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Employee Recognition

Hospitality Employee Recognition Programs: How To Celebrate Your Dedicated Workers

Rebecca Noori
Last Updated November 9, 2023

Encounters with argumentative customers, working long hours in hot, bustling environments, and standing on their feet all day—it's all part and parcel of working in hospitality. As leaders, you know how much of themselves your team members give to the job. But are you effectively communicating that praise and recognition to them?

This article explains why it's crucial to have a hospitality employee recognition program in place, how to design your own, and stellar examples of how to celebrate your dedicated workers.

What Positive Behaviors Should We Recognize In Hospitality Employees? 

Leaders in hospitality can look out for some key employee behaviors that deserve recognition:

Exceptional Customer Service

Frontline hospitality workers are under the spotlight, so it’s relatively easy to spot those going above and beyond to offer an exceptional customer experience to their guests or customers.

For example, a concierge might take extra time to connect with guests and offer personalized recommendations for activities or restaurants in the area. Similarly, serving staff deserve appreciation when they go out of their way to accommodate dietary restrictions or special customer requests.

Teamwork And Collaboration

Hospitality establishments function as a team effort. From bartenders to front desk staff, everyone has a role to play in creating a positive guest experience. Leaders can recognize and appreciate employees who: 

  • Work well with their team members
  • Communicate effectively
  • Show support for their colleagues, including mentoring

In action, this could look like a housekeeper who lends a helping hand to the front desk staff during peak check-in times or a bartender who jumps in to assist a server during a busy dinner rush.

Sustainability And Eco-Friendly Practices

The hospitality industry is under scrutiny for its environmental impact, contributing 1% of global carbon emissions. Recognizing employees who go the extra mile to promote sustainability and eco-friendly practices sets a positive example for others in the industry and reduces waste overall. Companies might recognize employees for:

  • Implementing a departmental recycling program
  • Finding ways to reduce energy consumption 
  • Decreasing water usage

Conflict Resolution And Composure

Maintaining a positive environment is crucial to the employee and guest experience. But there will be times when tension runs high. Employees who remain calm, composed, and empathetic in high-stress situations must be praised for doing so. This might include handling customer complaints or managing difficult situations with coworkers.

Cultural Sensitivity And Multilingual Skills

The hospitality industry welcomes a diverse array of guests through its front door, and each must receive an equal and inclusive experience. Employees who are culturally sensitive or can even communicate with guests in their native language should be appreciated for making all guests feel comfortable.

5 things you can recognize hospitality workers for

What Are The Benefits Of A Hospitality Employee Recognition Program? 

If you already have a performance management system and bonus structure in place for your hospitality employees, you may wonder about the merits of introducing an employee recognition system, too. But we believe it's an essential component of your company culture, as it:

Demonstrates Your Company Values

A recognition system enables you to highlight the behaviors and attributes you expect from your hospitality employees, which should map to your company values and mission statement. Restaurant Owner John Lavery of Fish City Belfast explains how workers and their companies must unite to move forward as an industry: 

“Hospitality is undergoing change at a rate never witnessed before. There is a recognition of value in those who truly love what they do and want to excel. There is a beginning of recognition for those establishments who lead the way and hold dear these values and beliefs. It is a difficult journey, and trust must be earned for both employees and employers, but for those who are passionate and can see the potential in one another, the future is bright.”

Attracts And Retains Top Hospitality Talent

The hospitality industry has a retention problem; data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals an annual turnover rate of 73.8%, with 6% of staff leaving every month. This is an industry-wide crisis, with international hotels like The Dorchester and the Savoy struggling to attract and retain chefs, housekeepers, and receptionists. 

HR Professional Carl Stephens explains that an attractive salary is one way to woo talent, but companies must also focus on company culture to improve employee retention rates. 

"When it comes to attracting and retaining top talent, offering competitive salaries and attractive benefits is crucial for the hospitality industry, where staff turnover rates can be high. Employers who do not offer competitive compensation packages may find themselves struggling to keep their best employees, which can lead to decreased productivity, lower employee morale, and ultimately, lower profits. There will always be employers paying more than you, but if you don't have a great working environment, then it makes the decision of leaving even easier for the employee.” 

The quality of the relationship between hospitality workers and their leaders matters, too. Trevor Walford, an International Restaurant Service Consultant, shared a message from a hotel employee who wanted more recognition from leadership. 

“Hi Trevor, I’m leaving the hotel because of no support. I’ve been here three years, and I want to be a supervisor, but I keep being ignored. I’m tired of asking.” 

If your hospitality business feels like a revolving door of talent, then a recognition program could be the missing part of the puzzle that stems the flow of departures.

