Restaurant Employee Recognition Ideas to Fire Up Culture

Running a restaurant is a challenging feat, especially when it comes to managing employee recognition. From front-of-house to back-of-house, everyone on your team plays a crucial role in ensuring your restaurant runs smoothly. That’s why respecting, recognizing and rewarding your employees for their hard work and dedication is essential. Not only does employee recognition improve morale and motivation, but it also helps create a positive restaurant culture.

In this post, I’ll discuss restaurant employee recognition ideas that fire up your restaurant culture based on lessons learned from building and executing the recognition program at Cane’s.

Restaurant Employee Recognition Ideas That Fire Up Culture

Employee Recognition Example: Cane’s Love® 

When I worked at Raising Cane’s, we felt so strongly about the company’s culture we created a signature program named “Cane’s Love.” Cane’s Love described everything from how we treat each other at work to how we respect, recognize and reward employees. Cane’s Love was a cornerstone of Cane’s Culture.

Raising Cane’s founder, Todd Graves, set aside a percentage of net sales for supporting Cane’s Love programs. Programs included new hire gifts, promotion & anniversary recognition, life event gifts, holiday celebrations, holiday parties, annual operator awards, lagniappe and more. (Lagniappe is a cajun french word that means a little something extra.)

It turns out we were onto something. The 2022 Engagement and Retention Report from Achievers found that employees who feel “heard and valued” have better morale, lower turnover, and high performance. This is because:

  • Employees spend a significant chunk of time at work, and their overall feelings about their jobs have a crucial impact on productivity and office morale.
  • Low-morale employees may feel their current employers aren’t meeting their needs and seek employment elsewhere to find what they’re missing.
  • Employee morale is not all about perks; it’s about communication, culture, being heard, and being supported personally and professionally.

Employee Recognition: Why it Matters

While not officially part of Cane’s Love, we always tried to “explain the why” when we asked managers or employees to do something. To that end, standard operating procedures were called the How & Why: Why and how we do it. We also encourage the managers to do the same when they request anything from an employee. Here’s the “Why” of employee respect, rewards, and recognition:

  • Stronger Culture: Restaurants with a positive culture are more productive at recruiting great employees. Managers who build great relationships with employees have better retention.
  • Stronger Operations: Recognition is a great way to motivate your employees to do their very best, which drives increased productivity and higher sales.
  • Stronger Relationships: Respect and recognition are contagious. That positivity impacts everyone in the restaurant, including the management team, employees, and customers who visit. When customers walk into your restaurant, they can feel your team’s vibe.

A well-designed & executed employee recognition program is a win-win for everybody, strengthening relationships between the company, employees, managers, and customers.

Employee Recognition: Respect

A recent study by Pew Research noted that feeling disrespected at work was one of the top three reasons U.S. workers left a job. Respondents also ranked “pay being too low” and “lack of advancement opportunities” as significant reasons for quitting. Being fair and treating people with respect matters when it comes to having a great company & restaurant culture.

Give your employees recognition by treating them the way you want them to treat customers. Remember Maya Angelou’s wisdom: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Here are a few ways to respect your restaurant employees:

  • Give Special Days Off: Chick-fil-A closes every Sunday and on major holidays. Raising Cane’s is closed New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
  • Say These Five Words Often: Saying Please, Thank You, and Great Job are 100% free. These five phrases go a long way to show sincere appreciation for your team. Always look for opportunities to compliment so your team knows they are on the right track.
  • Hire Working Managers: Managers who lead by example, work alongside their team, and are good coaches can build extraordinary relationships.
  • Respect Your Employees: Grow employees within the business, build schedules that best meet the mutual needs of the employee and restaurant, and accommodate schedule requests as often as possible.
Source: Cane’s Twitter Account

Employee Recognition: Recognition

For recognition to occur, the feeling of appreciation has to be felt. Nothing is more potent than recognizing employees for their contributions to your business.

  • Verbal Praise: Immediately provide positive feedback to your employee that is specific, personal to the person and event, and sincere. Be clear about what they did well, how it impacts the restaurant and how much you appreciate it.
  • Moments that Matter at Work: Celebrate the moments that matter across the employee’s journey in your business. Think about moments in the lifetime of an employee: new hire, training completion, promotion, and anniversaries.
  • Moments that Matter Outside of Work: Celebrate the moments that matter to your employee in their life, like graduating, buying their first home, having a baby, etc.

Providing positive feedback and celebrating special moments genuinely matter to your team and your restaurant’s culture. Again, take advantage of the opportunity to build a relationship with your employees to show them how much they mean to you and your business.

Employee Recognition: Rewards

We most often associate tangible rewards or incentives with restaurant employee recognition programs. But, while it is essential to back up your recognition with tangible rewards, it is not the critical part. Making sure people feel appreciated and fairly treated trumps everything.

Consider these suggestions for rewarding your employees as part of an employee recognition program:

  • Set and manage a reward budget: Like any investment, you must allocate money for rewards and incentives and track your investments. This ensures rewards are happening and keeps an even playing feel from restaurant to restaurant.
  • Reward results: Make sure you’re rewarding results and connecting positive benefits to extra effort. Rewards should be provided for things like perfect attendance, covering a last-minute shift, or doing a job no one else wants to do! Annually, you might recognize restaurant managers who deliver the best sales increases, profit, health scores, etc.
  • Be thoughtful: It’s not necessarily the cost of the reward that matters but the thought you put behind it. Don’t throw pizza party after pizza party to say thank you to your team. Different employees will like different things. Try to provide rewards that show you paid attention to the likes, wants, and needs of each employee.

Remember, if you hand out rewards for no reason or without feeling a sense of appreciation, you’ll be doing a disservice to recognition.

Employee Recognition: Brand & Culture Building

If your brand is how your customers perceive their experiences with your company, then your culture is how your employees perceive their experiences working at your company. Employee recognition should reinforce the employment brand and employee value proposition.

At Cane’s, service awards were tied to the brand story. Cane’s crewmember’s 1-year service award was a hard hat because the founder of Cane’s worked in a refinery to raise money for his first restaurant. The 10-year service award was a crystal dog because the company’s namesake was a yellow labrador.

Don’t miss the opportunity to connect your recognition programming to the shared values, beliefs and practices that shape employee experience.

Raising Cane’s 10-Year Service Award

In conclusion

In conclusion, recognizing and rewarding your employees for their hard work and dedication is crucial for building a positive restaurant culture. By implementing these ideas, you can fire up your restaurant culture and improve morale, motivation, and employee retention. Remember, a happy and appreciated employee is a loyal and productive employee.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:

Consult to Grow® provides various tools and services to help you develop people strategies to grow your team.  We can expertly assess your HR infrastructure, develop custom Employer of Choice strategies, facilitate leadership meetings and retreats, help you design bonus and incentive programs, and design managing partner programs.  Ready to get started?  

Note: Raising Cane’s, Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, and Cane’s Love are all trademarks of Raising Cane’s USA, LLC. The author and Consult to Grow have no formal affiliation with Raising Cane’s USA, LLC other than previously working at the company.

Share this with:

Related articles

2 thoughts on “Restaurant Employee Recognition Ideas to Fire Up Culture”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top

Enter Consult to Grow's Fourth of July Steak Giveaway!