This strategy helps restaurants keep employees motivated while driving sales and customer service.

Whether you are a franchisor or franchisee, you want each of your restaurant locations and its employees to make more money. Challenges being placed on already thin margins make it difficult to keep up with the increased demands from labor, food costs, rent, and more. And in today’s competitive labor market the cost of locating and training new staff members just adds to the challenge.

If you’re a table service oriented restaurant and you’ve gone to tip pooling or even ventured into the no-tip territory, you may have already seen a difference in a lack of employee motivation due to these policies where the excellent servers are now making less in tips while mediocre servers are a lot happier. So now you need to find other ways to put the spark back in your team.

One method of engaging and motivating your team, while also helping them—and you— make more money is through contests.

People have been competing for thousands of years. The first Olympic Games took place in 764 B.C.E. Competition brings out the competitive spirit in people, provides one with a sense of accomplishment, and can improve your revenue and profit margin while putting more money into the pockets of your servers and cashiers. This helps to minimize the No. 1 reason people leave their jobs: they need more money. Server and cashier competitions aren’t the cure-all, but I believe you’ll find they are highly effective in motivating your staff. Competition is one way to create that spark your teams need— heck, it might just ignite a full-blown fire.

Where To Begin

When looking to create a successful revenue-boosting competition, it’s not a one size fits all solution. Different restaurant operations require different approaches, but the fundamentals are pretty much the same everywhere.

You’ll want to begin by identifying the specific item or itemsto be included in the competition. I’d recommend that you select ones that happen to have the best margins and not your best sellers, since these will sell anyway and only reduce your margin.

In some cases, you might want to have multiple items in the competition with different points assigned to each based on their margin contribution or ability to impact customer service. A bottle of wine, for example, may be worth 10 points, while an appetizer may be worth only 3 points and a low number of voids is worth 5 points.

The same can be accomplished when upselling combo meals versus a package of cookies. In either case, having the appropriate restaurant reporting solution will not only help you monitor and measure the sales activity of these items down to the server and cashier level; it should also be capable of easily and quickly communicating the results (daily at a minimum, end of shift-better, near real-time-best) to all participants. Effective communications with your teams both before and during the competition will further foster their primal competitive spirit that, in turn, will drive sales and revenues even higher.

Something else to keep in mind when measuring sales performance is hours worked. To level the playing field and truly measure performance, it’s important to use sales per labor hour as the metric for performance monitoring. Running a weekly or month-long competition where you divide employees’ sales by the number of hours worked will define who your top performers are.

Once you have created the competition—it’s time to come up with the reward:

  1. Cash is king and is another way to increase pay that is based on performance where low pay is noted as being one of the top reasons for employee turnover, thus increasing revenues and restaurant profit margin
  2. Gift cards
  3. For table service operations, you can also consider allowing the winner to choose a specific section they’d like to serve
  4. If you have a company- or corporate-sponsored event or convention, invite the team member(s) with the best record to attend and be recognized. An added bonus could be to include their spouse or significant other with all expenses paid.
  5. Select a handful of high-end electronic items and allow the winners to choose the one he or she would like
  6. Depending on the length of the contest or size of the revenue goal, you may elect to provide a choice between a handful of all-expenses-paid vacations or the latest electronics.

Other forms of competition can include:

  1. Measure for the lowest cumulative total of voids, discounts, overrings, etc., as these can be leading indicators for creating customer dissatisfaction—and theft—helping improve customer service
  2. Measure and reward employee attendance by tracking and rewarding those with no call-ins or absences
  3. Measure manager performance for turnover rates and recognize those doing the best job retaining staff
  4. Use mystery shopper feedback to identify those employees who are delivering exceptional customer service

Regardless of what type of contest and rules you choose to pursue, having the right restaurant reporting solution to help you monitor, measure, and report on any metrics you’ve selected is crucial to delivering timely feedback that, in turn, will help maximize the motivation of your employees and the success of your contests.

With more than 30 years of experience in the restaurant and technology industries, Dave has steered Mirus through its formative years as well as into its current growth phase. Prior to joining Mirus in 2000, Dave delivered more than $500 million in large-scale information services contracts for IBM Global Services. In addition, he previously served as the vice president for information services for the now Dunkin’ Brands, where he managed the information strategies and policies of more than 5,000 Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin’ Donuts locations. Dave holds a B.S. in Business Administration and MBA from Northeastern University.

Expert Takes, Feature