Overcomes The Threat Of Automation

Hospitality workers understandably feel threatened by the impact of automation on their careers. From automated check-ins and virtual concierges to digital wake-up calls and AI bartenders who know customers' orders, employees understand that part of their job may be obsolete in the coming years. 

AI is progressing rapidly, but hospitality will always rely on a human touch to provide a warm and welcoming environment for guests, which should be the focus of your recognition program. Even if you're incorporating elements of automation into your workflows, honor those employees who go above and beyond to make a personal connection with guests.

Reduces Burnout In Hospitality

The heat and tension behind the scenes in a restaurant kitchen can be intense. It's not smooth sailing for front-of-house employees either. Dealing with the pressure of demanding customers can be a lot to handle. No two days in hospitality are identical, but it's easy for mounting pressures to lead to employee burnout, classified by the World Health Organization as an "occupational phenomenon." Burnout could be to blame if you notice your employees seem:

  • Low on energy or exhausted 
  • Increasingly distant from their job or are speaking negatively about it  
  • Less efficient than usual

If burnout has already set in, your employees may need strong interventions such as lifestyle changes, structured time off, and possibly mental health support. However, it may be easier to retain your staff if you recognize and address the signs of burnout among your hospitality staff before it takes hold.

A recognition program demonstrates care for employees' wellbeing in addition to monetary and experiential rewards. Giving stressed-out workers access to a complimentary massage or yoga class through your reward program could help them relax, unwind, and feel valued by their employers.

Finds Potential Hospitality Leaders

Forward-thinking employers will want to recruit future managers and team leaders from within their ranks. In this way, a recognition program is an important mechanism to identify employees who show leadership potential.

You may have a potential leader in your midst when you notice positive trends in staff behaviors, such as a greater willingness to learn, improved timekeeping and attendance, or the development of new skills. They could become a valuable asset to your team with the correct nurture and training.

The benefits of a hospitality employee recognition program

10 Hospitality Employee Appreciation Ideas

Are you wondering how to acknowledge your hospitality staff for their hard work? Here are some employee appreciation ideas, complete with examples of how others use them in the industry.

1. Participate In Appreciation Days

Plug a date in the calendar to celebrate your employees. You can choose a meaningful date that fits in well with your company's schedule or join in with a global or nationwide incentive, such as:

In either case, a set date in the calendar holds leaders accountable for showing employee appreciation; otherwise, the date will pass and be forgotten. Remember that annual celebrations should be the icing on the cake. Don't fall into the trap of waiting an entire year to recognize your employees, or you may find they've already left the company.

2. Celebrate On-The-Spot Hospitality Victories

One of the best ways to keep morale high, especially during a long shift, is to celebrate your employees in the moment. Check out these simple ways to elevate your employees:

  • Verbal praise: A few words of appreciation can go a long way. For instance, say to an employee: "You're doing an excellent job tonight; keep up the good work."
  • High-five or a fist bump: A small physical gesture can be a fun and informal way to recognize an employee. For example, give them a high-five after a successful service and say, "Great teamwork today!"
  • Positive body language: Express appreciation by smiling, making eye contact, and nodding in approval when an employee does something praiseworthy.
  • Handwritten note: Scribble your appreciation on a card or sticky note with a brief message like "Thanks for your hard work today!”
  • Name mention: If you use a communication system like a walkie-talkie, why not use the bandwidth to shout out your employees in front of their teammates? "Hey Carla, I just wanted to say you're doing an outstanding job right now. Keep it up!"
  • Customer testimonial: If a guest expresses appreciation for an employee, share this feedback with the employee in real time.  
  • Recognition token: Give your employees badges, points, or tokens to express your gratitude for their hard work.

3. Host Employee Award Ceremonies

If you use custom awards like Employee of the Month or Rookie of the Year, make the most of the accomplishment by announcing the winners at an event with plenty of glitz and glamor. At the ceremony, host a delicious meal, play fun games, and give ample praise to your employees in front of their peers.

For example, Hilton Hotels honors a select few employees with its most prestigious accolade—the Light & Warmth Award. Recipients of this award live the company's values and demonstrate its purpose every day.

Hilton's Light & Warmth annual award

4. Praise Your Employees On Social Media

One of the biggest challenges in celebrating your employees is deciding whether to do it publicly or privately. There's no easy answer here, as it all comes down to individual personalities. Some will embrace the limelight, while others will cringe at being celebrated publicly. 

Using social media to praise your employees can be a happy medium, as there’s no pressure for winning employees to stand on stage or make a winner’s speech. For example, Hampton by Hilton used Facebook to honor its fantastic team member Abbie with February's Employee of the Month award.

