Young male dressed in a white chef suit showing time is money

Time is money—anyone in the restaurant industry knows it.

You don’t want to waste time on a lazy employee, right? 

When it comes to lazy employees often times your first response might be to just fire said, employee. But, if your restaurant business model is suffering as a result of the “fire ‘em!” mentality, you may just need a shift in thinking.

Dealing with lazy employees requires a mix of tough love and the acceptance that you might be part of the problem. Learn how to motivate your less-than-enthusiastic staff and you can grow your business to be the best it can be.

Slackers Might Just Be Bored

  • Your more apathetic employees aren’t necessarily slacking, they might simply be looking for a challenge. Sometimes it is a matter of being comfortable—too comfortable. 
  • People who become intimately familiar with an environment tend to let their guard down. Not only that but being comfortable means knowing where the boundaries lie. That’s largely the cause of doing just enough to get by.
  • If someone strikes you as lazy, brainstorm ways in which you can challenge them. Managers have the power to empower. You should be finding ways to keep your employees engaged and on their toes. It’s hard to be bored when there is a full list of tasks to get done.

Ways to Motivate Employees

  • As a restaurant manager, the first step is to isolate the problem, not the person. 
  • In other words, there is probably something (perhaps in your business or restaurant business model) that’s causing one or more employees to be lazy. 
  • Maybe it is a lack of things to do; it could even be a hierarchy or a company policy issue. Consider what the core of the issue could be as you weigh the options for how to motivate your employees.
  • Learn how to motivate your less-than-enthusiastic staff and you can grow your business to be the best it can be.

Here are things you can do to turn lazy employees into productive members of your business and improve staff performance:

  1. Lead by example. Take the lead whenever you can and demonstrate how important your employees’ roles are to the company. In the training process, there is an opportunity to add gravity to more minute tasks. For example, telling a runner/busser to be proactive and consistent about checking the bathrooms, to ensure no customer goes without toilet paper or walks into a dirty bathroom
  2. Show genuine appreciation. Keep your employees accountable by noticing the bad and the good of what they do. Saying thank you goes a long way, and relaying a thank you from a customer can go even further. This is a great way to motivate because it shows the work they’re doing matters.
  3. Make advancement tangible. Too often, how employees rise through the ranks is a mystery. That causes frustration and instils a sense of secrecy or perhaps favouritism. Put forth standards and expectations and how the rewards can be achieved.
  4. Give out perks, regardless of position. Speaking of favouritism, this is a prime example. From the managerial staff to the dishwasher, the same perks should be available across the board.
  5. Try competitions. Small rewards can have a huge impact. Purchase several gift cards and let the winner choose. But again, be sure every employee has an equal chance at this perk.
  6. Provide an open forum. Don’t let your ego get in the way. If there’s a problem, ask for input to solve it.
  7. Give your employees a real break. That is to say, a place to unwind. A couple of tables and some uncomfortable chairs won’t do it. Jazz the area up, make it private and you’ll send a message that you care. As an additional portion, insist that your employee take the break they are legally due. Long shifts on your feet are strenuous, and if you show concern for their energy and their health, they may be less likely to take advantage by taking frequent and unwarranted breaks.
  8. Promote camaraderie. You shouldn’t be the only one giving out praise. Encourage coworkers to express their appreciation among their peers and foster a team environment.
  9. Make company goals clear. Nobody likes being in the dark. Reinstating company goals and how they apply to you employees’ work will give them a clearer sense of the outcome their attitude, work ethic, and tasks achieve.
  10. Change it up now and again. The same dress code every single day or the same this or that every single day is bound to bore. So, reserve some days for breaking the norm and watch morale improve. Maybe you dress up for Halloween, maybe you can have an Ugly Holiday Sweater day for the Holidays. Get creative, everyday doesn’t have to be the same!
  11. An Extra Perk. Motivated, happy employees directly result in providing great customer service and more loyal guests. Keeping your front-end staff like servers, bartenders, and hostesses informed and empowered means they will likely speak highly of their workplace and your restaurant, making them a walking advertisement for your establishment.


When employees don’t perform, it’s basically the same as losing money, and businesses with problematic employees spend more operating capital in order to deal with issues that arise. 

But these difficulties can be corrected and in most cases, self-corrected. And for those who don’t respond no matter the approach, there’s an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive by bringing in a replacement that will get the job done. However, before filling and handing out DISMISSALS, there are a significant amount of resolutions that can be tried.

Restaurants, like any business, need managers who know how to motivate employees to perform at their best. From the dishwasher to the greeter, every worker has needs, and aligning those needs with your restaurant’s creates a collaborative dynamic that benefits everyone, including your customers.

Back-of-House Motivation

  • Kitchen staff — chefs, line cooks and dishwashers — don’t receive much of the glory. They toil in obscurity, perhaps receiving an occasional customer compliment relayed by a server. 
  • Out of all the rewards you can offer your staff, personalized, instant recognition might be the most important.
  • Customer Service
  • Servers and bartenders are in constant contact with customers. They are the face of your organization, and the better they do their jobs, the more customers will like the restaurant. The tips front-of-house staff receive are a prime motivator. 
  • You can strengthen that motivation by sweetening the deal. Offer bonuses to servers or bartenders who do an outstanding job. For example, solicit feedback from customers or hire mystery diners. 
  • Reward employees who exceed customer expectations. When other employees hear of the bonus, they will know that you’re monitoring their performance and be motivated to try harder.


  • The food isn’t the first thing your customers see. If your waiting area is filthy, the windows aren’t clean and the tables are full of dirty dishes, customers start off with a bad impression. 
  • While restaurant managers always should monitor the front of the house to ensure everything is up to standards, things can slip through the cracks during busy times. 
  • One solution is to motivate your employees to be self-starters. If they see something dirty, they should clean it without being told. 
  • Motivate this behaviour by creating a reward system, such as employee of the month. 
  • The winner should receive some special privilege, such as flexible scheduling, extra time during breaks or — perhaps the best motivator — money.

Intrinsic Rewards

  • Praise, bonuses and similar motivational techniques offer extrinsic rewards. But intrinsic rewards are equally important for motivating staff. 
  • Intrinsic rewards involve developing self-esteem, self-actualization and a sense of accomplishment.
  • Motivate your staff, front of house and back, by helping them develop successful careers. 
  • For example, allow them to tackle new tasks to increase their skill sets and experience, encourage them to participate in external training opportunities and periodically increase their autonomy and responsibilities.
Marius Joubert
Author: Marius Joubert

Founder of the first true community for the restaurant and hospitality industry.

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