What Motivates Servers: Autonomy

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(Note: This is part four of a series based on research presented in part one.  Part one serves as the basis for the whole series and gives a great deal of background for this post.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend doing so to get the most out of this post and series.  In part two I addressed how financial incentives do not motivate servers.  In part three I looked at how lack of income can destroy your staff’s motivation.  The next few posts will look at what does motivate servers.)

I am sitting at my computer writing this on July 4th, 2010.  It is Independence Day.  Outside my window I have been hearing fireworks for hours.  They are completely illegal, but what better way of demonstrating independence than by flagrantly and loudly breaking the law.  The news tells us it is dangerous.  The police write tickets.  Cities and tourist attractions sponsor larger and safer displays.  They still go off outside my window.  Even when the law is in our best interest, we love to violate it.  We love exercising our independence despite the consequences.

Yet when people become managers and owners they seem to forget this.  Independence or autonomy is a core principle we are raised on and strive for.  When people try to take away our independence, we fight.  It is no mystery that people will rebel against rules in the workplace.  What is seldom considered is the power of autonomy to motivate.

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How Money Motivates

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(Note: this is part three of a series based on research presented in part one.  Yesterday, I addressed why contests and financial incentives do not motivate servers.  If you have not read these posts, I highly recommend doing so in order to fully understand the premise of this post.)

Yesterday, I discussed why contests do not work to motivate servers.  I made the case that servers were not primarily motivated by money.  Like all other employees they are more motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  I hope that instilled greater credibility to those who read it that this research is as true for servers as it is for any other profession.  In the original post, this message was highly counterbalanced in the original by a very strong caveat.  This caveat cannot be ignored.

The research did make it very clear that if you do not pay people enough, they will not be motivated.  In no way should the fact that contests do not motivate servers be taken as an indication that servers do not care about money.  Servers care about money.  So do their landlords, credit card companies, student loan agencies, etc.  It goes back to the old adage, “Money can’t buy happiness, but being broke can sure make you miserable.”  The message of the research is that money provides a comfort level to focus on higher motivators.  If the servers are not making the base level of money they need to be comfortable, they cannot focus on the higher motivators that lead to increased performance and personal satisfaction.

When a service staff is not making adequate money, you end up with three types of servers:

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Why Contests Don’t Work

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(Note: This is the second part of a series I am posting over the holiday weekend.  The first part of this series lays out the basic premises this post and the rest of the series is based on.  In order to full appreciate this series, please read “The Epiphany” where the research behind this post is presented.)

Over the years I have been in countless serving contests.  The manager comes out at lineup and explains that whoever sells the most of the evenings fish special wins a lovely pink women’s size small t-shirt with the phrase “Buy Me a Tequila Rose” across the front.  Immediately visions of sporting this stylish shirt out to the club on my six-foot tall frame to pick up women go through my head.  Nothing says “class” like liquor company promo shirts.  All I have to do is regale my guest with mentions of the finely aged fish special that guests who came in the last three nights did not choose.  Tonight I can tell them that it truly is a limited time offer.  I will leave out that if they don’t buy it the kitchen manager can no longer in good conscience avoid throwing it out.

Fortunately, most of the contests were not as bad as the previously mentioned tale.  Most managers have accepted that cash is “one size fits all” and far more effective in the aforementioned club.  What surprises these managers, and myself in my time as a manager, is how poorly it works as a prize to motivate a staff.  The previous post outlines numerous studies that show cash incentives actually harm performance.  At first glance, this seems to make no sense.  Servers tend to be highly money motivated as a whole.  Yet cash incentives don’t lead to better performance.  Upon further examination though it can be easily explained.

Here are the basic reasons why financial incentives in the form of contests fail to motivate servers:

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The Epiphany

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Epiphany: noun- a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.”

I suppose there is nothing more simple or commonplace than scrolling through Facebook.  I was scrolling through Facebook today trying to decide what to write about for today’s post when I ran across a video my friend Drew posted.  The description said it was something people who manage employees should watch.  I have been reading and writing quite a bit about that topic lately so I decided to give it a spin.  In one video I found the most concise explanation of a phenomenon I have been trying to put my finger on for a while.

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Coupons, Discounts, and How to Deal

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The old adage says, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Whoever said this wasn’t looking hard enough. Today it seems every restaurant is offering some sort of deal. Prices are being slashed. “Buy one get one free” is a growing part of the lexicon. Restaurants that previously never would have thought of discounting their food are now spending money to advertise specials. I went into the restaurant I began my career at the other day and found prices lower than when I worked there fifteen years ago.

As servers this trend is particularly disturbing. We typically get tipped a percentage of the bill. Twenty percent of free is hardly a reward for great service. This compounds the difficulties of serving. Discounts may fill the seats, but often translate to more work and less money for servers.

Read the full post at Tips For Improving Your Tips

Understanding French Sauces (Part Two)

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Celebrity chefs seem to be everywhere today.  If you are a foodie, you can probably name a handful off the top of your head.  They have their own TV shows, books, and websites.  Entire networks are built upon the idea of bringing you the next celebrity chef.  Reality shows feature aspiring chefs competing to be the best. Each of these chefs owes a debt of gratitude to the founder of modern cuisine, Auguste Escoffier.

Auguste Escoffier

Even today no chef has contributed more to modern cuisine than Escoffier.  In his day he was called “The Emperor of Chefs.”  He is responsible for more than 10,000 recipes.  He took the work of Careme and updated it into a framework still used today.  He designed the “Brigade de cuisine” which serves as the model for all modern kitchens.  He worked at restaurants with names that are familiar to most people a century later.  Escoffier did not invent cooking, but no one before or since has had a greater impact on what we eat.