Hampton By Hilton employee of the month shoutout

5. Applaud Your Hospitality Workers In A Town Hall Meeting

Gallup published a case study on Kempinski Hotels, which details why the company excels at creating a culture of consistent, genuine care. Melissa Salibi, Kempinski's Chief HR Officer, explains:

"We like to celebrate a lot and have many activities for our teams. We encourage a culture of recognition and reward and do not miss the opportunity to celebrate our colleagues and their achievements." 

Town hall meetings are just one of the communal ways that Kempinski uses to praise hospitality team members. David, a front office supervisor from Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City, Accra, describes his experience receiving such an accolade:

"I remember my third month of employment when I was invited by my manager to attend a Town Hall meeting. It was the first time I had witnessed a huge employee gathering. There was a display where staff received recognition for guests' reviews. I gasped as, luckily, I found myself on the podium as I received applause for my good work. The feeling didn't give me just a sense of belongingness, as I also felt motivated and appreciated."

6. Enable Pooled Tipping

Tipping goes hand in hand with the hospitality industry. Guests expect to leave a service charge after a restaurant meal or thank housekeeping staff for maintaining their accommodation. The problem? Some behind-the-scenes hospitality workers never receive these job perks because customers can't visually see their commitment to excellence.

To recognize everyone on your staff, consider enabling pooled tipping, meaning that gratuities received from customers are split evenly among your workforce to acknowledge the efforts of your entire team.

For example, Starbucks is rolling out a new universal tipping and recognition system for its employees by the end of the fiscal year to reinvent its operations and employee experience. 

Nectar Tip: Some states have specific laws related to tipping, so be sure to check the regulations in your area before incorporating this into your recognition program.

7. Consider Non-Financial Rewards 

A study into employee recognition on restaurant employees' job embeddedness found that management should also incorporate non-financial recognition mechanisms such as the following to trigger a natural connection to their roles:

  • Certificates of appreciation 
  • Plaques of honor 
  • Verbal praise

8. Offer In-House Rewards 

If you're looking for the ultimate non-financial reward, why not make the most of belonging to the hospitality industry? Use in-house rewards as a symbol of your appreciation. In this culinary-themed example, the chefs at Bonnington Dublin Hotel made a delicious cake to celebrate the birthday of F&B manager Loraine.

Bonnington Dublin Hotel rewards a manager by getting her a custom cake made in-house.

Other ways to incorporate in-house treats into your recognition program include inviting exceptional employees to:

  • Enjoy a family meal in your restaurant
  • Indulge in a spa treatment in your hotel
  • Book an overnight stay for two
  • Take a cooking class with your head chef

9. Avoid Offering Shift Drinks

Many hospitality employers provide employees with a hearty meal between shifts to refuel and thank them for their hard work. But some employers also take the inadvisable step of inviting or encouraging their employees to drink alcohol as a perk of the job.

Approximately 15 million people in the US struggle with alcohol abuse, but less than 10% will seek treatment. Introducing alcohol into a demanding role can cause employees to drown their sorrows or depend on alcohol to relax between shifts, which may be a slippery slope.

Rewarding your hospitality employees shouldn't come at the cost of their health or wellbeing. Instead, choose non-alcoholic alternatives such as a complimentary coffee or tea, a nutritious snack, or even extra break time to recharge and refocus.

10. Provide Extra PTO 

Extra days of paid time off are an excellent way to recognize hospitality employees for their dedication. PTO can be even more meaningful than traditional financial incentives, especially when tailored to employees' interests or needs.

For example, a team member with young children may appreciate extra PTO during school breaks to spend quality time with their family. Alternatively, you might provide PTO that aligns with an individual's preferred cultural celebrations.

How To Create An Effective Hospitality Employee Recognition Program 

You've seen how other companies honor their hospitality workers. Now it's time to follow these steps to design a winning employee recognition strategy for your own team:

1. Set Goals For Your Recognition Program

Start with the finish line in sight by determining what you want to achieve from your recognition program. Setting SMART goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely is a great way to narrow down the details and have something concrete to aim for. Some examples of what you want to achieve by recognizing your employees could be:

  • Improving employee morale by X% over the next six months, measured by job satisfaction survey scores
  • Reducing turnover of your hotel staff by  X% in the next year, measured by employee retention rates 
  • Increasing positive guest reviews on your website by X% within three months of implementing the program

2. Recognize A Range Of Roles In Your Program

A recognition program should encompass every role that contributes to the smooth running of your hospitality organization, even those you don't necessarily associate with the industry. Even though they use different skills, backroom staff and behind-the-scenes maintenance crews work tirelessly to enable frontline workers to do their jobs.

As an example of an inclusive approach, Narendra Singh Rao was honored to be named the winner of the BW Hotelier Indian Hospitality Award 2023 in the Head of IT National Category.

