone at the end of a shift for no reason other than the fact you remain proud of them. And, often, that’s enough.

2. Let them have fun

This isn’t about letting the team run riot when they’re supposed to be serving guests - it’s about demonstrating that you understand the importance of a work-life balance.

Going to work should be enjoyable - particularly in the restaurant industry. If your team is glum and dreads heading in each day, you need to find out why.

Encouraging staff to chat with customers, run their own in-house contests behind the scenes or devise their own office games for slow periods are great ways to build morale and incentivise them to work hard for the business.

3. Make your restaurant a family - from the word go

It might sound like a bit of a cliché - cheesy, even - but running your restaurant business as though it’s a family is a great way to ensure the team wants to do their very best.

This starts at the recruitment phase. It’s vital that you find people who can work well together and participate in the family atmosphere you want to create.

All families argue and disagree on certain things, but when they work, they work big time.

4. Create an ‘idea reward’

Your staff have probably got lots of brilliant ideas about how the business could be run more smoothly or how guests could be given an even better dining experience.

This doesn’t mean you’ve failed, and it doesn’t mean they’re vying to somehow overthrow your leadership; it means they simply want to get involved. They aren’t getting involved most likely because they don’t feel empowered to do so.

Encourage idea sharing by devising an ‘idea reward’ scheme. The trick lies in giving full control of the scheme to the team themselves. So, someone comes up with an idea and it’s the team that votes on whether or not it’s worth taking to you. The bonus (say, £20) is offered for the idea - not depending on whether or not you implement it.

5. Promote health and wellbeing

Health and wellbeing play a huge role in modern team building, recruitment and business development. And that’s for one simple reason: a happy team is an efficient, productive team capable of great things.

Do you have any form of health and wellbeing focus for the staff at your restaurant? Offering discounted gym memberships (talk to the local gym - you never know what they might be able to offer) or on-site yoga from a trained instructor shows that you care about how your team feels.

6. Let them get on with it

No one likes micro-management.

In fact, there’s nothing more uninspiring than a manager who is constantly breathing down your neck and ‘checking in’ on your progress.

Ensure everyone in the team knows their individual responsibilities, and leave them to it. There’s nothing more inspiring than being empowered to do your job in the best way you see fit.

7. Offer mentoring opportunities

Chances are, you’ll have a mentor of some form yourself, whether it’s a close friend, ex-boss or industry veteran.

Why don’t you offer the same opportunity for your staff? You could be their mentor, or, if the budget allows, there might even be an opportunity to hire the services of a hospitality coach.

Mentors help people harness their skills and find other opportunities to further their careers. What more incentive could you give?

8. Implement flexible working times

Ok, we appreciate you can’t offer quite the same kind of flexitime found within office working environments, but flexible schedules for restaurant staff aren’t works of fiction.

For instance, if you have a member of the team who is parent to a young child, can you adjust their shift so it fits around school drop off/collection?

What about your millennial workforce? Studies suggest that 92% of that generation identity flexibility as the top job priority. Is your eat-sleep-serve-repeat working pattern likely to put them off?

Speak to each employee and ask if their rota works. If not, what kind of working pattern would work? They can’t dictate how your restaurant is run in this way, but listening to their idea of a better work-life balance will help you incentivise them to work hard when they’re most able to do so.

9. Show them where they can go

“Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?”

Remember that perennial interview question?

The answer to that question from existing employees is something for which you should be able to regularly offer inspiration.

By offering regular training, mentoring (see tip 7) and additional tasks outside of their remit, you’ll constantly remind the team that there are opportunities to grow. It’ll also prove that you take their career and personal development seriously - and that can be very inspiring indeed.

10. Recognise them

Remember when an old boss of yours pulled you to one side after a shift, completed unannounced, to say “thank you”? It really meant something, didn’t it?

There was no additional money involved and no day off mentioned - they just thanked you for your hard work.

Often, this is the most powerful form of recognition. Use it judiciously.

Final tip

If you’re still searching for ways to incentivise your team, think about what has worked for you in the past.

What did a previous boss, colleague or mentor do for you which prompted you to head to the restaurant eagerly every day?

Replicate it for your team.

Useful resources

You’ve Built the Best Restaurant Team - Here’s How to Keep Them

How to Reduce Staff Tension in a Busy Hospitality Business

Using People Power to Boost Your Business

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