5 Employee Appreciation Ideas for Restaurants

5 Employee Appreciation Ideas for Restaurants
Samantha Fung

By Samantha Fung

One of the biggest issues facing the restaurant industry in 2023 is finding and keeping good talent. During the pandemic, many service workers either left or were forced out of the industry and never returned. According to our data, the average turnover rate for restaurant staff in the U.S. was 62%.

When staff are unhappy, you lose more than just the cost of hiring and training. People are the heart of the restaurant. Guests pay for good service, and if restaurant employees have low morale or motivation, the business will suffer.

What can we do to boost employee satisfaction and retention? We surveyed 3,700 restaurant workers and found one of the top reasons they left jobs was a lack of manager recognition. It’s important to acknowledge people for the work they do. It makes them feel seen and valued. With Employee Appreciation Day around the corner, let’s look at ways you can thank your team for their hard work.

1. Recognize top performers

You probably have one employee that you can’t live without. They’re consistent, reliable, and they anticipate needs. They care about being good at their job and it shows. If they ever quit, they would leave big shoes to fill.

But does that person know you feel that way?

Your superstar employees need to hear that you’re grateful for their efforts. You can:

  • Write them a thank you note. Send it through a message, announcement board, or give them a handwritten card.
  • Post about them on social media. They’ll take pride in the shout-out and you can showcase the faces of your restaurant.
  • Set aside time in team meetings to highlight personal and professional successes.
  • Make them employee of the month (or of the season or year). Combine the award with a prize like a personalized gift card, bonus, or paid time off. Just ensure that the criteria for winning this reward is clear to all staff to reduce bias or favoritism. Get input from your team as well, so the decision doesn’t come from management alone.

7shifts’ Engage dashboard will show you the most engaged employees based on factors like punctuality, shift bids, and dropped shifts. Use this in combination with your POS sales data to identify your best employees based on stats as well as intuition.

7shifts Engage dashboard

2. Let coworkers thank each other publicly

Managers and operators can’t know everything that happens on the floor. Build a company culture of employee appreciation by creating a public forum for staff to give each other shoutouts. Salt & Straw in Portland made “Saltie Salutes” part of their internal communication so employees can send each other recognition for jobs well done.

“Anyone in the company can give anyone else in the company a Saltie Salute...and then you can tie it to one of our values in the little box that gets published," explains Laura Bien, Director of Operation Services at Salt & Straw.

You can create a digital forum for these announcements. 7shifts’ mobile messaging allows employees to make group posts that other staff can read and respond to. Or hang up a board specifically for peer-to-peer appreciation. Your team can write their shout outs on stickers or post-it notes for everyone to see. Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux accomplishes this with cue cards and magnets on a white board.

3. Host a team social

Teamwork and collaboration are essential for your operations to run smoothly. The International Data Corporation reports that collaborative work environments create 30% lower employee turnover, higher productivity, and higher revenue per employee. When teams participate in non-work activities together, it increases trust, which in turn boosts employee morale and improves communication.

“Trying to eliminate the front of house and back of house and make it one big house, everyone working together.” says Chef William Eick, executive chef-owner of Naegi and Matsu.

Your restaurant team may be divided up into departments, but it's important not to forget that you're one team, with one goal. That only works with a high level of trust, and the best way to get there is by putting time and effort into team building activities. These can take many forms, like:

  • Team outings like a dinner, picnic, or sports game
  • Friendly competitions like cocktail making
  • A charity event or group volunteering
  • Staff meals before a shift starts

For example, at Andolini's in Tulsa, OK, owner Mike Bausch hosts an annual “Andomania” event. The Olympics-style events have each of their 6 locations in friendly competition for restaurant tasks like pizza dough-making.

Trust among your team and stronger communication makes your restaurant work better, too.

“...I've seen a turn with staff staying longer when we worked as a full team. People were willing to help each other in odd situations. Servers helping in the dish pit or running their own load. BOH help them sweep and mop. Shared responsibilities. It's not one person getting blamed for everything. Then you don't have people throwing each other under the bus, either. Falls on everyone. Can't say one person didn't do something,” says chef William Eick.

If staff aren’t paid for their time at the event, you should let them know that attendance is optional. Anyone experiencing symptoms of burnout may appreciate not feeling obliged to spend their personal time with coworkers.

Some restaurants, like Drom Taberna, will even close for staff parties. It gives hardworking teams a chance to relax and the break can help with their mental health.

4. Help develop their career

When restaurateurs offer their employees opportunities for continuing education, they show them that they are invested in their future at the restaurant. A LinkedIn study showed that 94% of employees would stay with their employer longer if they invested in their learning and development.

Some perks to empower your staff’s professional development include:

  • Investing in online courses
  • Cross training employees
  • Increase job shadowing opportunities

Offer educational tracks for different positions, but give employees the opportunity to learn about other roles. For example, if a host or a busser expresses interest in becoming a bartender, pair them with an experienced staff member behind the bar for advice on what they can do to get there. In addition, consider giving them occasional barback shifts so they can understand how to succeed.

Let’s face it — some staff are only there to make extra money for school. Ask how you can help them develop skills for their career goals or areas of study. If, for example, someone on your team wants to go into marketing, work with them on event planning and ask them to develop a social media strategy for the business. This gives employees work outside of their normal day-to-day that still helps the business.

“We have regular casual conversations with our team members at various different points of their journey with us. We always tap into, 'What are you interested in? What is it that makes you tick?' And so through that own discovery, we then begin to organically nudge folks if they have an interest,” says Newton Hoang, Director of IT and Marketing at 7 Leaves Café.

For example, one of 7 Leaves' cashiers was studying graphic design, and through conversation, Hoang interviewed them for an entry-level marketing role. He hired them on the spot, and they've grown within the company since.

There’s no better way to show you care about your employees than to invest in their future.

5. Treat every day like Employee Appreciation Day

Employee Appreciation Day falls on the first Friday of March — but make sure you keep recognizing employees all year long. It’s more important than you think. A Gallup study found that Gen Z and young millennials crave recognition at work much more than older generations. 78% reported wanting to be recognized by leaders at least a few times a month.

Look for small wins too — someone who consistently showed up on time or picked up a lot of shifts in the shift pool that month. Try to deliver your praise quickly. The sooner you give your compliments, the more impactful they will be.

Another way to show staff appreciation that you value them is to celebrate their milestones. Acknowledge important events like birthdays, work anniversaries, engagements, and new additions to the family.

  • Pass around a card for staff to sign
  • Toast to them during a shift meeting
  • Bring their favorite dessert or beverage as an appreciation gift

The goal is to show staff that what they do and who they are — as an individual and not just as an employee — matters. 7shifts can keep track of birthdays and anniversaries in the staff schedule so you and your managers won’t miss it.

Give credit where it’s due

A simple “thank you” goes a long way. If staff feel appreciated and valued by their leaders and peers, it boosts their morale and employee engagement. Motivated employees are less likely to look for opportunities elsewhere. Use a combination of short-term actions like public shout outs and long-term initiatives like development programs to achieve this. Get the most out of your 7shifts plan by using the Engage Dashboard and team communication tools to show staff you appreciate them.

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Samantha Fung
Samantha Fung

I've taken orders at a drive-thru and a golf course. I've quit a Thai restaurant after 3 shifts. I've done marketing at a Tex-Mex franchise. Now I create content about the restaurant industry.