This week, your restaurant is the latest Final Fantasy video game. You’re debuting some new menu items and happy hour specials, which have been months in the making.

Marketing has been on a roll, getting the word out with limited time offer emails, social media posts, and direct mailers. You’re confident your limited time offer is going to increase foot traffic, but you know it might not be enough to meet the sales goals set earlier in the month. You’ve got to get your regulars excited about the new dishes too.

You’re leaning on your top two all-star sellers, Becca and David to help push the new items and lead the team to a triumphant victory.

You give them the rules: they must sell 3-4 of the new entrees per shift, and try to get one of their customers to purchase the new strawberry margarita concocted by your bad-ass bartender. If the servers hit their goal, they get a point, and you note it on the leaderboard in the break room. The winner gets a $250 Visa gift card.

Once you announce the contest, you notice an extra pep in the step of many of your employees, even almost some slight hustling of customers as you hear your servers say “We’ve got a new strawberry margarita” like it was Christmas morning. As customers start buying the specials, you see your employees raise their arms in jubilation as they continue to run back and check the leaderboard. You think to yourself “Why haven’t I done this all along?”

What is Gamification?

You might be thinking “that scenario above is just a game.” Well, you’re right, it is just a game. But, gamification could be the key to maximizing engagement among your employees and encouraging them to continue to work at your restaurant.

Gamification is a relatively new term, coined in 2002, and became widely used in 2010. So what is it exactly?

By definition, gamification is the use of game thinking and mechanics in a non-game context to inspire employees to engage in online learning. It takes the essence of games, attributes such as fun, play, transparency, design, and competition, and applies these to a range of real-world processes inside an organization, including training and development.

Gamifying your sales and operations could be as simple as making new hires collect a piece of information from current employees so they get to know each other.

How Restaurants Can Incorporate Gamification

With over 75 percent of people in the United States counting themselves as gamers, there shouldn’t be any reason why your organization can’t adopt gamification as part of your engagement strategy.

Here are three of the most popular ways restaurants can use gamification to increase employee engagement.


Do you ever go to a race of some kind, or even play a game like Mario Kart as a kid? There was a leaderboard on your screen that constantly changed depending on what place you were in. It served as a bit of motivation because you saw exactly where the other competitors were and what you needed to do win.

Your employees thrive on gamification. A survey showed that 62 percent of people said they would be motivated to learn if leaderboards were involved and they had the opportunity to compete with their colleagues.

Managers could use online leaderboards to incentivize employee behavior—like completing required training courses—or encourage some healthy sales competition across stores.

Leaderboards can also be instructive for lower performing employees. When they see how they rank in comparison to their peers, it’s pretty hard to argue about performance or lack of it, when there are numbers and badges attached to objectives. They are scorecards that provide employees with feedback on their training, but also can motivate them as they see how they rank in comparison with their peers.

Building out a leaderboard doesn’t always have to be about hard core competition. Not everyone thrives in a cut-throat, winner-take-all environment. Use leaderboards as a tool to encourage support and gratitude across the organization. No-one succeeds alone and a leaderboard with chat or social features is a great way to leave words of encouragement or helpful for tips for how people lower on the totem pole can improve their odds.

Managers could use leaderboards to incentivize employee behavior—like completing required training courses—or encourage some healthy sales competition across stores.

Badges and Certificates

You might think badges and internal certificates are cheesy, but your employees think otherwise. Badges are wanted by almost everyone—in fact, 89 percent of people say they would be more engaged in e-learning applications if they had point systems.

How can your restaurant use badges to gamify employee engagement?

  • Training Feedback: After your employees complete onboarding, tests or certifications you award them with a badge.
  • Milestones: Turnover is rough in the restaurant business. Award badges to your employees when after they pass their 90th day. You could also give people badges for each year with the restaurant – along with a special present. It could literally be as simple as honoring their time with you by handing them a $50 gift certificate!
  • Mini-Certification: Did your new bartender just complete an advanced bartender course? Has your server been trained on “Customer Service 101”? You can provide mini certificates through your online badge system as a way of congratulating your employees on learning a new skill.

Discussion Boards

If one of your employees has a great day at the restaurant, shouldn’t everyone know about it? Online discussion boards are great places for your employees to interact with one another, sending kudos on a great shift, providing clarification on training material, or, if you have multiple restaurants, a way to get information out to a large number of people.

Your employees want to be heard and discussion boards give them a way to do that. With this “central hub,” your employees can chime in anytime, helping each other out with questions, offering words of encouragement or giving a virtual fist bump.

Game On: Need an E-Learning System?

Restaurant operations like Five Guys Pizza and Newk’s Eatery empower their team members with a powerful e-learning software system. Put HotSchedules Train to the test and find out how you can easily create content and encourage some healthy, online competition at your restaurant.

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