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HIRE Education, End-of-Year Edition: Staff Appreciation During the Holiday Season

The end of the year can be both a festive and frustrating time for any business, but for restaurants, it can be downright hectic. Between creating holiday specials, scheduling staff, and handling reservations, it can be tough on everyone.

The holiday season can also be a good time to reflect upon the last 12 months and  show your gratitude towards the many people that have played a role in helping your business to succeed.


Other than tips, restaurant workers tend to get little recognition for how hard they work. Both front and back-of-house employees are on their feet all day, keeping up with an endless turnover of customers and orders, and making it all look effortless without the luxury of a set paycheck.

As an owner, it’s your job to keep the atmosphere upbeat. Letting employees know how much their work matters to the bottom line of the business and making your best effort to create a fair schedule that allows everyone to spend time with family are ways you can keep the cogs moving even in the busy end-of-year season. 

Employee appreciation is the acknowledgment of a job well done. Everyone likes to be appreciated, and employee recognition can motivate staff to keep up the good work and maintain their momentum as the year winds down to an end.

A good job might be about the paycheck, but a great job is also about the workplace experience. If you don’t have a culture that attracts the best employees, you better be offering a generous salary with benefits. Unfortunately, many restaurants don’t have the resources to do this. 

To retain top talent, it’s important to visibly show your staff how much they are appreciated. But as you stare down a lengthy holiday to-do list, employee recognition can slip through the cracks because it seems that there are always tasks that take precedence. Putting staff appreciation on the top of that list, and prioritizing it, will ensure that hiring new staff doesn’t suddenly become a constant item on your agenda.

How Employee Appreciation Reduces Restaurant Turnover

Your crew is as high up on the list of importance as the food when it comes to your restaurant’s success and regularly needing to hire new staff members is expensive and time-consuming. Employee appreciation in restaurants is crucial to your business's success because it is a proactive way to retain the staff members you already have that know your menu, are in line with your company ethos, and are familiar to your customers. 

There are over one million restaurant locations in the U.S., and nearly 15 million individuals for whom a restaurant is their primary place of employment. With more job openings than labor willing and able to fill the positions, staffing challenges are still at an all-time high. Restaurant workers today are in the driver’s seat, having the ability to pick and choose where they work like never before. So, when someone chooses to work at your restaurant, it’s important that you do everything you can to give them reasons to stay. One way to do this is with an employee appreciation program. 

How to Show Staff Your Appreciation

  • Add a Dash of Kindness

It’s common for restaurants to offer staff free meals as a benefit, but adding a dose of kindness can go a long way.  

Feeling seen, heard, and valued is underrated in most workplaces. Simply asking your staff how they’re doing, celebrating important life events, and showing an interest in their lives outside of work can be the difference between retaining an employee and losing them. 

And the good news is, it doesn’t have to be overly complicated or expensive.  

Saying “thank you,”  acknowledging that you’ve observed outstanding performance, and finding little ways to show your staff that their hard work is not going unnoticed are simple but effective ways to start.

Organizing a “family” meal after shift; sitting down and having a cup of coffee with your servers in the break room; calling out a significant effort in a staff  meeting; or including a hand-written note in  paycheck envelopes are tiny gestures that can have an enormous impact on employee morale.

When you make people feel good or help them feel good about themselves, they’ll keep coming back — just like your customers. 

  • Host a Staff Gathering

Staff gatherings are great because they not only give your employees time off, but they offer staff time to build relationships with one another that they may not have the chance to do during the busy workday. 

Sponsoring team gatherings is tangible proof that you appreciate your crew by showing your willingness to invest in the experience. And staff events don’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. Potluck picnics, field days, or community outreach are all great team building exercises that help get your team together outside the restaurant and foster a positive working environment.   

Not only does a staff gathering boost morale, but team building is  a proven method for boosting productivity.

To make the most of a staff gatheringg, pick a date a few months in advance,   tell all of your employees they are invited, and encourage everyone to attend. Let customers know that you will be closed during this time a few weeks beforehand so that they have ample warning.

