When employees buy into a contest, restaurants can reap some rich rewards, according to TJ Schier, president and founder of Smart Restaurant Group, a Which Wich franchise based in Flower Mound, Texas. Besides the stated goal of the competition, the challenges can also create a culture of learning, Schier says.
“It forces managers to train every day and look at their business and see who the top performers are,” he says. “It might surprise them who the real performers are and aren’t.” But determining which contests will win over staff can feel like a mystery. Here are some helpful hints for developing contests that can improve both bottom line and culture.
One of the most effective employee contests Schier says he helped organize was during his tenure at Chuck E. Cheese’s. For upselling certain menu items, cashiers could win scratch-off cards worth a varying amount of points. They could then turn the cards in for Chuck E. Cheese’s-branded gear. The lottery component of the incentive helped generate buzz among the team; however, workers aren’t motivated by a slim chance of winning, Schier says. “Just throwing someone’s name into a drawing won’t be very effective,” he says. “That’s where a lot of people miss the boat.”
At The Ranch at Las Colinas, a full-service restaurant in Irving, Texas, serving American fare, workers can download a third-party restaurant contest app to see where they stack up against team members in their rate of upselling. Each month, the restaurant runs a competition on overall wine sales per check. Last month, the eatery saw 14% more liquor, beer and wine sales, which Beverage Director David Swartz attributes to the app and competition. “The best way to make it successful is to preface it with, ‘This is a fun contest, this is not a performance ranking assessment,'” he says. “People then see it as a challenge.”
Schier has learned over the years that the best incentive is the one each employee wants. He lets team members pick individual prizes, instead of offering random gift cards.
In addition, baking flexibility into an incentive also allows managers to reinforce behavior they want to change in each unit. Smart Restaurant Group allows its managers to hand out Smart Cards, which are worth 25 cents, to reinforce positive staff behavior during supervisor-led contests. “For us, it works really well, because not everyone needs to work on those same things,” he says.
Pitting employees against their co-workers will only take contests so far, Schier says. “If you can pit the employee against themselves—whether it’s a cashier, server or bartender—you can reward everybody to get better.”