by Ward Olgreen | March 10, 2017

After being "on the ground" for over 40 years in the restaurant business -- responsible for over 800 locations with a workforce that totaled as many as 12,000 -- I became well-acquainted with the ups and downs of employee engagement. From my experience, there are three reasons why employees lose focus and lack motivation: employees' limited knowledge of the company's overall mission, ineffective training, and unclear individual goals for achievement. The solution to these problems should be simple: better communication through employee recognition and newsletters, improved training programs with patient instructors, and more staff meetings. Easy, right?  Wrong -- and here's why. 

Restaurant employees want to be part of individual and big-picture achievement, so whether they are servers, cashiers, bartenders or managers, they want every day to take them further on a career journey filled with recognition, growth, and success. Every employee should know they are appreciated, which is why recognition and reward programs should be in place when a new process is implemented or there has been a clear demonstration of exceptional customer service. And while praise and acknowledgement from managers to employees is critical, measurement of employee-to-employee success is even more essential for keeping workers engaged, motivated, and eager to grow with you while reaching and exceeding their own goals. 

With these concerns in mind, my company developed the Marketing Vitals IncentivizeMe App. The idea was, what if the iconic upsell line, "Do you want fries with that?" was an app with a measurable employee contest built in, to encourage upselling? The app provides performance-based rankings aimed at normalizing shifts and sections worked, so that employees are judged on their success rate of upselling guests served versus just basing success on total sales achieved. It has been especially effective for Millennials who attach a great level of importance to being treated fairly while understanding what is going on and why, rewarding those who are the most effective, as opposed to those who work the most hours. Plus, it is designed to divide the contest into quarters (like a sports game) or seasons of the year to keep every employee interested for the entire contest which includes tracking their own performance as it relates to others. This tech contest system has provided a long-term goal that keeps short-term motivation exciting and energizing.

Of course, restaurant work requires constant human interactions and technology alone will never be enough to motivate and retain talented staff. Ultimately, education, training, communication, and opportunity will be the driving forces in this effort. But it is very important that every restaurant build loyalty and pride through repetition of success. Employee praise should never be delayed but neither should a solid way for employees to improve. Management must embrace these opportunities so they become successful exchanges and that will create a path for employee loyalty and pride. Observe and quickly respond to both positive and negative employee actions. Employees welcome feedback but it needs to be professional and proactive to make a difference and not tucked away in an employee evaluation happening many months later.   

Ward Olgreen has over 40 years leading restaurant chains and currently is chief business development officer at Marketing Vitals, the leading provider of restaurant focused data analytics software helping locations illuminate the needs of their business. He can be reached at ward.olgreen@marketingvitals.com