Bill Marvin

The Restaurant Doctor

Do you have - or have you ever had - an Employee of the Month program? Is it an outstanding success? Well-intentioned as they are, I have seen few of these programs that endure for very long or truly accomplish the purpose for which they are intended.


The difficulty lies in how to fairly decide who is, in fact, the Employee of the Month. If you were truly honest, the honor would rotate among a select few staff members. If you attempt to broaden the basis for award, it goes to people who are obviously less deserving and that will ultimately undermine the integrity and meaning of the award.

For example, when I started a "Star of the Month" program at the Olympic Training Center, the first selections were obvious but after about six months it got tougher. In an effort to spread the responsibility (and perhaps get myself off the hot seat) I decided to get my crew involved in the selection process. Everyone had a vote with the final OK coming from management. It was a good theory but the selection process quickly became political.

The death knell for my noble idea came when the group essentially said, "Let's give it to Tony. We know he is a marginal worker but we all like him and he hasn't had much recognition." I was between the proverbial rock and the hard place. Tony did not really deserve the award but I thought I would do more harm by overruling the wishes of the group. So Tony was our Star of the Month but after that, the program became a sham and quickly collapsed. The demise of the plan was clearly my fault for the way I had structured it but I am willing to bet that many operators have found themselves in similar situations and made similar mistakes with similar good intentions.


Let's go back to basics. Why would you want to have an Employee of the Month program in the first place? "Well, to recognize excellence," you say. OK, but excellence at what?

(thoughtful silence)

If Job One is making the guest happy (and it is!), then I suggest that you reward the person on your staff who goes most outside the routine expectations of their job to make the guest happy - in other words, a Hero! Since the idea of looking at your crew as heros may be a bit difficult concept to grasp, here are a few (true) examples I have seen in the real world that illustrate what I am suggesting:

Situation: A guest accidently locks their keys in the car. Rather than just trying to get the car open with a coat hanger or calling a cab, the cashier tosses her own car keys to a busser who drives the guest home to get the spare set.

The cashier and the busser are Heroes. They did not have to make the effort. Nobody would have thought less of them if they had tried to get the car open (you can't open many cars with a coat hanger any more), called a cab or referred the guest to road service. But they made the extra effort, took a personal interest in the guest's plight and turned a negative situation into a positive event for both the restaurant and the guest.

In a similar situation, a guest locked himself out of his car in the restaurant parking lot. The manager tried to help but could not get the car open. He called the auto club emergency road service and used his own membership account to call them down to get the car unlocked. The guest was very appreciative but it would take 20-30 minutes for the truck to arrive and he was under a time crunch. He had to pick up his son from the day care center. He was already running late and there would be some major hassles if he did not get there before the center closed. Without another thought, the manager handed over the keys to his own new car (that he had just picked up that morning!) and said "Go get your son! By the time you get back, AAA will have been here to get your car open!" Another Hero.

Situation: An elderly woman finds herself with a flat tire in a restaurant's parking lot. A dishwasher on his way in to work sees her predicament and without being asked, volunteers to change the tire for her. He is a Hero.

Situation: A guest's four year-old daughter is upset. The little girl wants a peanut butter sandwich but there is not one on the menu. Instead of simply turning down the request, the waitress asks the kitchen what they can do. A cook comes out to talk with the child. They put their heads together and have a serious discussion about various brands of peanut butter, the merits of chunky vs. creamy and the best kinds of jelly to make a sandwich with. Armed with the proper inside information, the cook sends someone to the grocery store on the corner for the needed items. The little girl is thrilled, the parents are grateful (and stunned!) The cook, the waitress and the runner are all Heroes.

The three examples above are clear acts of personal initiative in the interest of exceptional guest service that are easy to identify and meaningful to reward . . . and behavior that gets rewarded tends to be repeated.


These are the acts that your guests tell stories about and that will tie them closer to your operation. These are the acts that will establish your reputation in the market, even to people who have never visited you. (For example, have you ever heard any stories about Nordstrom's?) These are the acts that raise the service awareness of other staff members and get them looking for opportunities to "make someone's day" with an unexpected offer of kindness. A natural, healthy competition can easily develop within the organization to see who can go the farthest to make the guests happy.

Yes, behavior that gets noticed, rewarded and celebrated tends to be repeated. Instead of an Employee of the Month, look for a Hero of the Month and watch what starts to happen!

for more information contact:
Bill Marvin, The Restaurant Doctor™
(585) 606-0000

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