How to use sales to drive servers

server talking to customers


Is it possible to hold servers accountable for sales? What is the best way to do that?

– Restaurant Business Webinar Attendee


Last week Sanjiv Razdan, COO of Applebee’s, and I spoke on a webinar about server training presented by Restaurant Business and McCain Foodservice. We spoke a lot about motivation, training strategies and, of course, tipping. This question—individual accountability for sales—came in from the audience.

It’s an interesting question. In most fields, salespeople have clearly defined sales goals and are held accountable for meeting them. Many have compensation tied to meeting or exceeding those goals. Of course, in a tipped environment, servers’ pay is also tied to sales—but not sales alone.

Even a somewhat rudimentary POS system will allow operators to parse data by individual server. You can easily calculate ratios like sales per server per month, week, shift or hour; check average per server; or tips as a percentage of sales for each server, as well as dig into the specific sales for each server (for example, percent of dessert or wine sales for each server). Many operators I spoke with do use this data, but, frankly, not to its full capability or power. For example, many operators offer incentives around sales competitions and look to reward servers who meet a specific goal, such as selling the most bottles of wine. Other operators use the tip-to-sales ratio to identify performance problems. Far fewer, it seems, use the data as would be done in other sales fields—to set clear performance expectations for servers, to provide rewards for exceptional performance or to coach underperforming salespeople to improve.

Of course, the restaurant industry is different from other fields, so that difference makes sense. Servers do much more than sell—they are responsible for overall guest experience. Prioritizing sales may detract from overall hospitality. That said, in our increasingly data-driven environment, I do think there is good opportunity to use these data to inform and improve sales.

A few words of advice if you go that route:

  • Individualize goals. A top-performing server may have less room for growth than a struggling server. Doubling sales of an item may be a breeze for one, while increasing by 10% may be more realistic for someone else. Keep servers motivated by setting attainable individualized goals.
  • Don’t compare apples and oranges. Don’t use these data too simply. For example, don’t reward a server who had particularly strong sales per shift if, for example, she only worked your two busiest nights. A full-time server who weathered both busy and slow nights, or someone who worked hard but during a promotional time like happy hour, may have in fact been more successful in other ways. 

Sales data are a great tool for the restaurateur’s toolkit—like any tool, though, only when properly used. More on sales goals here.

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