Staff games


We are located on the wharf in Santa Cruz, California and I would like to know if you can suggest some motivational "games" to keep our servers engaged and eager during our slower winter months.

– Darlene Dyer, Restaurant Manager, Stagnaro Bros. Seafood Co.


Slow seasons are tough.  As a manager you are faced with laying people off or having enough business to keep them busy.  For a lot of servers, that’s the time when the grass seems even greener at other establishments, so it becomes especially important to motivate your good people and keep them engaged and eager for the busy season.

The key to coming up with games for your staff is to make sure they are a “win-win-win” for:

  • the servers’ performance and tips
  • the guests’ satisfaction, and
  • your bottom line

Many restaurants use sales-based games, providing incentives to those servers who sell the most of a certain menu item over a given time period.  These are OK but aren’t my favorite—they don’t have long-lasting impact, frustrate servers who aren’t superstars, and tend to reward the same superstars over-and-over.

Try games that focus on product, menu or good service knowledge: “What does IPA stand for and why is it so named?” “Name three appetizers on our menu that would be acceptable for a lactose intolerant guest,” or, “What’s the number for the taxi service we recommend?” 

Anthony “Toby” Strianese, Professor of Hotel, Culinary Arts and Tourism at Schenectady Community College and coauthor of Dining Room and Banquet Management, suggests using social networking to both motivate servers and make the slow season busier: “Have a contest for servers to collect email addresses or twitter names from guests.  Or have servers not only do sales but also do your marketing for you by getting guests to come in and mention the server’s name for a free dessert.”

Strianese emphasizes that in order for these games to work, there needs to be buy-in from both the servers and management.  He also recommends multiple, smaller prizes such as movie tickets so that both experienced and novice servers can be motivated to win.