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How Gamification Can Motivate Restaurant Staff

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Cameret BannisterAuthor

One of the most challenging aspects of owning or managing a restaurant is keeping your staff engaged. Even if you pay them well, provide as many benefits as you can afford, and enact your team values every day, the day-to-day work can still be thankless and exhausting.

One way to keep your employees motivated, even on days when they’re slammed and a table for 12 just asked for separate checks, is using employee gamification — which can also boost your sales while you’re at it.

What is Gamification?

Gamification is best described by behavioral design expert Yu Kai Chou as “the craft of deriving all the fun and addicting elements found in games and applying them to real-world or productive activities.” Basically, gamification is a way to make day-to-day activities feel like games. Some simple examples include earning "points" for doing chores, or seeing if you can beat your speed record while grocery shopping.

What is Employee Gamification?

Employee gamification originated in the corporate world, but it can be effectively applied in restaurants. Employee gamification involves incorporating competition and fun into menial tasks in order to motivate staff, and to incentivize behaviors that inspire individuals (or teams) to reach specific business goals.

Examples of Games for Restaurant Staff

Here are a few ways to incorporate employee gamification into your restaurant operations. 


Stir up some friendly competition among servers with a leaderboard, a scoreboard showing the names and scores of a group of competitors. Challenge your staff to work towards one particular business objective for a limited period of time, such as one month. After each shift, adjust the order of staff names according to performance. Finally, after the predetermined time period ends, reward the winner with a prize. 

For this model to work best, make a physical leaderboard that’s visible in an employee common area — even if it’s just written on a whiteboard — so that servers can show off their accomplishments and motivate each other. 

Here are a few additional ideas. For a month, keep track of which servers got the greatest number of loyalty program signups from customers. The next month, see which server had the most upsells of a particular big-ticket menu item. Another month, you can track which servers get positive shout-outs on online review sites.

The great thing about all these short-term challenges is that they help your staff focus on improving one area of their skill set for a full month at a time. 

You can also create this type of challenge for back-of-house staff. For example, try ranking cooks based on how clean they keep their stations throughout a shift. Be sure to have a set of criteria available so they know what to strive for. 

Collective challenges

Another way to approach gamification in the restaurant is by creating a collective challenge: encourage the whole team to work towards a common goal, and then reward the whole team if they reach it. 

For example, tell your back-of-house staff that you want to get food cost percentage down from 27% to 25%. If, through significantly reducing food waste and adhering to standard portion sizes, the team is able to accomplish this goal, the extra profit will be split among the kitchen team in the form of a bonus. 

This kind of challenge also helps staff have more ownership over their work, and they can understand how small actions (or, conversely, cutting corners) can really add up.

Certifications and badges

When it comes to training and career growth, certifications and badges can make staff members feel proud that they’ve leveled up. 

According to, a structured onboarding experience can make employees 58% more likely to stay with your business. Through structured training, staff will see that you’re investing time and effort into making them feel prepared for their new role.

At Mei Mei in Boston, every new employee has a training passport to be stamped and filled out whenever they learn a new task or skill. Not only does it encourage accountability, it gives the staff member a little boost whenever they learn something new. 

You can also award certificates when a staff member goes through more formal training, such as the Age-Friendly Business Training certification that the team at Mei Mei underwent this year.  

Finally, you can also award time-based badges when an employee hits their six-month, nine-month, or one-year anniversary (and beyond) to show your appreciation for their dedication. 


You can set up a system where you award points for good deeds, such as coming in on a day off to cover for a sick coworker. Owner Logan Hostettler of 1894 Lodge uses a system like this, where at the holiday party at the end of the year, staff members can buy prizes with their points. Staff can also barter points amongst themselves for favors like covering a shift or jumping into the dish pit during a rush. 


Traditional games, like server bingo, can be a fun way to reward staff for their efficiency and skill. 

Server bingo is popular for several reasons: it’s simple to implement, fun to play, and provides quick rewards to staff who are doing their jobs well. 

Each server gets a bingo card, and each square has a challenge in it — successfully upsell a particular menu item, sell two bottles of wine in one shift, receive a 25% tip, sell a specific item that’s on special — and when a server has filled in a row, or the whole board, they’ll get an incentive, such as first choice on a day off, a $50 gift certificate, or another prize of your choice.

Three Essential Elements of an Employee Gamification Program

1) Get your staff invested

In order to have a successful gamification program, staff have to feel invested or it won’t work. You have to make sure that everyone knows about it, so when someone wins a challenge or a prize, the rest of your staff take notice. Make the prizes enticing enough that they’ll warrant attention, excitement, and actual effort.

2) Have clear and concise goals

Steve Sims, the founder and chief design officer of gamification company Badgeville, noted that gamification should always start with specific business goals and how they’ll be measured. From there, it’s important to clearly communicate your goals to your staff and keep them regularly updated with progress.

3) Provide quick feedback along the way

According to Business News Daily, providing frequent feedback throughout a competition allows employees to adjust their performance accordingly, and helps to keep competition tight. 

Make sure you’re also asking your staff for feedback about the program, because the only way that gamification will work for your team is if your team feels that it improves their day-to-day experience at work.

Employee gamification in your restaurant

Gamification is about inspiring your staff to work more efficiently and to keep each other accountable and engaged. And if your staff is engaged, they’re more likely to want to grow their careers within your restaurant, not elsewhere.

Related Restaurant Resources


Training Manual Template

Use this restaurant training manual template, a customizable Word Doc, to provide your staff with the rules, guidelines, and clarity they need to do their jobs efficiently.


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