How to Motivate Restaurant Employees. Best Ways of Motivating Restaurant Staff

October 24, 2019 • 12 minutes

Mercedes Diaz
Mercedes Diaz
Independent content creator for business and foodservice niches. She provides content aimed to build relationships between customers and companies.

Restaurant owners agree that it’s almost impossible to avoid constant staff turnover. These days, the turnover rate in the foodservice industry is frightening, and it comes with unbelievable costs. In the US, as much as two-thirds of a restaurant’s staff can change over the course of a year!

The National Restaurant Association found that in 2018, the turnover rate in the US hit a 10-year high at 74.9%. Turnover in restaurants hasn’t been this high since the recession.

This rotation in staff shows a lack of motivated employees. But, this lack of motivation comes from many issues. Management teams, poor working environments, and disagreements between team members all contribute to unhappy and unmotivated employees.

The management team can create staff turnover when they overwork employees or create uncomfortable working conditions. Policies for penalties and working under extreme pressure for many employees turns their activity into hard labor. Then, pleasant service and excellent customer service will no longer be in the question. With management that treat employees this way, even good employees will be running out the door.

However, management isn’t exclusively the problem. Sometimes people want to finish their shifts quickly and go home, or they simply aren’t interested in the success of the location. There are genuinely lazy employees. As a result, it affects the reputation of the location, creates an outflow of visitors, and lowers your profits.

Many restaurateurs ask themselves, “How can I motivate my staff?” Well, if your staff consider themselves part of a team, they will be motivated to serve customers well and ensure their return to the location for the good of the team. If your approach to restaurant management allows you to create a healthy atmosphere, you’re on track to keep your team productive and engaged. Creating a team-oriented environment is the first step towards motivating your staff, but be sure to offer tangible rewards, intrinsic motivations and to create the opportunity to team engagement.

Don’t worry; you can motivate employees in the restaurant, create a teamwork mentality, and boost your staff’s efficiency through tangible and intrinsic motivation.

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Create tangible incentives

Business success relies on a combination of enthusiasm, motivation, and encouragement among the employees of your location. When employees are motivated, they feel independent and become more productive. Tangible rewards are the physical things you can give your employees to boost morale and inspire a spur in productivity.

Reward systems

Profit-sharing is the first tool to use, and it’s a reward system that manages itself. It’s a highly effective motivator that allows staff to participate in the business with a sense of purpose. Every employee understands that the more the location earns, the higher their salary will be at the end of the month or year.

Profit-sharing leads to solutions for many problems within restaurants. Employees often monitor other employees for productivity, and they report higher job satisfaction.

Encourage the success of your team through restaurant staff incentives that are new and innovative. You can motivate each team member and give them a sense of responsibility for the success of the business.

A restaurant employee reward system could include:

  • Prizes for the fastest/most courteous waiter

  • Awards for chefs who create menu items which become popular

  • Bonuses for chefs who reduce waste or food costs

You can quickly implement these reward systems by analyzing the statistics for the selected period within a restaurant POS software. With a few clicks in the Statistics tab of Poster’s Admin panel, you’ll find out who is the most hardworking and efficient server.

However, you should remember to consider the time of day and workload as additional factors. These aspects can be examined using the automation system, which compares the total number of receipts and the average receipt for the day. Using these tools, you can work on improving wait staff productivity with clear cut performance metrics. If your staff already work efficiently, then regular bonuses for excellent work and achieving business goals will only enhance the duration of the positive effect.


For some restaurateurs, profit-sharing and bonuses for every job well-done aren’t reasonable yet. However, you can begin establishing tangible rewards for your employees with small competitions.

When creating competitions to motivate restaurant staff, award the best performer. But be sure to rotate competitions to recognize different strengths and skills to hopefully eliminate the possibility of the same employees winning again and again.

Creating competitions is pretty straight-forward. As mentioned above, for bonuses, rely on your system to track performance. It’s always best to leave subjective metrics out of competitions to remain fair and transparent. You should also give careful thought about how long the contest will run. Shorter competitions will likely keep your staff more engaged, even unmotivated employees.

Improve working conditions

Any experienced restaurateur knows that a happy team leads to happy customers. Along with offering rewards, an important motivating factor is the work environment.

Workload and people issues are the primary sources of workplace stress. As a restaurant owner, you can reduce the likelihood of both issues impacting your staff.

Use the resources you have at hand to improve the time your staff spends at work. Think about factors such as their breaks, team member communication, and interactions with management.

Employee meals

This perk can include providing meals or offering meals at a lower rate. Some restaurants even design a secondary menu for staff that has quick-to-cook meals at reasonable prices leading to fewer delays and more fulfilling breaks.

