7 Restaurant Employee Contest Ideas to Boost Sales and Engagement

7 Restaurant Employee Contest Ideas to Boost Sales and Engagement
D. J. Costantino

By D. J. Costantino

What if we told you that there was a great strategy to increase your restaurant’s sales while engaging your staff and reducing turnover? There is a way—and it’s through creating employee contests.

According to a study by Quantum Workplace, highly engaged teams have 20 percent higher sales numbers and are 21 percent more profitable. Engaged employees are also less likely to turnover. 47% of restaurants were negatively affected by employee turnover in 2019, with less than a third of restaurateurs reporting that turnover had no impact on their business. With an average cost of $3,500 when an employee leaves, it’s something restaurateurs can’t afford.

Benefits of Employee Contests

7shifts engagement tools can help keep track of how your employees are feeling about each shift, but a surefire way to make sure it’s all good vibes, an employee contest can help motivate and engage employees. The benefits of employee contests can impact all areas of your business and employee lifecycle—from sales to engagement to training. This article will arm you with ideas for restaurant employee contests. We also polled some of 7shifts team who used to work in restaurants (there’s a lot of us!) for some of their favorites. Here’s a few benefits of some friendly competition:

  • A more engaged staff with lower turnover
  • Higher check averages due to upselling
  • Higher sales of specific inventory or menu items
  • Up your email list or gain more social following
  • Sell more high-margin items like wine and cocktails
  • A more knowledgeable and skilled staff

Ready to start implementing some employee incentives? Here’s a few ideas for contests and rewards for your team.

1. Engage Your Team With Contests Grow your social following

There is no underestimating the value of a solid email list or troop of social media followers for your restaurant’s bottom line. When it comes to email, every $1 you spend can mean $38 back to your business—that’s a 3800% ROI. And social media is no slouch, either: actively follow and engage with restaurants on social media, 74% say they are more likely to visit or order food from those establishments.

Put your team up to the task of getting more signups or followers. When they collect the check, have them ask guests if they follow your restaurant on Facebook or Instagram. If not, have your staff encourage them to. If your restaurant is counter service, have an email list signup sheet where your team can encourage them to sign up for the list to get updates about the business and first dibs at any special promos you may have in the pipeline.

When it comes to tracking, the honor system is your best bet here. Have your team keep a tally of any customers they can convince to sign up or follow and offer a reward for the team member with the most. Engage your team and your guests simultaneously while boosting some sales in the process!

2. Have a cocktail or menu competition

The next time you are changing up your menu, open up a slot for an item that will be created by a member of your kitchen or front of house staff. For your kitchen team, this could be a signature burger or sandwich special. For the front-of-house, a cocktail or coffee drink. Give your team a small budget for supplies or an ingredient allowance and have them present their dish or drink to the rest of the team for a tasting at your next staff meeting. Then, put it to a vote! Whoever the team decides is the winner, that staff member wins the honor of having their item on the menu for a set amount of time. Alternatively, you can create a rotating slot on the menu for staff specials, and give each team member an opportunity to contribute their special for a few weeks or a month.

Adapting to Take-Out

With many dining rooms closed due to COVID-19 restrictions at the time of this writing, you can take this idea and adapt it to take-out menus. Many restaurants are offering bundles or packages of dishes and drinks, so think ahead to upcoming events, and have your staff collaborate on takeout packages. Think New Years’ Eve Champagne and bites delivery, A Fresh Start package or juices or healthy dishes, A Super Bowl package of beers, wings, and snacks, or a Date Night package. Delivery combos are the new Prixe Fixe—so have your staff help and get creative with your offerings!

3. Aim for the Perfect Check

For a restaurant check, having a drink, appetizer, entree, and dessert is light lighting up a slot machine. Have your servers keep a copy of their chits where they were able to upsell a guest to order all four. Don’t have a traditional set menu? Adapt the idea to your menu by creating your own version of a perfect check. Maybe it’s a coffee and a pastry, or a grain bowl, juice, and dessert. Tally up and see which member of your team had the most perfect checks and give them a reward at the end of competition.

4. Throw a Simple Sales Contest

There’s nothing like a simple sales competition to keep your staff on their toes and your revenues up—and there are a numbers of ways to do it. The premise is usually the same—who can sell the most total or of a certain item, and the winner gets a prize. Get creative with how it’s set up and you’ll be able to have some kind of contest running at all times, helping to keep the team engaged and your revenues up. Here are two ways of going about it:

  • Individual Sales Contest by having employees work to upsell and have the highest sales in a given week or month.
  • Team Sales Contest by having employees work together to reach a common goal, such as a new monthly sales record. Create multiple targets for the team to get a reward to keep the incentive and motivate them to strive higher.

