5 Ways to Show Your Restaurant Staff You Appreciate Them

By: AJ Beltis

8 Minute Read

Nov 17, 2017

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They make you laugh. They certainly make you cry. They never cease to amaze you, yet still leave you scratching your head, wondering how or why they did something one way when you very clearly explained the right way to do it.

They are your restaurant's staff. Love 'em or hate 'em, you need 'em. And if you want the good ones to stick around, you'll have to do more than pay them well and give them discounted food.

To retain top talent - those innovative individuals who consistently go above and beyond for your restaurant - you have to genuinely, truly, visibly, and sincerely appreciate your staff.

The Plague of Restaurant Turnover

Employee appreciation in restaurants is crucial to your business's success, because hiring a new staff member isn't exactly easy or affordable. Just look at the numbers on restaurant turnover.

  • The restaurant turnover rate is 72.9%. In other words: If your restaurant employed an average of 30 employees throughout last year, this means you lost 22 employees in 2016.
  • The cost of employee turnover - due to such factors as time spent hiring and onboarding, a smaller staff, and diminished productivity - could be as high as $5,864, according for the Center of Hospitality Research at Cornell.
  • The National Restaurant Association reports that there are over one million restaurant locations in America and nearly 15 million individuals calling a restaurant their place of work. Needless to say, these people have plenty of options when it comes to a restaurant job.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, national unemployment is at a record low of 4.3% (graph below) compared to the past decade .

staff appreciation

Given these trends of high turnover and immense training costs - as well as the sheer number of choices that decent chefs and servers have when it comes to where they work - restaurant owners appear to be in a buyer's market, meaning there are more people looking for workers than for work compared to the past ten years.

Now more than ever, owners need to prove that their restaurant is worthy of the most talented employees, or else risk losing them to the steakhouse/diner/pizzeria/creperie down the street.

Here's a few ideas to help you do just that.

5 Restaurant Employee Appreciation Ideas

To keep your speediest waitress, your kindest waiter, your most efficient line cook, and your most dedicated manager, try implementing one or more of these staff appreciation ideas in your restaurant.

1. Employee Gamification

Why do some people work in restaurants instead of offices? We asked famed chef Chris Hill this question on our new podcast, The Garnish, and he explained that he's too creative and active to sit behind a desk all day.

Restaurants employees move around. They live in a world of excitement and occasional anxiety fun! Capitalize on this part of the job to show appreciation.

Employee gamification is the act of turning normal work tasks into a competition-based, game-like activity (hence: gam-ification). You can read more about it in our blog on the topic.


For example, have line cooks track their order-to-completion time for a standard dish through their kitchen display system and display the best time in the kitchen as the record to beat. Have servers keep a tally on a giant board in the break room for how many desserts they sell in a shift. The winner at the end of each week gets a $20 gift card for a store, shop, or service of their choice. Sounds easy enough, right?

Meanwhile, as staff are entertained by this friendly competition, you're creating a more efficient kitchen and selling more desserts.

2. Offering Real Benefits

I'm sorry to say it: you're not wowing anyone with one free meal per shift, the staff social media spotlight, or a stint as Employee of the Month. Everyone (well, not everyone, but you get the idea) offers a perk like this.

If you haven't already, invest in real perks and benefits that show you really do appreciate your staff to help create a restaurant community for your employees.

Let's look at an example of an unconventional but effective restaurant appreciation method: profit sharing.

Boston restaurant Mei Mei announced this year their intention to share profits with employees on top of their normal wages. The better the business does, the more employees earn, thus creating a more motivated and efficient team in the front and back of house.

restaurant profit sharing

Other perks you could include are:

  • Health/Dental Insurance. Even if you're not required by law, this is a big deal these days. Full-time workers want affordable and high-quality healthcare options from their employers.
  • Flexible Hours and Vacation. Okay, so maybe the fad of unlimited vacation isn't the best fit for a restaurant, but flexibility when it comes to employee scheduling and time off is essential. If you can't deliver a positive work-life balance to your employees, they won't feel appreciated. This goes for the veteran chef who needs a weekend off for her son's wedding and the high school counter worker who wants to go on his annual family trip without the fear of losing his summer job.
  • Paid Time Off. This is another one you're likely to offer to your established employees first, but paid time off is a basic benefit that many are expecting from their jobs, regardless of what industry they're in.

3. Staff Day

Staff outings are amazing ideas for several reasons.

  1. They're free for your team, rewarding them for their loyalty to your business.
  2. They're usually fun, which helps build camaraderie, trust, openness, and friendship on your team.
  3. They offer a chance for those who may not normally interact to get to know one another.

To make the most of a staff day, pick a date a few months in advance once or twice a year on a normally slow day of the week, and tell all of your employees. Let your customers know that you will be closed on this day a few weeks beforehand so they have ample warning.

restaurant staff appreciation

If you really can't afford to close for an entire day, close early one night or do it after work.

You have a range of activities to choose from for a staff appreciation day/outing. It can a holiday party with a catered meal where everyone can bring a +1, a day at a local theme park, or simply an after-work drink-up. Sponsoring team outings like these are noticeable proof that you appreciate your team and are willing to spend the dollars to show it.

4. Offer Mentorship or Professional Development Programs

No matter where you work, there are two truths you can probably relate to.

  1. No one wants to work entry-level forever.
  2. Having no friends on the team sucks.

I spoke to a few of my co-workers here at Toast (many of whom have years of industry experience) about what their favorite perks were while working in a restaurant. Several of them came back to me with company-sponsored mentorship and career development programs. Here were some of the standouts.


Our Marketing Designer Erin worked at Subway while she was going to school. She told me that some of the franchise owners would send a few of their employees to the annual worldwide Subway convention. The employees enjoyed an all-expense paid trip, but the restaurants got rewarded as well. Workers came back with new knowledge from workshops, as well as insight into the company's growth plans. This enriched many employees' working experience and helped paved the way for their own career progression.


Our Marketing Events Specialist Lizzy has a massive amount of restaurant experience, and one of the perks she noted was the Not Your Average Joe's Mentoring Program. The restaurant would pair up mentors to new hires, giving the opportunity for fresh faces to meet the team and mentors to pass off their knowledge. Participants in the program were given a budget for quarterly activities and mentors were paid more.


Our Social Media Specialist Cassy is also a restaurant industry vet, having worked in a few of the Boston area's most frequented establishments. One of them, Backbar, would have employee spirit tastings and brewery tours so that workers could gain their own appreciation for flavor profiles and understanding the creative process of what they serve.

5. Tell Them They Are Appreciated

restaurant employee appreciation

Don't over-complicate things. If you appreciate your staff, tell them. Say thank you. Tell them they did a good job. Have lunch or dinner with them. Call out a significant, shift-saving move from the new busser in a shift meeting. Better yet, deliver a hand-written note for someone you think really deserves it.

Appreciating Your Restaurant Staff

Given today's economic conditions and the ways Americans view going to work, restaurants need to meet both current and potential employees' needs where they lie. This means two things:

  1. First, possessing a genuine appreciation for your high-performing staff members and understanding their needs for rewards, perks, fair pay, and work-life balance.

  2. Second, expressing that understanding and appreciation in the best ways, ranging from a well-deserved "good job" to offering insanely awesome benefit and appreciation packages.

Don't let a lack of appreciation lose you an amazing team. It will damage your restaurant's consistency, your team morale, and ultimately your business. Accept the need for your staff's work-life balance and strive to meet (or exceed) that need, and your employees will feel appreciated.

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