How to boost mid-summer restaurant traffic

5 ways to keep butts in seats and employees motivated during the restaurant slow season

With the summer season wrapping up, operators must now prepare for the inevitable two-week notices that will roll in from seasonal employees who are heading back to school. While this exchange cannot always be avoided, it’s important to create a strategy that will boost employee motivation until the very last day and make them feel that their contributions were valued. See how you can boost morale and keep standards high to end on a positive note with these tips from foodservice industry vets.

Be An Ever-Present Resource

1. Be An Ever-Present Resource

Many seasonal employees don’t have their hearts in the restaurant industry, which can lead to trust issues and a lot of supervision, says Paul Repetti, executive chef at Tito’s Burritos & Wings in New Jersey. Having accessible management keeps employees on their toes, and can be a motivating way to share expertise and encouragement along the way.

Tap your existing staff members to help with the process, too. "Keep an eye on scheduling to ensure all shifts are covered with a mix of new and veteran employees," says Chef-Owner Marilyn Schlossbach, who hires more than 100 seasonal employees annually at her bustling restaurants on the New Jersey Shore, including Langosta Lounge.

2. Reward Great Work

No matter the industry, money will always be one of the biggest motivators. Any kind of bonus will motivate seasonal employees, such as rewarding kitchen staff with a percentage of the night's tips, or tossing an extra $25 or $50 into front-of-the-house staff paychecks. Executive Chef David Codney of the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills CA, says a team goal helps everyone remain focused as the end of the summer nears. He suggests letting the staff come up with a goal that's meaningful to them. Meals and drinks at the end of a shift or gift cards also work, but, "cash is king,” Repetti says. When operators create environments of positive reinforcement, it encourages employees to go above and beyond their normal duties.

3. Switch It Up

Nothing kills motivation like repetition. Anything you can do to free employees from monotony, such as rotating stations or roles, can help spring them out of a rut. It feels good and keeps minds fresh, Repetti says. It also can boost productivity, knocking out side work tasks that are always lying around. More importantly, it’s important for operators to provide ongoing learning opportunities for their employees. Whether it’s training your front-of-house staff on back-of-house techniques or showing your team all that it takes to be a restaurant owner, providing your team with endless learning opportunities can help them stay motivated until the end of the season.

Switch It Up

4. Treat Seasonal Help Like Permanent Employees

Permanent staff often excel the most when the employees have responsibility and autonomy in their jobs. The same approach can work on a short-term basis with seasonal employees, such as putting each line cook in charge of creating a daily special or menu item. Encouraging creativity is an important element of any work environment, and giving your team the space to put their skills to the test will motivate them to bring their best ideas forward. "If you let them be creative in what they do, that's going to have a positive effect," Repetti says.

5. Keep in Touch

Ending on good terms is the best way to ensure quality seasonal help returns the following year. Going back to school does not always mean that you have to say goodbye to an employee for good. “I always make sure to end on good terms," says Repetti, who thanks seasonal employees for their hard work and keeps their current contact information on file. "That person may be available to come back next season – or if not, he or she might have a friend who's great. You never know where networking will lead.” When Executive Chef Mari Katsumura decided to start Yūgen in Chicago, she was able to bring along staff members that she had worked with and mentored in the past. This is why it’s so pivotal to create lasting relationships – because you never know who you may end up working with in the future!