5. Have a prize drawing box with chits

Use the random drawing box as a way to decide a winner, using the chits as “raffle tickets.” Set a parameter, such as a check above the current average, and have runners and servers drop it in the box. THis is a creative and fair way to encourage your staff to upsell over and over again, as the more chits, the more chances to win. If you decide on a prize ahead of time, put a picture on the box as motivation. This idea came from 7shifts Director of People & Culture, Mckenzie Hunter, also a restaurant industry alum!

6. Have a by-the-glass selling contest

Another great way to educate your staff and sell at the same time is through a wine-by-the-glass selling contest. This came from 7shifts’ Business Development Representative and hospitality alum, Matt Fairbanks:

“We used to open a bottle of wine and sell it by the glass for a night. Staff would be able to try a taste and were encouraged to give their thoughts on the best way to sell it to tables. Whoever could sell the most bottles by the end of week got to take one home. It was great for encouraging staff wine knowledge and being able to speak to wines that we normally didn't get to try.”

If your establishment doesn’t sell wine, this idea could easily be adapted—maybe it’s a new beer that you have a limited supply of, or a new coffee from your roaster that they’re excited about.

7. A supplier contest

Another great way to get a contest going is to chat with your suppliers and distributors—this idea came from Stacey Lawrence , 7shifts Sr Partner Account Manager, Team Lead and restaurant alum: “Restaurateurs don’t necessarily need to invest if they can get free stuff from their suppliers or work with their suppliers on things they need to sell too.”

Leverage your distributor relationships and see what they can offer when it comes to contests. A lot of bigger companies, especially wine, beer, and liquor distributors, have access to cool swag, event tickets, and even facility tours.

This one comes from 7shifts’ Client Success Manager, Katy Gonzales, also a hospitality alum (We said there were a lot of us!). “When I worked at JOEY Restaurant Group there was a contest put on by Appleton rum where whoever sold the most of the featured drink on our menu won $500 and then you would get entered to win a trip to Jamaica.”

Types of Prizes and Rewards

What’s a contest without a great reward at the end of it? Once you’ve decided what kind of contest to run, it’s time to decide what the reward will be. You have a few options that will make your team feel appreciated—but before we get into those, here are a few items to avoid.

  • Cash, while it might seem like a good idea, can come across as too impersonal in some cases.
  • Bragging rights are not a gift alone—and while attractive in a healthy team environment, is in many cases just an added bonus.
  • Random items like industry swag or bottles of alcohol. It’s always obvious when a gift isn’t thoughtful.

Now onto what you should give as rewards for contests. Here are a few ideas:

Gift Cards

This is a great opportunity to use the rewards as a means to engage your local restaurant community. Swap gift cards with a neighboring or local restaurant to encourage your team to support the local.  If you don’t want to go the restaurant route, tailor the card to the person who won. If one of your servers is a musician, give them a giftcard to a music store. If another is a new parent, gift card to a spa or a children’s store. Get creative with it!

Supplier Gifts

As we mentioned above, get some of your suppliers involved! They may have overstock of an exciting item, or may be able to get you access to lower prices on specialty items. Bigger suppliers like beverage distributors often have access to special events like concerts or sporting events. Ask around and see how you can leverage those relationships!

Shift-related Coupons

Another way to reward your employees hard work is by giving them an easier time at work. Their choice of section, or sparing them some of their least favorite tasks like mopping or polishing glassware for a shift. Back of house employees may have their choice of station or have the privilege of not having to cut fries for a shift. The best part? It doesn’t cost your business, but means a lot to your team.

A combination gift!

Don’t feel like you have to limit yourself to just one—combine rewards and incentives to make an amazing package. Combine a gift card with a shift coupon or a supplier gift. Get creative with the combinations to create something memorable for your team, to show them just how much you appreciate them.

Restaurant Employee Contests: Final Thoughts

Restaurant employee contests are a fantastic tool to engage and reward your team while making your business stronger and more successful. We at 7shifts are hopeful that these ideas can help you and your restaurant, and can’t wait to hear what creative contests and rewards you come up with!

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D. J. Costantino
D. J. Costantino

Hi! I'm D.J., 7shifts' resident Content Writer. I come from a family of chefs and have a background in food journalism. I'm always looking for ways to help make the restaurant industry better!