Read the full post at Foodie Knowledge

In Defense of Selling as a Server (Part Three)

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Selling is a complex topic.  In the first part of this series, I discussed how most managers and corporations fail to encourage servers to sell in the right way. The second part dealt with the fact that we are all salespeople and in fact selling is part of hospitality.  If you haven’t read part two in particular, I highly recommend taking a look because it serves as a premise for this post.  Today, I want to tie this all together by stating that in fact the guests truly want you to sell them.

The premise that guests want to be sold something may at first glance strike you as odd.  I mean we all hate salespeople right?  While a resistance to salespeople might be common, but there is a more common trait that cancels it out.  We all love to buy things.  Some people love it more than others, but we all like converting the money we work hard for into things we will actually enjoy.  We know we work hard for it so we are naturally resistant to letting go of it.  The gap between wanting to save our hard earned dollars and the desire to buy things that make us happy can only be bridged by a sales person.

The difference between servers and other sales people is that the guest determines our commissions.  For this reason, many servers are afraid to sell.  I would argue that instead of using this as a reason not to sell, you should instead use it as a guideline.  Never try to sell anything that is not in the guest’s best interest.  You will only be rewarded for your efforts if they are pleased with the outcome.  This makes it imperative that you only recommend items they will enjoy and will reflect positively on you.

With that caveat, here are three reasons why the guest wants you to sell to them:

Read the full post at Tips For Improving Your Tips

Help Them Do What They Want: I mentioned earlier the dilemma between wanting to save and wanting to spend.  As a server you help ease the process by justifying for the guest what they want to do.  Providing this justification helps push them over the edge to allow them to order what they want to enjoy.  You give them permission to treat themselves.  The result is a better meal by overcoming their desire to save and instead buy what they want to.

Confirm What They Hoped For: After the fear of spending is overcome, you can address the secondary fear that the item might not bring the happiness they expected.  This is where your knowledge and expertise come in.  You have the benefits of having tasted the item and listening to the feedback of other guests who have tried it.  This knowledge makes your recommendation far more powerful.  In this way, your recommendation is really a review.  It is actually better than a review because you will be there when they are finished and have to stand behind your recommendation.  This provides confidence to the guest that the meal will be as good as they hoped for.

Create The Experience: So we have knocked out the fear of spending and the fear of disappointment.  The third fear a server can overcome is the fear of gluttony.  People do not want to order too much.  A server can overcome this by not pretending all of the food is necessary, but instead advocating the experience.  The appetizers, salads, and desserts are not needed to get full, but they are part of the dining experience.  Ordering the salad or dessert makes a meal an experience.  Give them permission to have the experience through your recommendations and they will get more enjoyment out of the meal.

“Sales” is not a four-letter word.  The inherent fear of selling intimidates many servers.  When done properly the guest will appreciate the efforts and the expertise.  Recommend as you would to a friend because it truly is part of hospitality.  The right way to sell will be the topic of many future posts now that the framework has been laid.  Please subscribe via one of the methods on the right column to receive a notice about future related topics.

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In Defense of Selling as a Server (Part Two)

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You are a salesperson.  I have never met you, but I am confident in that statement.  By way of explanation let me say that Sunday night I had one of the greatest nights of my life.  I saw Michael Franti and Spearhead perform and it was the greatest concert I have ever attended.  I have been to lots of shows, but the energy level at the show and the quality of the music was unexplainable.  If you ever get a chance to see them, you would have to be a fool to pass it up.

That is why I am a salesperson.  When I like something, I want everyone to know about it.  This isn’t a music blog so you might not have clicked the link.  If this was a music blog and you had faith in my ability to tell good music from bad, that recommendation would have been enough.  We all sell the things we like continuously.  We just consider it recommending things to friends rather than sales.

Looking at sales in this light allows you to identify what it truly is.  Selling is using persuasion to help influence the outcome of a decision.  When a guest sits down at your table they have already decided to order food, drinks, or both.  All you are doing when you are selling as a server is helping them decide what to order.  Serving is the greatest sales job ever because everyone buys something.  People almost never come in just to sit down and look at the menu.  They have made the decision to buy when they walk in.  The only question is what they will buy.

Read the full post at Tips for Improving Your Tips

In Defense of Selling as a Server (Part One)

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Search engine results are one of the most amusing parts of writing a blog.  I get to see what people are searching for that lands them on this page.  Almost every day someone lands on this page looking for sales techniques.  Upon closer examination I am seeing a trend of the phrasing of the searches.  “How to get servers to sell” and similar phrasing lead me to believe that a lot of these searches are from managers attempting to get their servers to sell more.

For the sake of managers reading this blog, I will share my first rule of restaurant management.

Read the full post at Tips for Improving Your Tips

Understanding Restaurants: The Owner’s Perspective

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People ask me on occasion if I aspire to open my own restaurant one day. It always reminds me of the old Mitch Hedburg joke.

“When you’re in Hollywood and you’re a comedian, everybody wants you to do other things. All right, you’re a stand-up comedian; can you write us a script? That’s not fair. That’s like if I worked hard to become a cook, and I’m a really good cook, they’d say, “OK, you’re a cook. Can you farm?”

In reality, owning a restaurant does not appeal to me.  I would be the most neurotic and micro managing owner ever.  It takes a special breed of person to be willing to take the risk to open a restaurant.  The likelihood of failure is tremendous even for a great concept.

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