Break rooms

Create a comfortable environment for the staff by furnishing a separate room for relaxation, a separate changing room, and a shower room. Even if you only start by clearing out a break room, you’ll find fewer complaints from staff as well as customers. Without a doubt, your customers don’t want to see your employees eating in their cars or smoking on the side of the building.

Advanced training

Don’t forget to talk to your employees about whether they’d like to broaden their skillsets. Introduce a system of mentoring and involve specialists whenever possible. Consider sending employees to conferences or connect them with courses where they can obtain new knowledge and learn from renowned experts.

Schedule accommodations

It’s not always possible, but there may be times when you can offer incentives through schedule accommodations. While well-planned vacation time is no problem, it is possible to handle emergency requests with ease if you have put some thought ahead to this issue. Enlist staff to join an “on-call” list and award “emergency schedule changes” as part of your rewards for games. It’s a great way to initiate competitions while not providing monetary bonuses.


Feedback is a difficult topic because many people expect criticism at every turn. However, input both from management and peers is the first necessary step to make meaningful changes for real issues.

According to Forbes, Employees that feel heard are 4.6 times more likely to give their best work consistently.

Arrange for regular feedback sessions, and encourage positive feedback on performance between staff members. Do be careful with negative employees who might try to sabotage feedback sessions.

Begin focusing on intrinsic motivation

Try not to reduce all of your restaurant motivation efforts to money. Otherwise, you’ll have a group of employees who, without this incentive, won’t even want to clean the dirty dishes because they aren’t given a bonus. Intrinsic motivation instead helps people feel good about themselves and their team.

If you want to strengthen the team without bonuses and financial rewards, start with the simple respect for all employees. Treat the dishwasher and the managers with similar respect. Organize parties for your employees, such as for birthdays and official holidays. These celebrations will help them develop team spirit outside the work environment. Of course, it will be challenging to gather the whole team, as this can paralyze the work of the location.

You can bring together your team through:

  • Attending local sports events

  • Company barbecues

  • Scheduled outings

  • Bowling or similar team activities

Therefore, as an option, you can divide the activities into different groups or rotations to which the various employees are invited. Be sure to change them from holiday to holiday so that everyone can get to know each other better.

Clarify your system of bonuses and penalties

Give your employees a sense of security from unjust decisions. If your staff think only about how to avoid a penalty, then they won’t be focusing on working productively.

Employees must know exactly which actions are punishable and which kinds of behaviors are encouraged. They should learn about it, not from rumors, but have access to an understandable guide.

This should be in the form of a transparent bonus system and clearly defined rules for lackluster work, including the responsibility for damage to property, poor attendance, and lack of team involvement.

Staff-motivation tips for the manager

Encourage the independence of each employee and be indulgent toward them to enable your staff to offer or do something new without fear of failure. This type of freedom is particularly important to motivate kitchen staff. Give them a chance to change some dishes or offer new ones. Let them help you create a new menu. Ask them for an opinion on the concept of the cuisine and the choice of products. These motivation ideas can lead to long-term employee development.

Respond reasonably, and don’t allow your emotions to take over. An experienced leader should morally support their subordinates. Think of considerate actions that you would take for a younger family member or friend:

  • Order a taxi after a complicated shift

  • Give a day off when family circumstances might require it

  • Ask about difficult situations and offer condolences

Showing an interest as a successful restaurant manager isn’t the same thing as allowing the staff to walk all over you. Carefully confirm the honesty of your employees and offer them an open ear when they need it. As an owner, these are also excellent ways to motivate restaurant managers who often find themselves taking care of many others and putting themselves last.

Another factor for team motivation to consider is your behavior. Whether you’re an owner or manager or working as both, you set an example. That means that if you’re on the phone constantly, or taking frequent breaks, don’t be surprised to see the same from your staff. Restaurants require consistency in productivity and work ethic from owner to dishwasher or hostess.

Team spirit is the key to an effective team

The efficiency and profitability of your business are elevated when you encourage team spirit. Motivation is not a singular effect; it radiates. That means you must be careful to cultivate it throughout your team and not exclusively with certain employees while overlooking others. Excellent ways to begin working on motivating restaurant staff can include:

  • Initiating rewards or bonuses, possibly profit-sharing.

  • Creating competitions to encourage productivity.

  • Find small but meaningful ways to help employees enjoy their workplace.

  • Ask for feedback and listen.

  • Layout rules and expectations clearly.

  • Get your managers on board with tangible and intrinsic motivation methods.

Sometimes it’s very difficult to build team spirit because an employee could want to prove to their employer that they do the best job. Even if you have a very good employee with an excellent reputation and track record, all of their skills are meaningless if they can’t function as part of a team.

Always look to motivate the entire team, not simply working to motivate your problem people in a restaurant. Use the resources you have available, including your technology, to track performance and identify where you need to focus your motivating efforts.

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