How to Foster Motivation in Your Restaurant Employees

April 24, 2017
Clock Icon 10 min read

If you’ve ever watched Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen, you know how disastrous it is to have one or two apathetic people in a team of otherwise highly driven individuals. (And it’s even worse to have a boss who yells at them given any opportunity).

Deflated, frustrated staff are unable to deliver their full potential. It could be due to a lack of appreciation from coworkers, an absence of adequate training, or because workplace pressures are bringing them to boiling point on a daily basis.

As a supervisor or manager, it’s up to you to promote positive mental health in your restaurant. You’re aiming to foster a positive workplace culture where everyone feels respected, valued, and supported. Like they’re all part of a family. Here, we offer practical advice on how to go about motivating restaurant staff, to help maximise your business’ efficiency.

Motivating Restaurant Staff: It Starts at the Top

No matter how closely someone follows a recipe, if it’s a bad one then the end result will never be good. The same goes for the recipe that team leaders follow for managing workplace activities.

restaurant manager responsibilities

If you fail to promote positive work methods and set a good example, then employees will follow suit. If you get into a rut of only putting in the bare minimum, employees will see no reason to make an effort either.

  • Adopt a positive attitude towards fulfilling your responsibilities as supervisor. Complying with good work practices is the first step towards creating an uplifting work environment where employees can efficiently fulfil their duties.
  • Treat each workday as an opportunity to gain satisfaction from your role. To get guests entering and leaving the restaurant doors with beaming smiles on their faces is what it’s all about, and it pays off. Happy guests will keep coming back time and time again.
  • Remind employees on a regular basis that it’s a team effort. Without sounding too cliché, remind them that everyone’s efforts count when running a restaurant. Even one missing ingredient makes a difference.
  • Set up rotas well in advance so your team know what shifts they are working three to four weeks before. Working in the catering industry can really take it’s toll, so letting staff members know their shifts will help them organise themselves and plan their life around work, instead of the other way around.

This enthusiasm will trickle down onto your staff and infuse them with a desire to give it their all. An air of confidence will surround your service staff as a result, which is arguably even more alluring to guests than the menu itself.

Fuel Your Team with Incentives

When you incentivise your staff it obviously motivates them.

For example, let’s say your business has a cask ale that’s not selling well. Tell your team that the first one to sell 10 pints of your chosen product will receive a reward. The reward is up to you as the manager or owner. Giving cash away is often hard to account for, so a complimentary meal in the restaurant or a high street gift voucher may be more suitable.

A small incentive like this can really help increase turnover and motivate staff – a win-win all around.

Head chefs can use similar tactics when incentivising the front of house (FOH) team. As many restaurants don’t push desserts and coffees hard enough, incentivising sales on these products can increase turnover and improve the relationship between the chefs and FOH team.

For example: the head chef has a cheesecake that they would like to sell by the end of the day. You incentivise your FOH team to sell it and whoever sells the most portions that evening will be given a free meal or sandwich on their next shift. With this incentive, FOH staff help the chef sell their dishes. It promotes sales and also help chefs and the FOH team communicate more efficiently.

restaurant kitchen staff baking

Another great incentive is having a cook-off when a new menu comes out. Allow your team the opportunity to taste the dishes and ask questions. It may be a good time to discuss which wines can be paired with the dishes too. Chatting with chefs and understanding their roles will help solidify the team and raise morale.

Last but not least, create an opportunity to treat staff. Saving a small amount of the tips each week (be crystal-clear about this and ensure they all agree in advance) can help towards a staff party, a bowling trip, or something else which everyone would like to do. Remember: your team work unsociable hours, Bank Holidays and weekends so they will genuinely appreciate time out to relax and enjoy themselves.

Team-Building: Share Roles

Cross-training your team can help ensure everyone understands the different roles people have within the business. For example, having a waiter work with a sous chef for the evening. This will help them see how things work behind the scenes, and appreciate the workload that the kitchen deal with on a daily basis. Likewise, a chef could work on the bar or help carry food to tables to get a sense of the customer-facing role FOH staff occupy on a daily basis.

Sharing roles in this way helps employees appreciate other workers’ roles and responsibilities and strengthens teamwork. This, in turn, raises motivation levels as staff will feel appreciated by one another and recognise that everyone is an essential asset to the restaurant.

Giving your team the opportunity to help choose dishes for the menu or drinks for the bar will really help their positivity at work; they will most certainly push their products and will want to find out how well they’re selling.

The Hidden Obstacle: Presenteeism

Presenteeism is when a person is present at work but only dedicating a fraction of their energy. It could be due to burnout, feeling apathetic towards their job role, or chronic problems such as long-term stress.

When feeling tired and unfocused, it’s very easy for a person to switch into auto-pilot mode. Their hands and feet are moving, but their mind and heart aren’t invested in the task. In workplaces, this disconnect is often a real issue that’s very easily overlooked.