Narendra Singh Rao was honored to be named the winner of the BW Hotelier Indian Hospitality Award 2023 in the Head of IT National Category

3. Consider Segmenting Recognition By Role Or Department

If it's too complicated to involve every role or department within your recognition program, consider splitting your program into smaller sections that make it easier to manage, so long as the departments don't intersect.

For example, you might set up a recognition system where only housekeeping staff can praise and acknowledge each other's work. You'd then set up a similar system for serving staff, and so on.

4. Incorporate Customer Feedback

Nothing exemplifies the behavior you’re looking for better than positive feedback from your guests. Try the following methods to collect their opinions:

  • Include a comment card with the bill at dinner service and encourage customers to leave praise for specific employees who have excelled during their visit.
  • Send a follow-up survey to guests after a hotel stay and ask them to name any employees who have stood out. 
  • Collect information from social media to showcase guest reviews that highlight exceptional staff behavior.

5. Offer A Range Of Personalized Rewards

While words of praise can be uplifting on a bad day, they'll only go so far. Tying tangible rewards to your recognition message is an extra layer of appreciation that will keep your employees loyal and upbeat.

A reward is only meaningful if it’s something the employee wants or needs. As this will vary significantly from person to person, consider offering a selection of rewards for your employees to choose from. 

Nectar Tip: Our Rewards feature lets employees choose from a mix of Amazon catalog products, gift cards, charity donations, company swag, and custom rewards.

6. Find Ways To Provide Frequent, Timely Recognition

For recognition to be effective, it needs to happen more frequently than your annual review process. Encourage regular and timely praise, whether through daily shoutouts, weekly awards, or monthly celebrations.

Gallup data proves that the more frequent the recognition, the more impactful it is on employee engagement. Specifically, employees who have received meaningful feedback in the past week are 4x more likely to be engaged than other employees who have missed out.

7. Allow Recognition Across All Ranks And Roles

Nectar's study of 800 full-time employees revealed that managers have the largest impact on employee recognition. 40% of employees claimed that manager feedback influenced them the most, compared to 33% who chose CEO or executive leadership and 28% who preferred peer-to-peer recognition.

Nevertheless, a healthy recognition program will allow people of all ranks and roles to join in and appreciate their colleagues' efforts. For example, someone working in the mail room should be able to acknowledge the actions of a kitchen employee who brings coffee and snacks to them.

8. Communicate Your Recognition Program To Your Team

Transparency is vital for recognition program success. If you want people to participate in your program and use it fairly, ensure your entire workforce understands the following:

  • What types of behavior to recognize 
  • Who can provide praise and recognition to each other 
  • How often to appreciate each other 
  • How to use your employee recognition software 
  • The types of rewards available and how they may claim them 

How you communicate these points to your workforce will be unique to your organization, but you might consider:

  • Running recognition workshops or Q&A sessions 
  • Training your managers on how to recognize excellence and how to deliver praise  
  • Including recognition as a topic during onboarding 
  • Sending out a series of emails with regular reminders to engage with your recognition program 
  • Discussing recognition during 1:1s, including performance reviews, to ensure that all employees are making the most of the system

9. Evaluate And Adjust 

Check that your recognition program works as expected by tracking progress against your SMART goals using relevant metrics. For example, if the goal of your recognition system is to improve retention rates, then tracking employee turnover would be appropriate.

As a best practice, collect employee feedback to explore worker experience with your new recognition program. These insights will help you understand:

  • How easy or challenging your system is 
  • What employees think of the rewards on offer
  • If there are barriers preventing people from taking part 
  • If the program is successful in driving engagement

Build A Winning Hospitality Employee Recognition Plan With Nectar 

Hospitality workers deserve recognition for serving their customers. To celebrate the little wins and the major victories they accomplish during their shifts, Nectar provides an innovative solution that's easy to deploy. Here are some of the tools you can customize to fit your bespoke recognition program:

  • Recognition: Allow hospitality teams to exchange praise and shoutouts with each other, which act as virtual pats on the back. 
  • Rewards: Employees can redeem their Nectar points for rewards they'll be excited to enjoy, such as gift cards, Amazon products, swag, and more. 
  • Awards: Hospitality organizations may create custom awards such as Concierge of the Month or Housekeeper of the Year to honor exemplary employees. 
  • Challenges: Leaders can design wellness activities or company-specific challenges to promote positive behavior, like referring a team member or getting an annual physical. 
  • Milestones: Companies can celebrate the dates that matter by setting up birthdays and work anniversaries on our platform so every employee is honored as an individual. 

Ready to thank your hospitality teams for their exceptional work? Book a free Nectar demo today to kickstart your employee recognition program.

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