3 Free Ways Small Restaurant Owners Can Increase Employee Satisfaction

3 Free Ways Small Restaurant Owners Can Increase Employee Satisfaction

Keeping your employees satisfied is critical to maintaining a consistently positive customer experience. While larger chains can experiment with higher wages and clearly delineated advancement opportunities, these options are not always available for the local restaurant owner.

Here are three tactics rooted in science that can help increase employee satisfaction without adding a ton of overhead.

1. Set Incremental Goals

Motivation is largely driven by levels of dopamine in the brain and we get a dopamine hit every time we hit a goal or milestone we set out for ourselves. While it’s important to instill culture and reinforce a spirit of service in your business, setting incremental, short term, achievable goals for your employees can be empowering.

The next time you have an initiative you want to run in your restaurant (like signing up new members to your rewards program), consider framing things into several small achievable steps. Reward your employees with praise for accomplishing each incremental task.  

2. Praise and Recognize

A Gallup study was conducted on the effect that praise and recognition has on employee performance. To measure whether an employee had been praised or recognized, employees were asked to answer true or false to the following statement: “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.” In this study, a 10% variation on the previous statement lead to a 11% difference in productivity at work.

Here are some guidelines from the HR Council on how to give recognition in a meaningful way:

  • Soon – Timing is important; don’t delay praise
  • Sincere – Do it because you’re truly appreciative
  • Specific – Give details of the achievement
  • Personal – Do it in person (or on a handwritten note)
  • Positive – Don’t mix in criticism
  • Proactive – Don’t wait for perfect performance

3. Increase Pay (without breaking the bank)

The are various (and almost entirely free) ways you can ensure your wait staff receives more pay. Today, we’ll focus on how personalization and small gifts can increase tips by over 21 percent:

In 2002, a study called, “Sweetening the Till: The Use of Candy to Increase Restaurant Tipping” was published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology by researchers from Cornell and Temple. Participants in the study included 80 dining parties, a total of 293 customers, eating dinner at an upscale Italian restaurant in New Jersey. Here’s what happened:

The control group consisted of a randomly selected group of customers who received their check without any acknowledgement from the server. The average tip that waiter received was 18.95%

In test #1, the server left a single piece of candy with the check, and again, without any acknowledgement. The average tip resulted in 3.37% over the control group.

In variation #2, the server personally offered customers two pieces of candy with their check. The average tip resulted in a 14.01% increase over the control group.

In variation #3, the server personally offered customers one piece of candy with their check. However, while leaving the table, the server stopped, turned around and offered an additional piece of candy. While the total number of candies given was the same as variation #2, the element of surprise, of unexpected generosity, yielded a 21.31% increase over the control group.

If your wait staff wants to increase their tips by 21%, consider empowering them with the ability to “gift” customers something that has high perceived value, but is low cost to you, like a well drink or a mint candy. It’s a low cost way to give your wait staff a raise (21% increase on their tips), while creating a more memorable, positive customer experience.

Setting incremental goals, praise and recognition, and helping your waiters/waitresses maximize their variable income from tips are three simple and free ways to increase employee satisfaction.

Implementing these initiatives can mean a cool 18+% increase in wages for your employees, and a 11% increase in productivity with no added cost to you. 

How do you motivate your staff? Feel free to share any suggestions of your own.

Jonathan Chen
About the Author
Jonathan Chen

Jonathan heads up channel and partner marketing at Fivestars. He spends the majority of his time finding new ways to build the Fivestars network, but always makes room in his schedule to shamelessly crush co-workers at ping pong.


  • These are some great tips, and I actually feel like they could apply to any business that is wanting to have better employee morale. In my own experience, having great praise and recognition really does go a long way, especially when it’s given according to the tips you provided. My husband is starting a new business and wants to have a good plan in place for having really happy employees. I’ll be using this as I help him create that plan. Thanks!

  • My husband and I are planning on opening a new restaurant once we get all of our equipment in place, which will probably be in a few weeks. I am very nervous about doing this, but I am sure that these three tips will help us to run a successful restaurant. I especially like the idea of having our servers give our customers candy to help their tips increase and I think that is something that we will have to incorporate. What are some other aspects that help tips increase?

  • Number 3 on the list really got my attention, and I feel it should be implemented more. You should realize that people who get paid less, are less motivated than people who get paid more. By raising pay, the employee morale goes up, raising the productivity and service as a whole. Thanks for that list and great advice!

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