I'm looking for new ways to motivate and inspire my staff? I think we all have done contests and given away gift cards or movie tickets, or we have trade out food with another restaurant to surprise staff. What are some new things you are doing to reward great performance?

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Getting out of sidework is always a sure hit with your staff....no one really likes to stick around to roll silverware, clean, or do the floors.

A positive spin might be to lead your directional for the day and share a great tip that helps to make them a great suggestive seller!
Studies have shown that employees are more motivated by things than by money rewards. I'm sure that a night in a nice Hotel would be a fun thing or a day at a spa. If you really try you may be able to trade a spa or some other merchant for food credits. A press release to the local newspaper telling them about the reward may be just what they want to write about and your employee will love it. Just try and think of unusual rewards and keep positive.
Employee recognition can build fires under a person's motivation.

Tell me when I'm doing a good/great job and you've set a standard for my performace that I must exceed in the future. Not because you tell I have to but because I WANT to!

Present a letter of recognition in a public forum. It generates pride in a job well done.

Negative: Employee of the Month displays that are 7-months behind. You can't shout any louder that the company doesn't care and that the promotion is mere window dressing.

Trade-outs with other businesses/services can keep the cash flow protected.

Paul
Napoleon said I can get people to die for a ribbon I can not get them to die for Money. Back to Paul's comment on recognition.

When you hire people get them to give you a list of things they would like to have if you were going to spend $10-20-30-or $50 on them for doing a great job. They will forget they gave you the list but will be surprise when they get something they would really like to have.

Fun stuff is also neat. Like the managers washes the employees car in the parking lot before work or he has the employee and guest at the restaurant and he or she does the serving at their table.
The outward expression of management satisfaction is so important to overall employee satisfaction. People work for other people more so than they do for a company and so the little things done each day that show appreciation make a world of difference. One of my mentors told me one time something I’ll never forget, for many of our employees coming to work is the best part of their life.

This is particularly true of young people who need and respond best to management consistency and structure, they may not act like they like it but it is exactly what they need and want. The best incentive for employees is good and fair management who model consistency and who take time to say the little things that mean so much. Most everyone at one time or another has been the victim of poor management, we should all vow to find people who represent what we feel are important attributes and then model that person’s behavior. All this having been said, here are a few tangible incentives I have actually used.

1. Pay for a meal at one of your competitors and ask that the employee make a list of those things they liked better at the competitor and also things you do better, ask that specific recommendations be made about how we can be better.
2. Spot a dot cleaning contest – place hidden dots around the restaurant and make the most difficult have the greatest number of points, when the employee brings the dot and demonstrates that he/she cleaned the area points are awarded, the employee who collects the greatest number of points wins a grand prize (display that prize).
3. If the employee has a car have it washed and waxed on the lot while the employee is at work.
4. Special award uniform this can be as easy as a different color shirt or name tag.
5. Buy an old hour glass that lets say last 15 minutes each employee has possession of the hour glass for the allotted period and has to have conversation with five customers during that person while still doing his/her assigned job at the end of the 15 minute period he/she can pass the hourglass to whoever he/she wishes.
6. Radio shows are always taking call in request; send one in honor of that great employee’s performance.
7. Call the parents/spouse in for your honored employee and let the employee have lunch with that person.
8. Certificates are always welcome, try the unusual and be creative (spa, nail care, unusual store at one of the malls) things are better than money as has already been said.
9. Give the employee an elevated responsibility for some period of time (counting cash drawers as an example).
10. I once asked an employee what she really would like to have and she told me she had never flown on an airplane and so I bought her a ticket to Austin and had one of our managers in that market pick her up at the airport and take her to lunch at his restaurant. The Southwest ticket cost less that $100 the rest costs nothing. Southwest made a big deal of it too and she has never forgotten it.

There are so many possibilities, one suggestion is to ask employees to give you ideas and use that as a starting point. I will also say that you are wise to seek the advice of people on this site as you have done, there’s a lot of experience out there and it really can help. I also throw in a word of caution, make sure that whatever you do that it is not a mild form of bribery, employees should be rewarded for doing more not simply doing their job.

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