Hospitality Employee Recognition Programs: 14 Best Practices

Of course, employee recognition is important across the board. Hospitality workers face a unique set of challenges, though — difficult guests, long hours on their feet, and a fast-paced environment.

To show them how much you appreciate the hard work they do, you'll have to do more than just send them a companywide email once a year.

The benefits of a hospitality employee recognition program

The hospitality industry has a serious turnover problem.

While the US average turnover rate across all public and private sector jobs hovers between 40% and 50% and most experts agree any given company should shoot for 10% or lower, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals an annual hospitality employee turnover rate of 73.8% — more than double that of most other private sector jobs.

The "why" of this is pretty simple: hospitality work is tough.

We can go on and on about why recognizing your employees is so important. We'll spare you the time here by summing it up.

  • It reinforces positive behaviors.
  • It facilitates strong relationships between coworkers, managers, and the company.
  • Employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention rates go up.
  • Burnout rates go down.
  • Past, current, and future employees will see your company as a great place to work.

And, perhaps most importantly, the overwhelming majority of employees say they don't get enough of it.

In a business where employees are treated poorly and you can expect to lose about 3 out of 4 of them in a given year, recognizing them should be at the top of your priority list.

When to recognize hospitality workers for a job well done

You don't want to recognize employees too little. Once every quarter, or even once a month, isn't going to cut it.

That said, you aren't giving out participation ribbons. If you're being disingenuous, your hospitality staff will see right through it.

To effectively give them recognition, you'll need to take timing into consideration. Here's a look at some recognizable achievements in the hospitality industry:

  • Delivering exceptional customer service, especially when someone names them in a glowing review
  • Handling themselves professionally when you see them with an exceedingly tough customer
  • Going above and beyond their job description to take care of a guest's or team member's unique needs
  • Avoiding a potentially negative situation by thinking ahead or coming up with a creative solution
  • Displaying an exceptional level of teamwork to make one of the busiest busy days of the year run smoothly
  • Using their multilingual skills when helping an international guest
  • Practicing cultural sensitivity when interacting with guests from different backgrounds

Of course, you'll also want to recognize employees for reaching certain milestones, like their first year on the job or completing a major project. And the ones who always take initiative deserve positive feedback from time to time.

Rewards and recognition are better together.

Before we dive into our best practices, let's make one thing clear: recognition goes hand-in-hand with rewards. One without the other is like peanut butter without jelly.

Giving verbal/written praise is a fantastic way to recognize someone. But actions speak louder than words.

Setting up a system to reward employees in the form of...

  • Career growth opportunities
  • Cash bonuses
  • Gift cards
  • Merchandise or event tickets
  • Extra PTO

...will make your recognition program that much more meaningful.

Think about it this way: you're giving out rewards for specific accomplishments. And those rewards are a tangible representation of how highly you value your employees' contributions.

Best practices for hospitality employee recognition

1. Give appropriate recognition for the task or achievement at hand.

As a leader, when and how recognition is given at your company is primarily at your discretion. Thing is, a one-size-fits-all approach simply won't work.

Different activities and achievements warrant different types of recognition.

  • Reaching a specific goal or target (e.g., upselling a certain amount, getting a set number of 5-star reviews) is the perfect time for a spot bonus.
  • Special projects and team wins, like coordinating a big event flawlessly or exceeding your quarterly CSAT score improvement target, are cause for celebration. Host a catering event or team happy hour.
  • Personal contributions will vary in frequency. A specific event, like handling a disgruntled guest or accommodating a difficult request, is worth an on-the-spot recognition. For the team member who's been doing the most all month, let them know one time it isn't going unnoticed. If you're feeling generous, maybe even give them a small reward (e.g., a gift card).
  • When someone embodies company values (say, making a guest's day, showing incredible integrity, or helping a coworker in need), immediate top-down recognition reinforces that positive action.

2. Engage your staff members through on-the-spot recognition.

In the hospitality industry, part of being a supervisor, manager, or exec means using your refined people skills to connect with your own employees.

