I think incentives work well for both. They help servers know their food and beverages better and provide value for guests. One of the big ones, around the holidays is a gift card contest. The server who sold the most gets a $500 Amex gift card, plus the rest of the staff (at the winning restaurant) receives a party and trophy. For the customer, if they buy $250 in gift cards they get a $50 Palm (gift) card, so they are rewarded for being loyal.
I think it makes the servers kind of jaded. Every day the ownership wants you to push whatever it is they want to push. Customers come in and know what they want, or they expect the servers to understand what they want. And it's a good server's job to make guests feel comfortable and help the customer get a great meal with something they like, rather than push some items to get a $20 gift card at Starbucks.
We think incentives are best for servers and guests. It's not about overselling, so there's a fine line, because you don’t want the server to be too aggressive or ambitious. You have to be able to read your table, know your products, your wines, your steaks and have fun with it. We have a rhythm with most of them—summer lobster, beverages and gift cards [in winter]—but it can also help if you see sales soften and need to move a product.
I don't see having incentives unless the servers really want them. Even if that happens, it certainly wouldn't be anything big. At the most, it would be something like whoever sells the most of this today wins a six-pack to share with the rest of the gang. A restaurant doesn't need to push any items. As long as the management does a good job of managing the product that comes in, you don't need to force things out.