It’s quite common for restaurant operators to comp their servers’ meals. This is a great way to build morale, improve employee retention, and help your staff stay focused at work. However, this practice can get expensive – and if you’re not attentive, it can negatively impact your business. With these best practices you’ll be able to keep your employees well-fed, without eating away at your own profit margin.


Stay the Course

According to a study by Bersin and Associates, effective employee engagement programs decrease voluntary turnover by 31%. To put it simply – if you make your restaurant staff feel heard and appreciated, they are much more likely to stay with your company.

Feeding your employees gives them a reason to stay on-site. If they take a break from their shift to go somewhere else for a snack, there’s always a chance they’ll be running late on the way back. But how late can you really be if you’re just walking from the dining room to the host stand?


The Fairest of Them All

It’s vital that you track every dollar you spend – whether it’s on marketing, inventory, or employee engagement. Use your Point of Sale system to track any employee discounts or comps you choose to offer. As Mary Sigel is quoted in Restaurant Business, “The best way to record is to add a category in comps that reflects ‘Employee Meals’ and program it…as an automatic 40 percent off. When the meal is rung in, it is reflected under food sales as a gross figure with the discount below prior to net sales.”

No matter how you track employee meals, or what discounts you offer, you should perform regular cost-benefit analyses to ensure your policy is fair to everyone. For instance – comping 10 staff meals during a lengthy dinner rush is a great way to keep your servers moving without making them go hungry. On the other hand, if your wine bar is comping 10 staff meals every morning at 9 am, you may need to revisit your strategy.


Great Sell Service

Michelle Baker, co-owner of Tampa restaurant The Refinery says that “Feeding our staff from the menu allows them to answer questions quickly and accurately and make recommendations.” National chain Red Lobster offers impressive employee discounts, whether or not their staff are on-shift. And John Pani, of the Waypoint Public gastropub in San Diego goes a step further, explicitly stating that comped employee meals are “part of our sales and marketing budget.”

Encouraging your restaurant staff to become brand ambassadors doesn’t just build up your revenue stream; it builds community. In the short term, your employees will feel empowered to recommend certain dishes to their guests, because they’ll know exactly how each one tastes. In the long term, they’ll invite their own friends and families to join them at your business and take advantage of their discount. With the slightest effort, you can grow your customer base and improve employee retention, in one fell swoop.

Staff appreciation is a vital part of staff retention – and boosting staff retention cuts down on your training costs, improves guest perception of your business, and gives your team the opportunity to grow together. With close attention to detail and a proper strategy for comping menu items, you can improve your profit margin due to your own generosity. Everybody wins!