Especially during extended shifts, holiday hours, and busy weekends, recognizing your employees for small victories throughout the day enhances employee morale and keeps everyone at the top of their game.

Here are a few examples of what we mean:

  • Words of encouragement. A compliment makes a big difference when expressing gratitude. You might tell a team member, "You're killing it tonight. Keep it up!"
  • Personalized notes. Take a moment to write a thank you note on a card or sticky note, saying something like, "Appreciate your dedication today!"
  • Public shout-outs. Use your team's communication tools (e.g., a walkie-talkie), to publicly praise team members, share guest compliments, and update team members on wins. For instance, "Can I get a round of applause for {Name}? {Customer X} could not stop talking about how great she is!"

Gallup found that the more often you give recognition, the higher its impact on employees. Specifically, employees who received explicit, timely recognition sometime in the past week were 4x likelier to be engaged than those who hadn't. So, these gestures, while small, make all the difference in employee engagement and team cohesion.

3. Take inventory of employees' individual preferences.

We all have different preferences when it comes to how we like to be recognized and rewarded for our accomplishments.

Just like you'd run an employee benefits survey before solidifying your benefits strategy, collect employee feedback before you finalize your recognition program.

Ask them:

  • Their preferred types of recognition
  • What motivates them to do a good job
  • Their priorities at work (e.g., work-life balance, career growth)
  • What they think of your current employee recognition efforts

If you have a few ideas in your head, like an annual company event, a peer recognition and rewards system, or gamifying performance reviews, use this survey to gather input from employees before deciding which to move forward with.

4. Actively put yourself in your employees' shoes.

Like most deskless workers, hotel staff, restaurant employees, travel agents, and event workers are constantly on the move.

Two pieces of advice here:

  • Spend time with your employees when you can. Walk the floor, observe them in action, and ask about their day-to-day experiences.
  • Empower supervisors to recognize their own teams. They're typically closer to the action and can more easily identify standout performance.

A lot of the things you'd consider "recognizable" happen in the moment (think: above-and-beyond contributions, excellent teamwork, conflict resolution). If you're constantly hiding in your office or attending meetings, you're probably out of touch with what's happening on the front lines.

5. Tie company achievements to staff contributions.

Your frontline workers are absolutely critical to your business's success.

Unfortunately, it's all too easy for them to forget that. To run a successful employee recognition program, you have to show them how they're part of the bigger picture.

To do that, associate specific business outcomes (like hitting revenue targets for the year) with hospitality employee contributions. When you hold events for your entire team, incorporate those high-level company achievements into the celebration so they know they played a critical part in that success.

For executive leadership, it's also important to acknowledge the company "couldn't have done it without them" when they report on company-wide achievements.

6. Read reviews from guests and customers.

From an employee recognition standpoint, you want to read reviews for two reasons.

The first is to find patterns in team behavior, like this:

But you also want to see if anyone specifically mentions an employee, and how often they do. Comments like these:

When you see someone leave a 5-star Google, Yelp, or TripAdvisor review with the employee’s name or “did an amazing job,” that's definitely worth mentioning.

7. Survey your guests.

Have you ever been handed a QR code with a survey link at the bottom of your restaurant receipt?

As a hospitality business, that's one of the best ways to track satisfaction and get feedback. You can even offer guests who complete the survey a free reward or $X off another visit.

Ask about:

  • What they thought of your staff
  • If any interactions stood out
  • Where you could improve service quality
  • If they experienced any issues during their stay or visit
  • If they would recommend your business to others

Pro tip: For staff members working with customers at the point of sale, have them log in every time they generate a customer receipt. That way, you can attribute credit to a good experience, even if the guest can't remember their name.

8. Celebrate individual employee milestones.

There are plenty of employee milestones worth celebrating — onboarding, birthdays, anniversaries, professional development achievements, and promotions, to name a few. You could even celebrate a big milestone in their personal lives, like an engagement or college graduation.

Making recognition about more than just work performance makes your employees feel like they're part of a community that cares about them as individuals. And that's how you win at the employee retention game.

