The Incentive Economy: What are You Offering?
by David Klemt
You know about the gig economy but are you familiar with the incentive economy?
It’s quite simple, and there are myriad ways for operators to engage with it. In fact, you likely already participate in the incentive economy in some way.
To put it succinctly, the incentive economy is all about the perks of a job beyond a paycheck.
The Old Ways are Out
On episode 53 of our Bar Hacks podcast, Chef Brian Duffy addresses the need for changes in our industry directly.
First, he tackles the lack of transparency in leadership by some operators. As Chef Duffy says, “That’s an old school way of doing it. That was an old school way, that was the Eighties.”
According to the chef, and we wholeheartedly agree, we now find ourselves in a “different phase” in the industry.
Then, Chef Duffy takes on how leadership in the industry treats staff.
One effective recruiting and hiring incentive Chef Duffy offers on the podcast deals with scheduling. None of his cooks close both nights of a weekend. He also posts schedules two weeks in advance so there are, A) no surprises, and B) if staff need to swap or drop, they have time to do so without impacting the business.
This simple scheduling incentive is attractive to new hires and existing staff. Why? Because working unpredictable, erratic hours is stressful.
“That ruins your life,” explains Chef Duffy.
If operators want to attract new hires, keep their team together, and reduce turnover, listening to staff about scheduling is crucial.
Things Need to Change
Chef Duffy shares a story on the podcast about his daughter and her experience working at a restaurant operated by a hospitality group.
No, he doesn’t name the group or the concept. The who isn’t the point here, it’s the what.
That what is how leadership bungled not only a scheduling issue but also how they botched Chef Duffy’s daughter’s two-week notice, her final shifts, and her final pay.
For more context, his daughter wasn’t a new hire who bailed after perceiving she had been treated poorly. She had worked at that restaurant for a year, there were ongoing issues, and she finally left.
As we all know, we’re down about a million jobs in this industry. That loss isn’t simply because of the pandemic. Our industry is undergoing a seismic cultural shift and we’re losing people who won’t return to hospitality.
Things need to change if we’re going to reverse this trend and strengthen the industry. KRG Hospitality president Doug Radkey addresses the change we need in his latest book, Hacking the New Normal. Chef Duffy addresses some of the necessary changes on our podcast as well.
“We can complain as much as we want, but we created it,” Chef Duffy says. “We as owners and operators and managers, we created what’s happening right now.”
The only limits to incentivizing your staff are your imagination, staying consistent with policies and procedures, being respectful of your staff and guests, and the law. Remain in those confines and get creative.
An incentive doesn’t need to be a grand gesture or prize. In many instances, something that makes a shift more fun and breaks up the monotony is enough to energize the staff.
“I want my staff, I want my front-of-house staff, to know what my sales goal is for the day,” says Chef Duffy. “And then I want to run a contest with that.”
One of the chef’s favorite contests is simple and highly motivating: Follow the Twenty.
Chef Duffy puts a twenty-dollar bill into play against a particular item or menu category. For example, either a specific dessert or any dessert.
Whenever a team member sells a dessert, they get the $20 that’s in play. If a different person sells another dessert, they get the twenty. Follow the Twenty incentivizes the first person to sell more of an item to hang onto the money, and the game motivates the rest of the staff to outperform their coworker to get the prize.
The last member of staff to sell a dessert that shift or day keeps the money.
Offering another creative incentive he’s seen, Chef Duffy shares that there’s a restaurant out there offering a free tattoo to kitchen staff that stays for at least 30 days. Will some staff leave after they get their tattoo? Possibly. Hiring wisely, implementing training policies and procedures, treating staff with respect, making scheduling easier and more flexible, ensuring clear communication is embedded in the fabric of your brand’s culture, and offering further incentives can prevent that turnover.
Offer Ongoing Education
“We live in an incentive world now,” says Chef Duffy. Explaining that he doesn’t operate large kitchens, large bars, or employ large teams, he admits he can only do so much in terms of incentives.
However, his approach to incentivizing staff to stay starts with this example of true leadership: “The one thing I can do is treat my employees well.”
With decades of experience in the industry, Chef Duffy’s knowledge is something he can offer his staff. A big believer in education, passing down information that can enrich team members’ careers and lives is an incredibly valuable incentive.
During a recent training session with a very young kitchen staff, the chef started with the very basics of education.
“Hey, guys, here’s a knife. This is a knife,” he said to the kitchen staff. “There’s seven different parts to a knife. Here’s the most powerful part, here’s the most precise part. This is how you hold it, this is what we do…”
Just reading that, it may seem like Chef Duffy was being condescending. That’s not the case. He wants to share as much of what he’s learned over the years to pass on his collected knowledge.
“I want people to feel as if they’re gaining something from me and the knowledge that I have rather than, ‘Go cut those onions and I’m gonna yell at you if you do it the wrong way,'” says Chef Duff.
Make Meaningful Change Today
Making impactful change can feel overwhelming. Let’s face it, it’s easier to just stay the course. But these days, staying the course can cost you your staff, then your guests, and then your business.
One way to start making change is to look inward at yourself, and at your leadership team.
Are your staff gaining anything from you beyond a job and paycheck? Is your leadership team mentoring and incentivizing staff? Are you, your leaders, and your team happy at work?
If the answer to those questions is “no,” do what’s reasonable to improve your brand’s work culture.
As Chef Duffy says, “The whole dynamic of it has to change and we have to take better care of our employees.”
Image: Steve Raubenstine from Pixabay