Consider posting the closure notice on your social media channels, on flyers in your restaurant, and on a sign on the front door as well. Remember, when they’re not dining at your restaurant, most of your guests are at work. If you close for an employee outing or staff get-together,  your efforts will not only appeal to your employees, but customers will also recognize the kindness you bestow upon your staff and see you in a positive light. It’s a win-win. 

  • Delegate

Delegating is a meaningful way to show your staff you appreciate them, because it lets them know you trust them. It’s important to initiate this trust during the onboarding process by giving your employees the opportunity to learn the ropes rather than throwing them into the fire with only one shift of hand-holding.

Pro Tip: Give your server $25 and tell them they can use it to purchase  a glass of wine or dessert for a customer who had to wait a while for their meal to arrive, a piece of pie to-go for a delivery driver who looks like they're having a bad day, or buy a regular customer an appetizer “on-the-house.”  

  • Make Appreciation Part of the Routine

Everyone wants to play a part in helping something bigger than themselves to succeed. By acknowledging your staff’s individual contributions at work, your team members will feel a sense of belonging and shared achievement. 

A high-five may or a pat on the back accompanied by the simple phrase  “great job” may seem like small gestures, but they can go a long way to remind an employee who’s working their butt off that they are valued and their efforts are not going unnoticed. Not only will they feel an immediate sense of pride, but they’ll be more likely to work harder even when things are the most hectic. 

  • Offer Holiday Bonuses

A perk that office workers see that restaurant employees rarely do is holiday bonuses. At the holidays, a flat bonus for each employee can show that management is thinking of them, especially during this busy season. And a bonus doesn’t have to break the bank. Simply work within your budget for the project and divide the funds between your staff evenly. While cash bonuses are ideal,  gift cards for gas, online shopping, or groceries are also highly appreciated.

  • Offer Professional Development and Mentorship Programs

No one wants to remain an entry-level employee forever. In fact, a LinkedIn study showed that 94% of employees would stay at their job longer if their employer invested in their learning and development.

Creating a program where your chef teaches your  dishwashers how to prepare dishes from the menu or shows servers how to pair wine and cheeses brings all sides of the restaurant together, creates more awareness and empathy, and shows your staff that you’re invested in their future.

Developing a mentorship program is a cost-effective way to train and retain employees long-term. Consider pairing experienced servers with new hires, or bridging the front and back of house by letting your hosting staff job shadow a chef for a day. 

Remember, some staff are there to make extra money while they’re attending college. Ask how you can help them develop skills for their career goals or areas of study. If, for example, someone on your team plans to get into marketing after college, ask them to help you plan an event or develop a social media strategy for the business. Not only does this provide employees work experience they can add to their resume but it helps the business by getting talented people at very low rates — much lower than you’d be paying a seasoned pro.  

  • Recognize Top Performers

You probably have at least one employee that you couldn’t live without. They’re reliable, hard-working, and know how to anticipate the needs of the business and your customers. They genuinely care about their job and it shows. If they ever quit, you’d have a hard time filling their shoes.  

But does that employee know you feel that way? Your superstars deserve to hear that you’re grateful for their efforts and receive recognition.

Consider the following: 

  • Write them thank you notes on a message or announcement board.

  • Give them a handwritten card with a small gift card enclosed.

  • Offer them a shout-out on social media.

  • Set aside time in shift  meetings to highlight professional successes.

  • Create an employee of the month program.  

  • Award top performers with designated parking spots or preferred scheduling.


Take Away

The holidays are a season for giving. As the year comes to an end, it's important give your staff the gift of appreciation for a job well done, not only during the busy holiday season but throughout the year.

The most cost-effective way to keep your employees coming back is to show them that you're as loyal to them as they are to your business. Creating a mutually symbiotic relationship that benefits all involved creates a healthy team environment, builds trust, and boosts your restaurant's bottom line.

By Eileen Strauss


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