9. Observe national appreciation days throughout the year.

For anyone looking for a specific day to make their employees feel appreciated: someone has already done the hard work for you.

To name a few special hospitality holidays:

  • National Employee Appreciation Day (1st Friday in March)
  • National Hotel Employee Day (September 1st)
  • Housekeeping Appreciation Week (2nd full week in September)
  • International Receptionist Day (2nd Wednesday in May)

Do some research to find a few employee-recognizing holidays that coincide with your hospitality team's roles. Then, mark your calendar and plan something special.

10. Create pathways for advancement within your company.

Your restaurant, event, or hotel employees will eventually want to see recognition and advancement opportunities.

Depending on their goals, advancement in the hospitality industry could mean...

  • More responsibility
  • A raise
  • Promotion
  • Opportunities to learn new skills and roles
  • More complex or higher-profile projects
  • Additional benefits

For a hospitality business, employee performance is much harder to quantify than, say, sales or recruitment. You can't just look at deals closed. You need a more nuanced approach.

Companies recognized for their development programs, like Chick-fil-A for its Leadership Development Program, offer extensive training, mentorship, and resources to support employee growth.

Workable suggests companies should embrace various forms of career progression, including:

  • Lateral/diagonal paths for career switchers
  • Vertical paths for those inclined toward management
  • Radiating paths for individual contributors

This approach recognizes that employee career progression is non-linear and varies greatly from one employee to the next.

11. Focus on peer-to-peer and top-down recognition.

Creating a positive company culture centered around recognition means integrating it into every level of your hierarchy.

Top-down recognition, like bonuses, raises, promotions, and praise from superiors, is mostly about validating an employee's hard work and setting them up for future success.

Peer-to-peer recognition is a natural way to create a supportive, positive environment. Almost half of employees say they want more recognition from peers, specifically. Encourage and provide ways for employees to praise their colleagues.

A few ideas:

  • Peer bonuses and awards for exceptional teamwork
  • A Slack or Teams channel dedicated to team member shoutouts
  • A "recognition" bucket, where employees leave notes of appreciation for each other (to be emptied and pinned up at the end of each month)
  • An "Employee of the Month" program

12. Gamify your program with rewards and challenges.

Gamification — infusing game-like elements (points, competitions, rewards) into non-game settings — is a proven way to increase motivation, engagement, and performance. Plus, it takes some of the pressure off managers to constantly figure out how to make participation compelling.

To make things more fun and competitive (in a healthy way), create games or challenges for employees to earn extra recognition points or rewards.

Two ideas:


Leaderboards tap into the natural human desire for competition and recognition, providing employees with a clear and public acknowledgment of their efforts.

Implement a leaderboard to display top performers in customer service, sales, or teamwork. Employees earn points based on achievements to determine rankings.

Use a digital platform or visible chart in a common area to update the rankings. Encourage friendly competition among employees to motivate them.

Achievement badges and milestones

Design a system of badges or icons that represent different achievements within the company, such as completing a training program, hitting a sales target, or receiving positive customer feedback.

Employees can collect these badges digitally through an internal platform or physically, such as pins or stickers. Set up milestones for collecting a certain number of badges to encourage ongoing participation.

13. Communicate the details of your program with your team.

Transparency is a huge key when it comes to implementing an employee recognition program (especially if there's a peer-to-peer element, which hinges on their participation).

Employees, supervisors, and management should have a shared understanding of:

  • Behaviors to recognize
  • Who can recognize each other, and for what
  • Guidelines for giving recognition, such as timeliness or using specific language
  • How to redeem rewards or points earned through the program

Publish these details in a handbook or online employee portal for easy access.

14. Use employee recognition software.

If you think other hospitality organizations do this all on their own, you'd be dead wrong. They all use rewards and recognition software to manage...

  • Employee enrollment and participation
  • Tax compliance for employee rewards and bonuses
  • Different types of awards, bonuses, and points systems
  • Rewards fulfillment and tracking

Software streamlines the process from end to end, so your program doesn't turn into another back-office headache.

See how Compt helps hospitality leaders recognize their rockstar employees.

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