Employee Engagement Best Practices for Restaurants

Employee Engagement Best Practices for Restaurants
Ana Cvetkovic

By Ana Cvetkovic

What is the key to success in the restaurant industry? While a delicious menu and an inviting ambiance are critical components of a restaurant’s success, staff are the lifeblood of a restaurant. The people you hire to run your restaurant can make or break the business.

Much like profit and loss, employee engagement is a metric that every restaurateur should be tracking regularly. An engaged staff is crucial for smooth operations, satisfied customers, a strong workplace culture, and high profits.

We’re giving you the scoop on why you should care about employee engagement and how you can track it, and sharing tips for how to use this data to gamify staff performance and boost engagement.

Why Care About Employee Engagement?

So what’s the big deal about employee engagement?

First things first: what is it? According to the Society for Human Resource Management, employee engagement is a measure of a staff member’s volition to go the extra mile, positive sentiments about their employer, and intention to stay with their employer.

Have you ever interacted with someone and thought, “Wow, this person must really hate their job?” It’s pretty obvious to spot a disengaged employee. They do the bare minimum to get by at work. If your employees are disengaged, you’ll start to see poor performance and less enthusiasm on the job. Team culture suffers when employees aren’t enthusiastic about their work or workplace. Ultimately, disengagement results in turnover, which at 73% is a huge problem for the industry.

Conversely, what kind of behaviors do highly engaged employees exhibit? They create a culture of team spirit and enthusiasm at work. They believe in what they do and therefore bring in higher profits by treating customers better and upselling.

In fact, highly engaged employees generate 147% more profits than their less engaged colleagues. And they stay with their employers longer.

It’s undeniable: employee engagement affects team culture, staff performance, customer service, and ultimately, the bottom line.

How to Track Employee Engagement at Your Restaurant

How can you ensure consistently high levels of employee engagement at your restaurant? By using values-based hiring to find team members who are a good fit for your restaurant’s culture. Don’t fret if you’ve made hiring decisions based on other criteria; you can still keep your employees engaged, but it’s going to take some work.

The first step in boosting engagement is being able to measure it. Unlike profit and loss, which is an easily quantifiable restaurant success metric, employee engagement is more challenging to measure. How do you quantify something as abstract as the restaurant industry version of “school spirit?”

Fortunately, we have extensive experience with restaurant employee engagement. These are our top tips for measuring it.

First, ask employees for shift feedback. The 7shifts Engage feature automates feedback collection by asking employees to rate their shifts. If you don’t have 7shifts yet, you can alternatively create a simple Google Form survey or a paper survey for employees to fill out after each shift. The survey can simply ask staff to rate their shift on a scale of one to three, and provide a box for additional comments.

Second, track employee attendance. Your staff scheduling tool will let you see who is coming in late or leaving early, who has skipped shifts, who has requested the most number of days off, etc. These behaviors are signs of disengagement.

Third, pay attention to staff performance as it relates to revenue generation. Use data from your POS to see which employee served the fewest tables, upsold the least, got the fewest tips, etc. Poor performance is an indicator of a less engaged employee.

The bad news is that consistently poor performance in the aforementioned three categories is a sign of a bad hiring decision. When this is the case, it’s only a matter of time until an employee quits or is fired.

The good news, however, is that if a star employee’s performance starts to wane, there are things that you can do to boost their performance and engagement.

Takeaway: There is no one way to measure employee engagement, but you can get an excellent idea by asking employees for feedback, tracking their attendance over time, and looking at trends in their performance.

How to Use Employee Engagement Data to Gamify Performance and Boost Engagement

Once you’ve quantified engagement at your restaurant, you can use that data to see when staff morale needs a lift. Turn employee performance into a game in order to boost creativity, productivity, and motivation.

Not sure where to start? Here are four ideas for gamifying staff performance—and boost engagement.

Infographic of 4 ways to use employee engagement data to gamify performance

1. Employee of the Month

Every month (or week or quarter—whatever interval you choose), honor your top performing staff member with the title of employee of the month.

How do you determine who is the top performer at your restaurant? You must choose a metric to focus on. It can be the same one each month (such as most revenue generated) or you change it up every month to highlight staff members’ different talents (ex: most collaborative, best upseller, etc.). Tell staff what the criteria for employee of the month is and update results on a leaderboard regularly to motivate performance and a little friendly competition.

What should your employee of the month get? You don’t have to invest in expensive prizes to boost engagement. You can honor the employee of the month by hanging their picture up on an employee hall of fame and announcing their achievements during an all staff meeting. According to a survey we conducted with 1,900+ restaurant employees, recognition is a key component in making staff feel happier at work.

2. Professional Development

Investing in your employees’ professional development is a good way to keep staff engaged in their work. When restaurateurs offer their employees opportunities for continuing education, they show them that they are invested in their future at the restaurant. You can provide staff with professional development opportunities through online courses, cross training, and shadowing.

How can you gamify learning? Give employees certificates for completing certain courses or training milestones. Offer various educational tracks for different positions, but give employees the opportunity to develop skills outside of their roles at the restaurant. For example, a host might want to learn about management, or a line cook might be interested in learning about bookkeeping.

Rewarding employees with certificates for learning achievements will help them develop professionally, keep them engaged at work, and encourage them to use new skills on the job.

3. Bonuses

Another way to gamify staff performance and boost employee engagement is to offer bonuses for achieving quotas or for outstanding performance. Choose a key performance indicator that’s important to your business, like check average per guest, then use your POS to see which employee has outperformed the others in that category.

To keep the competition friendly, you can offer bonuses for quotas instead of using a winner-takes-all approach. Alternatively, you can have separate competitions for front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) staff to make the competition more equitable. For example, FOH staff can compete on revenue generated while BOH staff can compete on ticket speed.

How can you afford bonuses? One source of funding for performance-incentivizing bonuses is tips. If your employees sign off on tip sharing, you can reward the bonus from the tip pool. Just make sure that the bonus is nominal enough so that servers won’t be upset that they’re “losing” it, but significant enough so that it incentivizes performance.

4. Milestones

As we’ve discussed, recognition goes a long way when it comes to keeping employees engaged. It’s exciting for restaurant staff to be recognized internally, but it’s even more rewarding to also be recognized by customers.

A simple way to give your employees external recognition is to give them stickers, pins, or badges that they can wear on their uniforms or name tags after milestones in employment. You can celebrate their 100th day at work, first year on the job, 1,000th burger served, etc.

Staff will feel proud of their achievements at work when they are recognized both by management and customers. When employees take pride in their work, they are more engaged.

Boosting Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is critical for a restaurant’s longevity. When employees are engaged in their work, they can better serve their customers and their team members, and they are less likely to leave your restaurant for another opportunity.

Track employee engagement with a tool like 7shifts. Keep your eye on shift feedback, attendance, and performance to identify employees who may be disengaged in their work.

Once you have this data, use it to keep employee performance high by gamifying work. When work becomes fun or competitive, staff are more motivated. Gamify performance through certifications for educational developments, bonuses for quotas achieved, employee of the month for outstanding performance, and public recognition for milestones.

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Ana Cvetkovic
Ana Cvetkovic

Ana Cvetkovic is a freelance writer. She is also the CEO of BLOOM Digital Marketing, a creative marketing agency that helps the hospitality and tourism industries reach millennials online.