Presenteeism can be more problematic than absenteeism

If a staff member is absent for unexplained reasons or prolonged periods, it’s obvious that something’s not quite right. But if they’re present yet not fully invested in what they’re doing, it might not even be all that noticeable. That is, not until orders start to get jumbled up and throw the kitchen in complete disarray.

bar taps

Tackling presenteeism is tough. You might not know whether the individual simply needs more training or deeper-rooted issues are responsible for their long-term shortcomings. The following are examples of effective management activities for energising staff and combating presenteeism:

One-to-ones with team members

Have half-hour meetings each month with staff, where they can talk about anything they’d like to get off their chest. It could be work-related anxieties or just casual chit chat about their current home life.

Being able to unload worries and build a friendship with their senior is highly beneficial for motivating staff. Instead of feeling like coming to work stifles their personality and traps them with problems they can’t tackle, they’ll feel liberated. Their enthusiasm will be stimulated.

Recognise accomplishments

Nothing’s quite as demotivating as not knowing whether you’re doing things right. It’s especially demotivating if the only feedback a person gets is when they do things wrong.

This makes them feel like all they do is fail.

restaurant dishes

You can see where this is going: give your staff members a pat on the back by letting them know you’ve recognised their efforts!

  • Tell staff at least one or two things you noticed they did well throughout the week. Acknowledging when they’ve done a good job motivates them to keep doing so.
  • Ask them what they think they’ve done well this week. This gives them an opportunity to self-reflect and feel proud of their accomplishments.

If employees see that their workplace truly values their contributions, big or small, they’ll gain satisfaction and feel motivated to keep working hard for the business.

Offer constructive criticism

Other than helping to better themselves, positive feedback gives staff goals to work towards. This is motivating.

Talk about areas in which you think they could improve and, more importantly, progress.

It’s especially important to recognise the accomplishments of and give constructive criticism to new team members, who may just be getting to grips with the ropes. Their early experiences in your business determine whether they adopt a negative or positive attitude towards work and whether or not they stay long-term.

You can find out more about Presenteeism in our guide: The Cost of Presenteeism & Why It’s Not Just About Money.

There’s Always Room to Learn

Many people are great at learning on the job. Others might keep trying to work in a way they think is best but doesn’t get orders into the kitchen efficiently. What do you do in a situation like this?

You might deem it easier to simply hire someone with more experience to replace them, but then how can this person ever hope to grow? Take this opportunity to help staff develop by providing training.

restaurant staff learning new cooking techniques

Presenting the idea of training to employees takes tact, however. You don’t want it to be interpreted as them doing everything wrong.

  • Approach the individual with a positive frame of mind. Make it clear that you appreciate their work.
  • Present the idea of them receiving training as a way to develop and progress, not as a punishment for performing poorly.
  • Determine whether or not someone could train them internally, which would also have the added benefit of team building. If not, then think about signing them up for training. It should be done as part of their working hours, not overtime or at home.
  • Decide what kind of training would be most appropriate. For example, if their weak point is interacting with customers, then it may be worth looking at a customer service training course that hones their fundamental skills and their confidence.
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Need a Course?

Training staff is a long-term investment. Your return will be competent, motivated individuals who appreciate your commitment to them and invest themselves wholly in the business. You can find a range of Food Hygiene training courses, here.

If staff get stressed, don’t let it get the best

Everyone knows the stomach-twisting, lethargy-inducing feelings that are caused by prolonged periods of stress. Rough sailing is sometimes just a part of life for reaching golden sands. What’s important, however, is whether or not we let it throw us overboard.

Work-related stress is a prominent issue across all workplaces. The HSE state that, in 2022/23, 875,000 workers were suffering from work-related stress, depression, or anxiety. This accounted for 17.1 million working days lost, totalling approximately 48% of all lost working days in the UK.

Work-related stress is often caused by a person’s lack of control or difficulty with handling their workload, although numerous other factors are also accountable. Learn more about managing stress in hospitality here.

waitress taking an order

In a restaurant environment, where pressures to satisfy guests are high in and out of the kitchen, feeling overwhelmed is certainly not unexpected. But it shouldn’t be deemed the norm. Stressed staff will suffer from low morale and struggle to keep up.

You may find that your number of guests rapidly dwindle as the team becomes disjointed and apathetic.

Ways to Prevent Work-Related Stress

  1. Make staff members aware that they can come to you if they have anything they’d like to talk about, whether it’s work-related or not. They don’t have to hold it in until a one-to-one comes around.
  2. Look for signs of stress. If a person has yet to voice concerns but are showing signs, calmly approach them – so they don’t feel like they’re being grilled – and encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling. Remind them that you are looking out for their wellbeing.
  3. Adopt an enthusiastic attitude to work, which develops an approachable, amiable personality in the process. This makes it a hundred times easier for staff to share their feelings and thoughts with you!
  4. Use their feedback to improve the business. When a person opens up to you, it offers insight into what aspects of their role or the workplace in general are prompting stress. With this knowledge, you can resolve any issues identified to reduce pressures caused by work and improve the business as a whole.

Staff will appreciate your dedication to their wellbeing. The fact that you readily take action upon hearing their problems, rather than just letting their comments go in one ear and out the other, is something that should be true of every business. It should not just be a luxury.

Making every effort to set a good example for your staff, to come to the aid of those who feel downtrodden, and to invest time and effort in building up those that need it will make people feel valued, appreciated, and motivated.

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