The A team

CarrotWant to save money and motivate your staff? Samantha Trenoweth uncovers how to create an effective workplace

Great restaurants are created by great teams: dedicated, enthusiastic, creative teams, right the way through from the head chef who’s been there since day one to the casual waiter who came on board last Saturday. And all the evidence suggests that truly great teams don’t just appear by chance. Great teams are built on motivation!

Staff incentive programs increase motivation and, according to Richard E. Clark from the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, that’s why they’ve become so popular and so successful. Clark claims that motivational programs can boost both the quality and quantity of staff performance by as much as 40 per cent.

These programs need not be expensive—far from it. Clark’s research indicates that, where programs with financial incentives can increase work performance by 20 per cent, some non-financial programs boost performance by as much as 40 per cent.

Plainly incentive schemes work but not all of them work for all people. So how do you devise the program that’s right for your team?

Motivation springs from our beliefs about what makes us successful and effective. Those beliefs vary from person to person, so getting to know your staff, asking for their ideas and listening to them is the first step in putting together an effective incentives program.

That said, according to Clark, there are also some “universal motivators” and universal de-motivators. Any successful scheme should be built with these in mind.

Let’s begin with the de-motivators. There are three primary elements that can erode motivation in any restaurant and a great incentives program should counteract them.

The first de-motivator is the perception that performance goals are vague, confused or impossible to achieve. Research suggests that a goal is usually considered “impossible” if the likelihood of achieving it is less than 15 per cent.

One of Australia’s most successful chefs and restaurateurs, Luke Mangan, is a firm believer in incentives schemes and he insists that there’s no point in setting pie-in-the-sky goals. “It’s crucial,” he says, “that the goals you set are achievable.” Staff need to know what’s expected of them and, he says, “Incentive programs should be based around clear, achievable but challenging goals”.

The next universal de-motivator is the perception of dishonesty or unfairness in the workplace. Mangan insists that fairness should be the cornerstone of an incentives scheme. It will probably require that you run a number of schemes with different goals and parameters, but it’s important that incentives are open to and achievable by everyone.

While a little, light-hearted competition can keep staff on their toes, aggressive rivalry breeds mistrust and tears teams apart. So the most successful incentives programs reward team, as well as individual, achievement. Richard Clark has observed that schemes which offer incentives to employees for exceeding their own or their team’s previous best effort are more effective than schemes in which staff or teams compete against one another.

The best schemes, he believes, “build realistic levels of self-confidence, positive emotion and effective personal values for work tasks … They foster a culture where fair and positive beliefs, expectations and practices are encouraged in an environment where people are challenged to work hard.”

What kind of incentives will challenge teams and build those positive beliefs and emotions?

Unsurprisingly, financial incentives are popular, as are luxury goods and services (particularly travel). Some large restaurants offer company shares as incentives. The belief is that employees work harder when they feel a sense of ownership. But these are not the only successful motivators.

An office party or outing can be a significant incentive when tied to team achievement. Access to amenities (membership to a nearby gym or yoga studio, for example) might also be a great motivator, while improving the health and energy levels of the team.

Education is also a win-win incentive. When you reward achievement by paying for and allowing time-off to complete an extra course or workshop, your employees become more skilled, more confident and more loyal.

The freedom to choose their shifts or swap shifts for a week or two is a popular and inexpensive incentive. And simple public recognition for a job well done is often as good an incentive as a material reward. Outstanding work can be acknowledged on a noticeboard in the restaurant, on your website or blog, or with a certificate. Even verbal acknowledgement and a pat on the back can be incentive to keep on improving.

Goals should encourage improvement where you think the restaurant could do better: staff attendance, punctuality, friendly service, menu knowledge, reduced breakages and waste.

Remember, however, “never to tie chefs’ incentives to food costs”, Luke Mangan warns, “as quality can suffer.”

If you decide to run your incentives program in competition form, the best advice is to opt for a series of short ones, vary the goals so everyone gets a shot at winning and keep the spirit light-hearted and fun.

Incentives programs require some time and creativity in the planning, but they yield countless long-term benefits for the restaurateur. According to Richard Clark, “Adopting a more positive motivational climate can increase individual and team confidence, interpersonal and organisational trust, collaborative spirit, optimism, positive emotions and values about work.”

In short, that means a positive, productive team, reduced staff turnover and higher productivity. As Luke Mangan says, “The best incentives schemes are win-win situations for everybody.”

This great content is produced for members of the Restaurant & Catering Association. Find out about becoming a member here.

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