How to Incentivize Servers at Your Restaurant
Restaurants that offer staff incentives typically offer them first to the highest level employees, like chefs and general managers, who play an integral part in driving revenue and minimizing expenses. But incentivizing servers is important, too—especially right now, as they’re working in uncertain conditions with an uneasy customer base.
The right incentive program could motivate servers to work hard, keep them from looking for other opportunities, and give them an extra boost at a time when restaurants aren’t running at full capacity, reducing the number of tables they can serve and therefore the tips they can earn.
Plus, incentives can create a connection between front-of-house efforts and back-of-house goals. For example, if you have 10 filets close to expiration, you can incentivize servers to sell them before they spoil. It not only drives revenue, but also minimizes expense, because it decreases the chance you’ll be throwing inventory away.
How exactly can you incentivize and reward servers? Here are four easy ways:
Turn each shift into a game
Competition has historically been healthy in the sales world, and server sales are no different. Managers can incentivize servers by turning each night of service into a competition.
Try setting up a bingo card of goals for servers, like selling chef specials, getting rid of extra bottles of Malbec in the basement, or getting an entire table to order their own individual desserts. Apps like Tipzyy can help you keep track of the leaderboard without manually checking your POS system.
Keep staff updated throughout the service so they know where they stand, and reward competition winners with things like cash bonuses, bottles of wine, or gift cards. Servers will be encouraged when they win—and motivated to work harder when they don’t!
Upsell with ease
Upselling is a great way to increase a restaurant’s bottom line. However, upsells should be made to enhance the total dining experience and not just to raise the average check amount.
Before pushing upsells, make sure your staff has the education they need to sell menu items efficiently and effectively. Arming servers with that information allows them to be more entrepreneurial about increasing the check average, which leads to bigger profits for the restaurant and higher tips for the staff.
Once a server understands the range and breadth of dining experiences you can have in a restaurant, the more creative they can be about customizing the experience for each guest. Can they sell bottled sparkling water instead of giving tap water away for free? Are there sides on the menu that will help complement the entree selections? Don’t forget about drink pairings, either.
Reward servers who upsell intelligently with cash bonuses and gift cards, and use their sales as an educational example for the rest of your staff.
Sell specials to reduce waste
Most food in a restaurant is perishable, and each ingredient in a kitchen’s walk-in is a depreciating asset. If you’re not selling or utilizing each ingredient before expiration, then the restaurant loses money with each item that gets thrown in the trash.
Good communication between the back and front of the house is crucial to a successful service. Each shift should start with a scheduled conversation between the kitchen staff and service staff so chefs can tell servers which dishes need to move to maximize inventory.
Those dishes can be framed as specials or as personal recommendations by servers. Minimizing food waste is not only good for the restaurant’s bottom line, but for the planet! Reward the servers who sell the most of these menu items with an Employee of the Month award. Who doesn’t like to have bragging rights?
Turn tables with tact
The more people you can fit into your restaurant or on your patio, the more lucrative it will be. Turning tables is especially important under current operating circumstances, with most restaurants only offering outdoor seating or running under limited indoor capacity.
Being hospitable and warm is a top priority for all front of house staff, but making sure servers are controlling the pace of the table is paramount to a restaurant’s success. Encourage servers to turn tables with tact by clearing plates immediately, pouring wine more frequently, being more readily available to answer questions, and dropping the check with dessert.
Perhaps the server with the most turned tables at the end of service earns a gift card or bottle of wine. Or, if a manager notices some particularly strong table-turning behavior, they can offer that server a bonus.
Ready to reward the rest of your staff?
The right incentives prompt restaurant employees to act entrepreneurially, encouraging them to go the extra mile to help the organization succeed.
Check out our eBook, How to Structure Bonuses at Restaurants, to learn how to create powerful incentive packages that incentivize both front of house and back of house employees! We even include calculation templates to make it as easy as possible to set rewards worth working for.