To Motivate Your Restaurant Employees for Little or No Cost


In 1882, when our forefather’s created Labor Day, the first Monday in September, it was intended to be a tribute to the yearly contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. Today I give a shout out to all the food service heroes out in Restaurant land who fill our tummies with mouthwatering meals or sinful treats, wash plates and handle the nasty trash, and cheerfully provide service with a smile even when guests are not so pleasant or respectful. We know who they are and they don’t always get the credit they deserve for making our restaurants flourish 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. So to all the bakers, bartenders, bus persons, chefs, cooks, dishwashers, expediters, hosts and hostesses, maître d, managers, owners, servers, and sommeliers who make our restaurants flourish! I say HOORAH! Great leaders know that they have to show their team appreciation every day of the year to get rock star performance and doing so will make them the employer of choice. That is a grand accomplishment when there is competition around every corner to seduce away not only your customers, but your employees as well. Unfortunately, we often, don’t appreciate what we had until they are working down the street. Studies show that 75% of employees who leave an employer do so not because of the job requirements, but because of the boss. Employers must realize that an employee who feels appreciated will always produce more than is expected day in and day out. Check out these simple actionable ways that you can show appreciation to your team and create a culture of appreciation.

Greetings at Meetings Checking in with each employee at the beginning of their shift with a sincere, cheerful greeting and taking the time to ask how they are doing will go a long way. Tell them you’re glad they are part of your team and don’t forget to say goodbye when they leave. Atta Girls or Atta Boys In Maslow’s Theory of Needs, it is not surprising that right after the basic safety and survival needs, we all strive for the psychological needs of self-esteem such as feelings of belongingness, love, accomplishment and prestige. It is a human nature to want to be part of a winning team and to receive recognition for their contributions. A little praise goes a long way in building trust and commitment in a work relationship. I find that people are very willing do what you praise them for and if you want to quickly and painlessly change a bad behavior or habit in in less than 21 days, there is nothing better than catching even the worst performer in the act of doing something right and praising them on the spot. I have seen more than one perfectly timed acknowledgement create an instant transformation. So praise publicly, praise frequently, and watch your team transform into your “dream team”.

Tokens of Appreciation Along with a frequent words of praise, a small gift will go a long way in showing that you value your team. Early in my restaurant career, my manager changed my life with a gift of appreciation. After working, excessive hours for an extended period of time, as a Person-In- Charge, when the management team fell apart, he gave me a $100 from his bonus and told me go out and have a nice dinner on him. I had received my legal overtime so I had been compensated for my extra efforts, so this was an unexpected surprise. I decided to share my good fortune with a regular customer who on a daily basis asked for my station and invited him to dinner at the hottest spot in Berkeley at the time, the Santa Fe Bar and Grill, owned by master chef and restaurateur Jeremiah Towers, who was said to be the Father of California Cuisine. It was a wonderful meal, we started dating, got married and we recently celebrated our 30th anniversary.

Now I am not saying you need to pass out Benjamins to all your star employees, there are a lot of other inexpensive alternatives which can have a powerful impact:

  • Discounted movie tickets

  • Car wash passes

  • Bus passes or Uber rides

  • Handwritten thank you cards

  • 6 pack of Red Bull or Monster Drinks - A back of the house favorite

  • Guaranteed requested day off passes

  • Free meal tickets

  • A new uniform shirt

  • Food of any kind - Baked goods, candies, tacos or pizza from down the street.

  • Birthday and holiday cards

The list is endless and the results will be priceless. I find this is the funnest part of the job, but if you’re not the warm and fuzzy type, then it is your responsibility to get someone on the team who will coordinate all this goodness for you.

Employee Generated Recognition To create an appreciation culture, you need the whole team to participate. Employees love recognition even better from their peers. After all it is the manager’s job to give them a pat on the back, so when they receive it from a peer it is extra special. I have had success with having employees submit written thank yous to team mates who have helped them out on our “Caught in the Act” form which we later post in a special teamwork area in our break rooms. This has only scratched the surface on how to show appreciation to your team and keep the morale of the staff soaring with very minimal cost and effort. The key to all sustainable programs is to give it on going importance. I recommend placing "Appreciation" as a key behavior in your company's core values, plan it into the daily routine, and be consistent through out perpetuity. So I end this holiday post, and ditto the great words of Sir Richard Branson:

“I truly believe that if you take care of your employees first, they will take care of you and your business.”

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