Ms. Ross

Food & Beverage

Food Service Employee Incentives

By Susie Ross, Founder, Waiter Training

In trainings across the country, the resounding theme among long-term servers is quality benefits and bonuses. Bonuses are usually tied to sales and productivity, which translates to higher check averages.

These days, without fringe benefits like health care and 401ks, employers have to get creative with ways to keep staff interested and motivated. At the same time, they have to keep their own bottom line a priority for survival!

This dilemma can become an opportunity for you, the employer, to motivate your staff in new and creative ways. Think about the things that really excite them. Maybe feeling like they own a part of the company is one way to make your staff get motivated and really sell. Stock options are offered at some restaurants to attract and keep quality staff. Maybe you have a younger staff and some freedom of scheduling would be a nice way to boost morale.

Whatever the goal, contests between your servers create healthy, competitive spirits. Keep your contests short and the goals attainable. Thirty days is the maximum time frame in which to keep a contest; they'll lose interest after that. You can always start fresh after the 30-day period is over. Rotate contests and bring the popular ones back when you feel boredom is setting in.

Most restaurant owners and managers agree that contests that last one to two weeks are the most effective. Thirty days is good for big goals; keep the smaller ones to a shorter time frame. If you want to use long term goals, the prizes might be in the form of bonuses.

Whether you use contests or bonuses, both involve sales, of course. The most popular sales contest is "highest check average" in a span of one or two weeks. Great contest - at first. You'll soon find that the same one or two people are winning that one! So you're compelled to hold another contest that rewards the "highest check average increase" to those servers who are really trying. It takes some people longer than others to figure out how they can be effective sales people.

Other contests are "most wine sold," "most appetizers sold," "most premium alcohol sold;" from there, you can get creative and come up with a whole host of other contest ideas.

Once your team has gotten the hang of these contests, set goals for them to reach. Make the goals attainable and the rewards appropriate the difficulty level of the contests.

Soon, you'll be able to up the ante! Many of your servers may reach the goal of selling five bottles of wine in one night. Raise the bar and make it 7 or 8, even 10! When staff realize how easy it can be to sell that much wine, dessert or appetizers, whatever you choose, the competitive spirit will take over. Make sure you keep that spirit light and fun.

You don't want to alienate your servers who aren't reaching the goal of even five bottles of wine per night, so keep some other contests going in which you know they can do well. I'm not talking about feeling sorry for them; I'm saying they need more time to build up their confidence and their skills. They'll get there. Build your sales team slowly and steadily. If they never get the opportunity to build their confidence, they will just leave and you'll be training another new person.

You will have to give some training on the proper ways to sell. It doesn't matter what it is - wine, dessert, appetizers or sides - if your staff doesn't know the proper language to use for selling, no one will be successful. Hold a training session specifically for the selling of the contest you're holding for a particular period of time.

Get some feedback from people who are successful at selling certain menu items; find out what they're saying to get guests to order them. You might want to let others role play and get used to saying things they don't usually say. This is ultimately designed to create higher check averages; it's in your best interest to help everyone succeed.

Help your staff understand how higher check averages helps everyone, not just the person winning. Talk about the dining experience and how they should be guiding guests through it. Relate it to their own homes; what do you do when someone comes to visit you in your home? Do you just let them fend for themselves? Do you offer specific items because your guests don't know what you have in your refrigerator?

Prizes! What to give as prizes for attaining these goals is up to you. You might consider giving a bottle of wine to the person that sells the most wine. Perhaps a gift certificate to a more upscale restaurant would be nice to give; everyone appreciates going out and getting a discount! Cash is an obvious easy prize, but that can get costly for your pocket!

One of the best won't cost you any money at all! Consider offering a week or two of a "free" schedule. The winner gets to choose his/her schedule for the designated period of time. Servers love to make their own schedules! What a great motivator!

You might even consider asking your staff what they think are fair prizes for various contests. Get their feedback and you'll learn what their "hot" buttons are. You are not obligated to use anything that doesn't work for you. You just have to be fair.

Contests don't just have to be for servers. Get your kitchen staff, hosts and bussers involved in some creative contests of their own. They are a part of the team and should have their own incentives for contributing to the team goals.

Punctuality, absenteeism and attitude might be contest subjects, as well. Timeliness of food produced and decreasing the amount of silverware and dishes thrown away might be great ways to reward the back of the house.

You know your business better than anybody; you know what will motivate your staff and what won't. Use that knowledge to your advantage. Help your team make more money; that usually means more money for you, too. You might also find that you'll keep quality staff longer and put an end to high turnover rates.

Employee incentives keep your staff interested and motivated. They want to feel valued and appreciated and will be successful because of your extra care and thought put into contests. The best of them will just be successful because they want to be and they understand the benefits of fine service. They'll be making good money and that will be the true reward.

Susie Ross founded Waiter Training. She holds a degree in Speech/Communications with an emphasis in Theatre, from Metropolitan State College of Denver and has made a successful career of selling and serving food and beverages. Her background in the restaurant business includes fast-paced, breakfast and lunch service and a more formal, evening and dinner atmosphere. Building confidence in both experienced and inexperienced staff has become her trademark. Susie believes servers must approach the table with confidence and an ability to sell the menu, irrespective of the type of restaurant. Ms. Ross can be contacted at 720-203-4615 or susan@waiter-training.com Extended Bio...

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