The holidays, with an uptick in reservations and increased ticket averages, can be a lucrative time for FOH staff. But this time of year can also be incredibly demanding and challenging for servers and other positions.

The job itself may be more stressful than usual, and staff may have to accommodate co-workers who are sick or taking vacation. Keeping staff motivated during the holidays is crucial to maintaining a positive work environment and excellent guest experiences.  For that reason, it’s wise to consider a few incentives that can keep your staff motivated during the holidays and beyond. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Break the Ice

It’s important for your staff to function as a team, especially during the holidays when your restaurant may be even busier than usual. Consider starting each shift with a simple ice breaker like Two Truths and a Lie or Guess Who, a game in which participants write down one unique fact about themselves and then put all the facts together in a pile. As you draw each fact, the group has to guess who it’s about.

These types of easy, fast games can help set a friendly, convivial tone for the rest of a shift and can help your staff feel more connected to one another, which will encourage teamwork and camaraderie. However, some staff may be reluctant to participate, so remember to be sensitive to their feelings. If possible, incentivize this type of activity with small perks like candy or inexpensive gifts.

Game-ify Service

Another way to keep staff motivated during this demanding time is by creating games that reward great service and professionalism. There are many ways to accomplish this: You can create customer comment cards for the table and offer a high-value reward for FOH staff that receive a certain score over a set period, whether it’s one shift or a week of work.

Another idea is to focus on menu items with the highest profit margin and create specific goals around selling these items. Choose one or two dishes and beverages that have particularly high profit margins and run a contest to see which servers can sell the most to their tables. Another similar idea is to incentivize selling “the big 4,” i.e., a guest check that includes a drink, appetizer, entrée, and dessert. You can either reward servers every time they hit all four or prioritize sales over a set period. Make sure the prize is something that has value for the winner — cash is always good!

Rather than creating a competition between employees, you could frame these games as a group effort. This can be a smart way to combine BOH and FOH staff to encourage them to work together toward a common goal. Create a visual guide (like one of those fundraising thermometers) to measure the amount of sales of a particular menu item or category, and display it in a place your whole staff can see. Set a sales goal that encourages staff to work together to meet that goal, and chart their progress over time. When they reach their goal, reward the whole team with something special and valuable.

Shift Perks

Instead of giving cash to employees, you may also consider providing valuable perks to staff while they’re on the job. A couple examples include hiring a massage therapist to offer chair massages to employees who are on break or contracting mobile detailing services to wash employees’ cars while they’re working. Or bring in a professional knife sharpener to keep your chefs on point.

Look for local companies that may be able to offer these services in bulk at a discounted rate to make them more affordable. These types of perks are among the best and most motivational for staff because they are highly valuable and show that you are interested in supporting your employees.

When in Doubt, Ask

You may be wondering which perks or games are the best choices for your staff. If that’s the case, the best thing you can do is ask! If you have a large staff, consider creating a Google poll that employees can answer on their own time (make it brief!). For smaller groups, you can just ask verbally. Come up with 3 or 4 perks that you would be comfortable offering to staff, and then ask your employees to rank them in terms of most interested to least interested, and use those results to help guide your choices for the best ways to motivate your team.

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