Motivating Casual Dining Workers Through Meaningful Programs

Too often, managers at casual dining restaurants face the challenge of wait staff retention. Despite changing KPIs to reflect the “value” of hours vs. just hours, making sure high performers are recognized and rewarded with the best shifts and best tables – high performing servers who train and excel at casual dining establishments often leave for higher-echelon restaurants. But it is possible to keep employees engaged, motivated and enthused by combining technology with appreciation and purpose.


This concept is based on applying game concepts – point scoring, rewards, and competition to an employee incentive program. Gamification is an innovative way for managers to offer servers the ability to earn perks, including monetary rewards, while generating enthusiasm that will drive up both performance and retention.

Gamification apps make it possible to create contests and incentive programs that are not only designed for managers to track employee results but many of them make it possible for employees to measure and match their scores to their co-workers. This creates a very energizing, motivating atmosphere across the workforce regardless of shifts.


By recognizing attendance, length of service, and employee-submitted ideas, through appreciation programs, you are letting your wait staff know they matter. It doesn’t make sense if the only advancement possible is getting promoted to assistant manager because these jobs sometimes pay less than a high performing server and it can disappoint customer regulars which could impact frequency.

Instead, establish an employee appreciation program that rewards attendance, length of service, idea-implementation, and other various in-store incentives. This type of recognition can range from social media “shout-outs” by senior execs to presentation of branded merchandise or gift certificates to larger annual server fund ($5K to $20K) in which the servers with the most consistent sales and customer service over a specific timeframe are eligible to become participating recipients.


Employees today, especially Millennials, want to know the company they work for is committed to a bigger mission and purpose. They’re very vocal about the organizations and causes they support, and they want them to be integrated with their work. For this reason, it’s important that your brand support and partner with charities and/or community groups and get your employees involved so they experience direct giving first-hand through their work performance.

Whenever possible, try and integrate your sales incentive programs with charity-fundraising and/or community outreach. Imagine how appreciated the employee would feel if instead of saying “We raised $300 for the community shelter” you said, “We want to congratulate you because your sales made it possible to deliver 30 meals to the shelter.” When employees feel like they’re giving back, not just clocking in, you’ll be one step ahead when it comes to retaining your solid servers, and attracting new ones.

Retaining great staff is challenging for casual dining restaurants, but it is possible when you create a motivating and meaningful workplace by integrating gamification and purpose with recognition and rewards.