How to Motivate and Discipline Employees


waitresses on the job

Learning how to motivate and discipline employees can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be. Strong leadership requires clear and consistent engagement with employees. This goes for encouraging positive work behavior and with keeping employees in line. In fact, a Gallup research compiled a list of three types of employees: engaged, not-engaged and actively disengaged.

  • Engaged employees: Possess the drive to move the business forward and to work with purpose.
  • Not engaged employees: “Check out” at work and put little to no energy into their work.
  • Actively disengaged employees: Are problematic, cause drama and actively seek ways to undermine the accomplishments of engaged employees.

So what does this mean for your business?

It turns out, everything. Your leadership style, motivational techniques and disciplinary actions communicate the value you put into each employee’s efforts. It continues the engagement cycle with the team and in the long run, it’s the driver of success for your business.

Identify Employee Expectations

Restaurant managers need to make their expectations very clear from the day an employee is hired. Managers should discuss all expectations for every job and every employee while on the business’s property. For example, a manager can include the following in the list of expectations:

  • Arriving to work on time
  • Properly clocking in for and out of a shift
  • Exhibiting proper cash handling practices
  • Performing daily cleaning tasks
  • Implementing customer service techniques

An employee manual or handbook should include these expectations and policies for every restaurant employee. When the expectations and rules are clear, rewarding and disciplining employees is easier and much more effective.

Guidelines for Rewarding Employees

Establishing what is expected on the job is the first step in setting up your employees for success. The next step is to set up a reward system for exemplary employees.  Rewards are great motivators and they also inform employees that managers pay attention and appreciate their efforts.

Reward specific achievements.

When you reward an employee, let him or her know exactly why they are being rewarded so the behavior can continue. Have specific information about what is being rewarded or recognized so that employees understand exactly what kind of behavior is appreciated the most.

Make all employees eligible.

Anyone performing at or above standards should be eligible to receive a reward. Employees who made mistakes or needed discipline in the past should by no means be excluded from receiving rewards when they earn them.

Reward in a timely manner.

Waiting weeks to distribute a reward can cause a disconnection between the achievement and the prize, reducing the chances that the good behavior will continue.

Do not over do it.

When managers give out awards like clockwork, the value diminishes. Reward your employees when they have demonstrated above average execution, positive consistency or have set an example to others. This way employees do not grow to expect the rewards or gifts.

Appropriately reward the team.

Sometimes the whole team deserves a standing ovation. And when that happens, by all means reward them all! Team reward ideas might include group outings, dinner out at a nice restaurant or gifts given to every employee.

Reward Ideas

To create a well-rounded rewards program, it’s best to reward employees based on the achievement. For example, a line cook or server who came in to pick up a last-minute shift due to another employee’s absence might deserve a gift card or movie passes. A cook who shows dedication and commitment may enjoy praise and training directly from the chef. More ideas are below:

  • Give praise publicly, such as “Great job today!” or “Well done on that order!”
  • Write out the recognition with a personal note to thank the employee.
  • Make the owner or other managers aware of an employee’s contributions.
  • Reward employees with cash or gift cards.
  • Provide lunch or take a worker out for a special meal.
  • Schedule special opportunities, like events or company trips.
  • Create a rewarding environment with special events, potlucks or outings for the whole team.


Guidelines to Creating a Discipline System

On the other end of the spectrum is the discipline policy. Discipline is essential to enforce expectations and policies in the restaurant, especially when problem behavior becomes an issue.

Create a written policy

Be sure to have all discipline policies written out. This is usually best done in the employee manual. Written policies are easy to reference for both managers and employees.

Inform employees of their duties

Make all job descriptions and duties in the restaurant clear and transparent. This allows employees to know how the team works and what they should be doing each day. This can also help in avoiding troublesome behavior.

Document problem behavior

When problem behavior does occur, it is extremely important to document the behavior and any disciplinary actions taken. This provides a record of what went on and a reference for any policy breaches or behavior issues that may happen in the future.

Be consistent in judgment

In order to gain the most respect and trust from employees, managers or owners should be as consistent as possible when dealing with problem behavior. Even if one employee is more likeable than another, both should be treated the same in the case of a policy violation.

Consider a flexible policy

Although managers should always treat employees fairly and be consistent when rewarding or punishing, it can pay to be flexible. Many establishments implement “progressive discipline” policies that include several warnings before termination is considered. However, this kind of policy probably will not work for infractions such as theft or harassment.

Types of Discipline Policies and Procedures

Before You Discipline

Before doling out the discipline, seek to understand the problem and focus on the facts of the violation.

  • Be sure to ask the employee if he or she was aware that the misconduct could result in disciplinary action and try to get at the root of the problem.
  • Be consistent in your discipline policies, but be sure that the punishment is appropriate for the violation.

Restaurants should clearly outline their discipline policies in their employee handbooks and thoroughly explain the policies to all employees. Discipline can take many forms, such as the ones listed below:

  • Counseling and coaching are typically good techniques for addressing minor problems that come up, and for ongoing reminders about appropriate behavior.
  • Adopting a “Three strikes and you’re out” policy gives the employee three chances to improve problematic behavior before they are let go.
  • Progressive discipline policies can escalate from verbal warnings to termination:
    1. Verbal warnings are best for relatively minor violations, or for first-time violations.
    2. Written warnings are typically given after verbal warnings, or when the violation is serious enough for a written warning.
    3. Suspensions result from very serious violations, or after a manager has given both verbal and written warnings.
    4. Demotions typically happen when a manager determines that the employee is no longer able to perform the required tasks or responsibilities.
    5. Termination should be the final disciplinary action, usually taking place after multiple warnings.

About Author

Maggie Henderson

Maggie once gained five pounds in pursuit of the perfect Indian dal recipe. When she isn't cooking, she spends her days as a marketer and her nights and weekends blogging, taking pictures and chasing after her son and dog.


  1. i would like you to send your topic for how to motivate and discipline employee,and i will be very appreciate
    best regards

  2. I work for a food service company. The “punch policy” that is in tact is: If you punch the clock incorrectly 5 x in 1 year, you are suspended for 10 days, then you return, and after 1 calendar year, your 1 punch violation will drop off. We punch the clock over 1,000 x a year. We have lost good associates due to this procedure.
    Incorrectly means: forgetting to punch, taking less than 25 min or over 35 for lunch. We punch the clock 4x a day. Thank You

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