Besides increasing sales and guest satisfaction, contests are a great way to provide incentives and reward employees for specific tasks (i.e., cleaning, adhering to safety measures) and meeting goals (i.e., reducing costs and absenteeism, building sales). Contests can also simply inject some fun into the daily workplace. When planning contests, think about the following:

* Not all employees are competitive. Consider the kind of contests that your staff will respond to.

* Some contests are only for servers (primarily sales) or for the back of the house (food costs). Other contests encourage the entire staff to participate, such as those that pair the back of the house with servers, or have universal application, such as on-time attendance.

* Contest timeframes vary from a day or a week to a full year. To determine duration, consider the attention span of your employees, and if you have a goal, how long you think it will take to measure and achieve it.

* Contest rules should be easy to follow and clearly communicated to all participants. Results should be regularly updated and posted for everyone to see.

“Safety Bingo” Wins – Café Allegro, Kansas City, MO

To reward safety at work, all nonmanagement employees at Café Allegro play “Safety Bingo” daily. Players use regular bingo cards and every day the office manager pulls a number out of a jar during the lunch line up. The game continues until there is a winner or an accident. When an accident occurs the game is voided and a new “Safety Bingo” game begins. The first person to get bingo wins a $100 bill and his or her photo taken with the manager is posted on the bulletin board. “As the game progresses, employees are especially alert to safety issues, i.e., ice on the floor, as one accident could end the game,” explains Stephen Cole, owner.

Impact: The game is fun and focuses everyone’s attention on creating a safe work environment, which employees value and take seriously. As a result, workers’ comp premiums are down and the savings can be spent on rewards.

It’s All in the Game – Fiori’s, Grenada, MS

Cathy Glorioso, owner, Fiori’s, uses bi-weekly games to add some fun to the job and keep employees motivated. Her Trivia Game features one question, usually food-related (i.e., the origin of the french fry, pretzel, etc.), which is posted on the bulletin board. Employees have two weeks to come up with an answer and submit it. The winner receives a prize that varies—dinner, cash, video rental, etc. If there are multiple winners, their names are put in a hat and the final winner is drawn by a customer. Every so often Cathy creates a new contest.

Impact: “The trivia contest adds an element of fun and interest to the workday— everyone really gets into the spirit and it boosts morale,” says Cathy.

Rewarding Savings – Baker Truck Corral, Baker City, OR

To reward dishwashers for reducing breakage and cooks for trimming food costs, Baker Truck Corral gives quarterly points towards certificates that can be redeemed at local stores. Dish breakage is budgeted for $150 each month and for every budgeted dollar that goes unspent, dishwashers receive one point. For every percentage point that food costs drop below 32%, cooks receive 100 points. Points are redeemable for gift certificates from local stores. Most accumulate points and redeem them at the holidays. Weekly food costs and breakage stats are posted in the kitchen.

Impact: “By giving employees points for reducing costs, teamwork has improved and employees have become more focused on doing their daily tasks well,” reports GM J.B. Matthiesen.

A Clean Sweep – Toledo Lounge, Washington, DC

Each morning at Toledo Lounge owner Stephanie Abbajay rates the closing team’s cleanliness (ladies’ room, coffee filters, sweeping, etc.) from the previous night and their score (1 to 10) is posted. At the end of the week the team with the highest score wins a $50 cash bonus and brunch with the owners. If a team does more than expected (i.e., cleans grease traps before scheduled cleaning), everyone on the team receives extra points. To be sure everyone understands what they will be rated on, Stephanie hands out a list of closing duties and has a manager do a walk-through with each team.

Impact: “Our ‘Clean Sweep’ Program not only rewards employees for their efforts, but results in a cleaner restaurant and employees take more pride in their workplace,” says Stephanie.

The Team Approach – Flying Fish Café, Kill Devil Hills, NC

To include kitchen employees in sales contests, Flying Fish Café pairs them with servers by having servers draw the name of a kitchen employee out of a hat. “I didn’t want servers talking about winning sales contests in front of the kitchen staff,” says manager George Price. Monthly contests-usually for wine sales-have great prizes, ranging from jeroboams of wine donated by purveyors to trips (fishing, amusement parks) paid for by the restaurant. Teams receive points for bottles and glasses sold and daily tallies are posted.

Impact: “Every employee (front- and back-of-the-house) gets pumped up about the sales contests and sales really increase,” says George. “Contests like this definitely help both employees get to know each other better and positively impact the bottom line.”