By recognizing your servers, you can ensure your customers have an amazing experience every time.

How to Gamify Work to Improve Restaurant Performance

This strategy keeps team members engaged, reduces turnover, and drives sales through healthy competition

In corporate America, gamification is very much en vogue. From point-based training modules to online performance leaderboards, businesses are scrambling to adopt best practices that will spur competition and maximize the discretionary effort employees are willing to pour into work.

On the nation’s frontlines, however, gamification strategy has not quite trickled down. The reasons are myriad: A fundamental lack of understanding about what exactly gamification is; a widespread sentiment that, given high attrition rates, it’s not worth the effort to implement gamification in an hourly workspace; confusion about the best way to construct a gamification platform.

It’s time to set the record straight.

Here’s the bottom line: gamification is the easiest way to engage employees and, in turn, tangibly impact the metrics that matter most to business. That means sales, guest satisfaction, upsells, average bill size—you name it.

Let’s dispel some common misconceptions.

What is Gamification?

It’s exactly what it sounds like: modeling business goals into a “game” that allows employees to compete with each other, making work more enjoyable while simultaneously driving performance.

A rudimentary example: A restaurant chain has a new seasonal special, and corporate wants 50 of those bad boys sold per day, per location. Local management doesn’t panic, though, because the GM has a simple gamification concept in mind.

Here’s how it works: Managers set up a chalkboard back of house with each server’s name. Whenever someone sells one of the new specials, they get a point. At the end of every day, the rankings are reshuffled to represent who has sold the most specials. Suddenly, even employees who typically lack enthusiasm for sales competitions are sneaking back to see who’s ahead and incorporating the special heavily into their welcome spiels. It’s the spirit of competition, simple as that.

Gamification requires minimal managerial effort, low-lift—and is shockingly effective. Even a manual, leaderboard-style technique like this can boost stubborn metrics like guest satisfaction up to 20 percent within weeks.

What’s it Going to Cost Me?

No manager is a stranger to the whole “win-a-$50-Starbucks-gift-card” sales competition philosophy. Many store leaders assume that a game without a specific reward will have no noticeable effect on performance and never even attempt to model a “game” without some kind of cash prize.

But the gift cards and monetary bonuses aren’t necessary to move metrics. If anything, dangling a small carrot like that in front of employees as a motivator serves only to cheapen excellent work.

Seem counterintuitive? That’s because the traditional corporate perspective on hourly workers is completely backwards. For a top-notch server, waiting is a career, and their skillset is a point of great pride—no less so than it is for any corporate employee with a more “professional” job title. Just as with an elite sales rep, top hourly workers derive satisfaction from doing their job well and staying at the front of the pack. That knowledge is a reward in itself.

The problem is transparency. In the majority of frontline environments, performance data is not public. The best are not concretely sure of their positioning, and the worst can skate by under the radar. The manual leaderboard technique—without any sort of cash prize—is more than enough to trigger a sense of ownership and stimulate in-store competition, because it is there for all to see. There is no denying the cold, hard facts.

This is doubly true when a formalized recognition system is implemented alongside it. Imagine this: next to the leaderboard, there’s another chalkboard, except this one is full of messages from management congratulating top performers in the sales competition on their great work. The best managers take things a step further, often introducing a badge system to formally recognize the best waiters. The value here is inherent: the knowledge that he or she is the best of the best. Self-fulfillment is priceless. Gift cards or some spare pocket change will never hold a candle to professional pride. Pin a “Number One Server” button on a waiter’s apron and watch as she ceaselessly holds her head high in every customer interaction.

For bonus points, take it to the next level and put actual guest feedback on the recognition board. There’s no refuting what comes from the horse’s mouth.

Why Bother? Employees Only Last a Few Months Anyway.

Yes, attrition is high. Want to do something about it, or just sit around waiting for your talent to walk out the door?

If fighting proactively to keep the best employees sounds intriguing, the solution, once again, is gamification.

To explore why gamification beats down attrition levels, we must understand why hourly workers quit their jobs so frequently. It usually boils down to a lack of brand loyalty. To many employees, it doesn’t matter if they’re working at Wendy’s or Burger King, so long as they get a paycheck. That makes it easy for a small incident to provoke a two weeks’ notice.

Brand loyalty is a serious issue to take on, often necessitating some cultural upheaval. The mistake is thinking that cultural transformation requires calling in the consultants. Instead, let’s delve a layer deeper and ask why it is that hourly workers often lack brand loyalty. 

Work on the frontline is not easy. Employees must be “on” 100 percent of the time, interacting with customers for hours on end and successfully selling goods, whether they’re new dishes or new drink specials. One would expect a proportional degree of recognition for the toil that goes into this work; yet, in a recent MomentSnap poll of frontline workers, nearly 60 percent of respondents said they don’t feel valued or recognized enough.

And yet somehow, attrition remains a big mystery. News flash—when employees don’t feel like their employer values their efforts, they will not strive to maximize those efforts and will not hesitate to seize an equal or even slightly lesser opportunity at another establishment.

The best way to facilitate recognition? You guessed it: the dual chalkboard set up we’ve already discussed. It forces managers and peers to notice ideal work, leading to organic kudos that stimulate that elusive sense of pride and boost efforts. When employees feel valued, a sense of community is cultivated. Workers who are a part of a team want that team to excel.

So what are you waiting for? Scraping up the budget for a pair of chalkboards is no barrier to gamification entry. Start off with simple competition and basic recognition. The results will stagger you. Escalate from there.

And when the organization is ready to ramp things up to an enterprise level, add an adrenalin shot to gamification by adopting a mobile platform that lives on employee’s devices. Going digital streamlines the gamification process and opens up a world of opportunities to build on,like mobile chat interface, automated recognition, and top-to-bottom organizational transparency. 

Slyboro Cider House La Sainte Terre

Ashish Gambhir is an entrepreneur and 15-year veteran of the restaurant and hospitality industry. He is the co-founder of MomentSnap, a mobile-first frontline employee engagement platform optimized for quick-service and fast-casual environments. He previously co-founded NewBrand Analytics, a social media listening tool that was acquired by Sprinklr last summer.

read more