What Motivates Servers: Mastery

(Note: This is part five of an ongoing series regarding what does and does not motivate servers.  It is based on research provided in part one.  I highly recommend visiting that post to gain proper perspective on this one. The second part dealt with how money fails to motivate servers.  The third part showed how lack of money destroys motivation.  Part four addressed autonomy as the first motivator.  Tomorrow, I will wrap it up by discussing the final motivator, purpose.)

I hope everyone had a great Fourth of July.   One of the benefits of being in the business as long as I have is getting invited to the best cookouts.  Nothing like a few chefs putting together a meal.  I live in one of the greatest BBQ cities in the world, but yesterday I had the best ribs this city has ever seen.  Brined and then marinated for days in advance.  These ribs were treated with TLC that would never be possible to replicate in a restaurant.  The Executive Chef at one of the best Italian restaurants in town makes the best ribs in the city.  Moral of the story: you can’t buy the best ribs in town.

More importantly, you can’t pay to have the best ribs in town made.  A chef who cooks for a living and spends as much time cooking as sleeping made his finest meal for free.  Money did not motivate the extra effort.  He decided what he wanted to cook and he was cooking for his friends.  In the lexicon of this series, that translates to “autonomy” and “purpose.”  The interesting part to me is that as we all praised his ribs, he talked about how he would make them better next time.  Even as a professional certified chef, he was thinking of ways to improve.  The term for that is “mastery.”

Mastery for the purposes of this post is not perfection, but constantly striving for improvement.  Serving is not something that can be perfected.  Even the greatest servers in the world are still looking for ways to improve.  This is how they became one of the world’s greatest servers.  The key to mastery is constantly striving to improve.  Servers who recognize this find far more fulfillment, challenge, and reward in the job.  Managers who are able to instill this mindset in their staff are rewarded with highly motivated and productive employees.

Here are some tips on encouraging the pursuit of mastery amongst your staff.

Ongoing Education: One of the best things you can do to encourage mastery among your staff is to provide them with information to learn.  Providing this information helps to create an atmosphere of mastery.  Not taking the time to continuously educate your staff sends the message that mastery is not important.  Try sharing information at every pre-shift meeting.  If you don’t have information to provide, set the standard by educating yourself.  This blog is a great place to start.

Training Opportunities: Providing voluntary classes to improve on certain areas is another excellent opportunity to educate your staff.  Asking a wine or liquor rep to teach for an hour every 3-6 months is perfectly acceptable.  Rotate through your reps and this can set up a monthly or biweekly class.  Your meat, vegetable, and chemical providers also make great resources.  Assigning an outstanding and respected server a topic will encourage them and create a positive peer pressure.

“Best Practices”: “Best Practices” is a business-speak term for sharing what works for you.  Having your servers share tips, tricks, and techniques gives them recognition and creates a platform for others to strive for.   Find the members of your staff that are the best at selling a particular category (wine, appetizers, desserts, etc) and ask them to share their methods.  This is both reward and incentive.  People want to be recognized.  Feed that inherent desire and mastery will become a part of your restaurant’s culture.

I take a great deal of satisfaction that I consider serving both a hobby and a career.  I strive for mastery like a golfer.  Some days I have bogeys, but those holes in one always make up for them.  This mentality is why I am still a server and why I write about it when I am not doing it.  Managers and chefs who encouraged and rewarded the quest for mastery instilled this mindset in me long ago.  They are still some of my heroes in this business.  Doing the same for your staff will not only yield tremendous results in sales, but also increase the happiness they find in working for you.

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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