Ways To Motivate Servers

Given the popularity of last Monday’s post on management styles, I decided to follow up with another management post.  This may become a regular Monday feature depending on the feedback.  While I am a server, I have worked on the other side of the office door.  I prefer serving.  I enjoy making guests happy and connecting with them.  Managing led me to have to deal with too many angry ones and not have the opportunity to prevent the problems in the first place.  As a manager, you spend your day fixing the problems your staff creates.  I moved back to serving years ago and don’t regret the decision.

In my time as a manager, I had the chance to test some of the theories on management that I had developed as a server.  It is far more difficult than it seems.  I decided when I made the switch that I was going to be the type of manager I wanted to work for.  This is where my theory of “Sergeants and Generals” was born.  Make no mistake about it; I was a Sergeant.  I always made it clear that I would never ask my staff to do anything I wouldn’t do.  I was forced to stand behind that principle enough times that no one doubted it.

At my first management job, I instituted three very specific ideas to motivate them.

The Cleaning Game: Tardiness was out of control when I started.  I decided to take a different approach to the problem.  If you were late, you were written up.  As an alternative, they could choose to draw a card from a stack of cleaning projects that they would have a week to accomplish.  What made this work was the way it was introduced.  At a full staff meeting, I introduced this plan.  I also issued a challenge.  For anyone who would step up and take a card at the meeting, I would let him or her draw one for me too.  They wanted to test me.  One of my most outspoken servers stood up and took five cards.  By the end of the meeting, they had taken half 50 of the cards I had made up.  I did 25 of them myself in the next week.  All 50 projects were completed in the week.  The restaurant never looked cleaner and more importantly, tardiness went away.

The Sidework Prize: One morning I was trying to determine how to motivate the staff.  I told them that if they hit a certain target on a certain drink we were pushing, I would spec all their tables.  I thought the goal was unattainable, but I have never seen anything like what happened next.  You would have thought they were each going to be millionaires if they sold this drink.  They hit the goal and I had to knock out a dining room full of tables.  For future contests I modified it to an individual prize.  The winner got to stick me with their sidework.  This was one of the most effective prizes I have ever seen.

The Monday Night Crew: Monday nights were incredibly slow at this particular restaurant.  We would do between $2,000-3000 in sales.  This was divided between 5 or 6 servers and a bartender.  If you do the math, you can see why no one was particularly excited about working this shift.  The staff saw it as a punishment to have to work Mondays.  I approached my three strongest servers with a proposition they all accepted.  We ran with three servers and a bartender.  I made it clear that this could only last as long as every guest still left happy.  I served as a support staff member to help them.  Suddenly, Monday nights became the most lucrative shift of the week.  The servers that worked them could take off Saturday nights if they wanted.  When one went on vacation, servers clamored for that shift.  The restaurant started out the week with great labor costs (this was in CA when servers were making over $7 an hour) and customer feedback even improved.

Motivating servers is not an impossible task.  Servers are less impressed by words than by actions.  You cannot manage servers.   You must lead them.  Thinking outside the box and leading by example produces far better results than a pep talk.  Until you are willing to show you are willing to sacrifice too, you cannot expect your staff to sacrifice.  This is what it means to lead as a Sergeant.

So how about it?  Any servers want to speak to this?  Managers want to say I am crazy?  Who disagrees?  I would love to hear your feedback.  The comment section is yours.

On an unrelated note: Happy Birthday to Tony over at Tony’s Kansas City.  One of the finest bloggers in town.

Tips²: Tips For Improving Your Tips, the new book from the author of The Manager’s Office, teaches the skills of exceptional servers that will increase customer satisfaction and dramatically improve restaurant sales.  This book is more than a server training manual.  It is the secret to teaching your staff to enjoy selling and give your guests the experience that will create raving fans.  To learn more about the book, visit www.tips2book.com.  Use the coupon code “MANAGER” to save 20% at the checkout.


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About David Hayden

David Hayden is a restaurant marketing and training consultant based in Kansas City, MO. He writes a series of 9 blogs collectively known as The Hospitality Formula Network and is the author of "Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips" and "Building Your Brand With Facebook"

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