Why Server Competitions Are the Secret Sauce to Driving Revenue and Profitability

Finding ways to boost sales of your most profitable dishes is always a challenge. Your servers are your greatest asset in this regard, not least because they guide the customer experience, make dish and pairing recommendations, and encourage everyone to stay for dessert.

That’s where a little friendly rivalry can yield returns. Server competitions are a great way to raise morale, motivate your team, and positively impact your restaurant’s revenue and profitability. Here, we give you the lowdown on what to consider and how to run a server competition to garner the best results.   

The Skinny on Restaurant Server Competitions

In a nutshell, server competitions are a fun way to pit servers against one another to sell a particular, usually profitable, menu item over a short period of time. They’re a light-hearted way to raise morale and motivate staff that may have got stuck in a rut. And that’s important because the enthusiasm exuded by your servers has a direct impact on your sales. After all, when a server genuinely loves to recommend a dish, their confidence resonates with the customer. 


Server competitions are great for revenue because they help your servers feel energized and motivated to recommend your spotlighted specials. These competitions not only help guide customers to order high-profit appetizers and entrees, they also encourage your team to sell selected desserts and specialty drinks at the beginning and end of the meal. 

How to Maximize Your Competition Revenue

Start by doing a cost analysis of your entire menu. Calculate the plate cost for each menu item and then organize them by largest margin. The dish or drink at the top of the list is the hot new item for your server contest. Since that menu item generates a greater profit margin than other dishes, a spike in sales will add more to your overall bottom line. 

Server Competition Need-to-Know Tips

Before you get started on your first server contest, there are a few things every restaurant should know and prepare for. Like any organized staff effort, you'll want a plan with definable goals, rules, and rewards.

  • Set Your Parameters

Holding a contest is great, but it’s not enough to just say, “Ready, set, go!” Your servers need to know the rules of the game, how long the contest is running, and how the winner will be determined. You’ll need to outline these points clearly ahead of time with the rules posted and referenceable before the contest begins.

Also, consider ways to balance the fairness of shift and section sales variations.

  • The Prize and the Profit

Be smart when costing your contest prize/s. If the prize cost outweighs the contest profits, then you’ll have no financial gains. Fortunately, there are many ways to reward your winning servers that don't necessarily dip into the revenue pool (we’ll get to that shortly). Just be sure not to overspend on contest props or prizes.

You'll have a better idea of your contest budget after the first competition is complete, so start conservatively and then collect data for your next challenge. 


  • Track Competition Progress

Always make sure you have a competition tracking system in place. Your servers need to be able to track their progress and determine the winner to make the contest fun. The traditional way is to use sales records or have your point of sale system tally which servers sold the most spotlighted dishes during their shift. There is software available that helps you to keep track of progress and provide you with detailed updates along the way.

Also, highlight team successes in recent shifts and congratulate servers who handled sticky situations with aplomb while sharing their solutions with the team.

Incentives, on the other hand, provide the motivation to take risks and beat personal bests. Servers with a laid back approach may suddenly find renewed energy. Servers who’re already great may discover new depths of motivation and selling ability. Incentives can be financial or material prizes, but they can also be employment perks like vacation days or staff meal choice.

  • Mind the Generation Gap

It has been noticed that millennials and Gen-Y team members tend to be less competition-oriented than their Gen-X and baby boomer predecessors. Classic peer vs. peer competitions may not be as enthusiastically received. Adapt. Make your contests more team-based and supportive. 

 Five Great Server Competitions to Get You Started

Finally, I'll leave you with some ideas to get your brain spinning about contests that will be a hit in your restaurant. Here are the top five server contests that almost every restaurant starts with before developing their own unique contest style:

  1. The Specials

Remember those best margin dishes we calculated earlier? These are your new contest specials. Set your contest days and duration and before the end of the day’s shift, the server who sells the most specials wins.

  1. Ticket Bingo

Have fun with a raffle or multiple small prices per night. Choose four menu items (possibly a drink, appetizer, entree and dessert) to be your menu spotlights. Each ticket containing one of each wins the server a prize or an entry in the raffle. 


  1. Charitable Drive

Charitable contests get servers to hustle for a good cause, and customers often love to get involved. Split your servers up into teams and have each team choose its favorite charity from a selection. Whichever team wins will get breakroom perks and a donation from the restaurant to their charity of choice.

  1. Holiday Treats

Use your festive menu items to inspire a holiday-themed server contest. Whoever wins can be the guest of honor at your staff holiday party after hours.

  1. Personal Best

Finally, run a personal best contest in the background all the time. Track daily 'points' for selling spotlighted menu items and challenge each server to beat their personal best and sell more on one day than they have sold in the past. Up to a reasonable point, of course.

Server contests are a fantastic way to raise your restaurant revenue. Not only by pushing your featured and most profitable menu items, but because your servers will be motivated to sell. More customers will stay for dessert, inspired by their motivated server. More will choose a fun fruity drink with appetizers because their server said it would be awesome. With just a little prep and software to back it up, your restaurant can be running fun and profitable contests in no time.