Why should the customers have all the fun?

Gamification for service industry employees.

Gamification is all the rage now in the hospitality industry (as in any other) but it is typically focused on the guests, rather than the hosts, on the service, rather than the servers. Yet they are the ones supposed to get you those happily engaged customers who will keep coming back for more.

So if your restaurant business is investing in the design of a great gamification program, make sure it includes special schemes dedicated to the employees. The latter are far more likely to succeed in getting the customers to play along if they’re engaged in a game themselves.


Employees are players too

Whether restaurant guests or hosts, customers or employees, people generally like to play games for some or all of the following basic reasons:

    • fun and enjoyable experience
    • a sense of achievement and power
    • competition
    • interaction and affiliation with a community

Depending on the particular mix of the above motivations players tend to fall into one of the four categories defined by Richard Bartlekillers, achievers, socializers, explorers. Ideally, a gamification program would take into account and feed the needs of all four groups. Let the killers compete, put in place a leaderboard for the achievers, give the socializers a sense of belonging and possibility to communicate,  and create ever new challenges for the explorers.

OPYcd4k7ZSQ.market_maxresNow these guys are certainly masters of workplace gamification but if if you’re a manager you probably don’t want them anywhere near YOUR office 🙂


The gamification ‘food chain’: obstacles, rewards, progression and leaderboards.

How specifically could these game mechanics be put to work in a restaurant business? Over the coming weeks we’ll bring you various best & worst gamification practices in food & beverage establishments. We’ll start our series with the experience a former manager of a Vancouver Starbucks which is an excellent illustration of many of the concepts we’ve already treated in our blog.

Back in 2008 and without any background in gamification theory, Vincent Ng put in place a scheme to increase sales and to cope with high employee turnover based on challenges, level progression and competition familiar from video games.

He intuitively found the ‘extrinsic and intrinsic core drives’ identified by another guru of gamification who will be familiar to our blog readers – Yu Kai Chou. Essentially, we don’t play games for material prizes but rather seek intrinsic rewards – getting better than others and feeling good about oneself usually provide sufficient motivation. Yet when there is an element of obligation, as in workplace gamification, there must be some more tangible rewards as well.

Last but not least, the experiment also integrated the famous Three F’s of gamification popularized by Gabe Zichermann: the employees got continuous feedback from their manager, made friends in team challenges, and had fun competing with each other and interacting with the customers.

frappuccino-fanflavors-today-vr-150609_96ce2d3c488733c10de6c65edb16c568.today-inline-largeStarbucks say they offer 80,000+ drink combinations. But the menu was not enough for Vincent’s team. Playing the challenges they learned 600 names of regular customers on top of that!


Here are the 8 tested and proven game mechanics that this manager used for staff retention and motivation, all while improving customer loyalty and boosting sales:

1) Offer immediate incentives/rewards at the onboarding stage

“At the end of the employee’s first day I would ask all senior staff to write a nice thank you note and hand it to the new employee to read. The employee would then be expected to post it on the wall of “Thank Yous.” This way employee feels rewarded right away for her first day on the job and dopamine is released to have good associations with the work place.”

2) Create challenges and obstacles

“I challenged each and everyone, whether they were new or veterans, to have as many conversations with customers as possible. If they were able to get the other person to talk and provide an answer to a question, then that was considered a conversation.”

3) Difficulty progression and leveling up

“The next challenge I posed for my employees was to get the names of our customers and to greet them by name. This would solidify a closer relationship with our customers and ensure that they knew we valued their loyalty.”

4) Surprise mini-games to keep up interest and novelty

“I would often offer mini challenges every other week at random times that would combine goals such as, ‘sell the last two remaining muffins and get two names.’ If they accomplished the goal then I would write them a thank you card for their efforts to reinforce the positive feedback.”

5) Leaderboards

“In order to know how well the staff were doing in the challenges, I encouraged all my staff to keep track of the number of conversations and names they received and have them posted on a wall for all staff to see.”

6) Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

“The challenges I created allowed my staff to carry a sense of internal satisfaction and achievement in being a better person. Most of the winners of the challenge didn’t brag, but they did get status and were recognized for their hard work by all their employees at our meetings. Many of them were awarded employees of the month.

The winners did get real rewards for their hard work. I would offer $50 gift certificates for shopping, or for smaller challenges, the winner would get a complimentary lunch paid by the boss. Larger challenges would involve a nice team dinner at one of the swankiest restaurants in Vancouver.”

7) Feedback

“During the time that challenges were taking place I would provide immediate feedback. I would let employees know when they did a great job of engaging customers. Or when I noticed that they weren’t playing the game with heart any more I would provide feedback and challenge them with a different task.”

8) Team missions

“Once every 6 months I would create team challenges. I pitted my afternoon staff versus the morning staff. This would lead to fun competition that would drive customer engagement through the roof. I found that staff would continue to help support other team members in accomplishing the team goals and that it created a much stronger bond among all employees.”

As a result of Vincent Ng’s efforts, in the first year of the program sales went up 30% from the previous one, all while greatly improving team spirit and employee morale. After two years, Vincent himself moved on to a career in marketing. He is the founder of MCNG Marketing, and the author of Pinterest to Profits with Pintalysis, and the host of the Pinterest podcast, Pictures to Profits.
By Annie Velev

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