The 2019 Nightclub & Bar Staff Incentive Guide

Image: Heaven's Door. All other images property of their respective brands unless otherwise noted. (Heaven's Door Bob Dylan Bootlegger Series 2019 Edition)

Not everyone on your team is motivated by a paycheck to show up to work on time and work their hardest.

Thanksgiving is next week, kicking off the holiday season and final push to generate as much money as possible before the end of the year.

It’s not exactly a “hot take” to say that punctuality and attendance can become an issue in November and December. The holiday season is loaded with temptations to play hooky from or roll in late to work: meeting up with family, gathering with friends, parties, holiday shopping, holiday malaise…

One way you to stack the odds in your favor is to reward team members for perfect attendance, hitting sales goals, driving social media engagement, and nailing ticket times and order accuracy, to name just a few examples.

“Staff within this industry need to be motivated by more than just their paycheck,” says Doug Radkey, a 2020 Nightclub & Bar Show speaker. “Incentive programs that are tied around key (S.M.A.R.T) objectives—whether attendance- or performance-based—that include unique gifts as a reward will motivate staff to sell more, not be late (or call in sick), and provide a memorable guest experience when your venue may need it most during the holiday season.”

Motivating every team member in the house can be as simple as creating separate trackable goals for each person, position and/or front-of-house and back-of-house team. One of the simplest goals is attendance: offer up rewards for whoever works every scheduled shift from Black Friday through New Year’s Eve.

“They say half the battle is just showing up. In the restaurant and bar industry, getting people to show up is at times a real battle that you need to fight,” says Donald Burns, who will present the Breaking the Marketing Machine workshop and Bring Your 'A' Game with A+ Talent session at the 2020 Nightclub & Bar Show. “Too often we focus in on the negative and those who call off. How about rewarding those that have perfect attendance instead? Twelve shifts in a row with no tardiness and they get small reward like an iTunes gift card. Do that four times in a row and now they qualify for a bigger prize...a $100 gift card to their favorite store. The thing about rewards is you need to make it about what they like and want.”

Check this out: 15 Flavorful Cold Weather Drink Recipes for Every Taste

Sales goals are another simple—and, importantly, trackable—way to motivate your team to kick their upselling into high gear. The same can be said for social media engagement: reward the team member or members who share marketing posts and get the most likes, shares and guests through your doors.

“Incentives will help operators build a high level of brand ambassadors among their roster,” says Radkey, who will be presenting the session When One Just Isn't Enough: Expanding Your Business at the 35th Anniversary Nightclub & Bar Show. “Having an incentive program will engage staff, reduce turnover, and improve overall operations.”

Donald Burns has a couple great suggestions for internal sales contests that will boost your revenue. One is focused on a particular category of food items.

“Start with dessert contests,” he says. “This is low-hanging fruit that can really amp up your sales. You must track dessert sales for every member of your service team and give a reward for those who exceed their average deserts sold over the last 90 days. Give a staff member a goal to increase their dessert sales average by 50 percent. Aggressive goal? Yes, but even if they just get close to it you’re still selling more desserts. It increases the check average and that increases her tip as well. Everyone wins.”

Burns’ other contest suggestion revolves around cocktail and spirits sales.

“Another easy one is a no well drinks contest,” he says. “Anytime someone orders a standard drink like a Vodka Tonic, the team should be trained to automatically offer a call and premium options. The goal is not to sell any well drinks. The guests get better-quality drinks, the servers make more tips, and you ring up higher sales. Everyone once again wins!” 

We’ve compiled a list of potential rewards to help you incentivize your team. Of course, some on your team may prefer gift cards, a day or two off, a trip to an industry trade show to receive career-progressing education.

Check this out: Slow Nights? Ring the Register with These Promotions

“Sure, a Starbucks gift card might be your thing. But does the team feel that same craving for a Caramel Macchiato as you do? Maybe yes? Maybe no?” notes Burns. “Here’s how to find out what they want: Talk to your team more about what they would like to see as perks and rewards for performance incentives. Put more energy into rewarding the positive behavior you want to see!”

However, some of these items may be appropriate as ways to say thank you for a great year. Taking the time to thank team members goes a long way toward motivation and morale.

“One of the powerful human emotions is the need to be appreciated, and yet most restaurant leaders fail to do this on a consistent basis. Here’s an easy tip to reduce turnover and it won’t cost you anything: say ‘thank you’ more often to your team,” says Burns. “Now, if you haven’t said ‘thank you’ very often, your staff might wonder what’s wrong with you. Just emphasize that perhaps you realized like Scrooge did in A Christmas Carol that it’s not too late to change and be a little kinder to people. Especially people who work with you.”

Check this out: Q&A with Paul Hletko, Founder & Master Distiller of FEW Spirits

These gifts can also be used as incentives to drive more guests through your doors more frequently for the next several weeks. You can encourage regulars to compete in a social media engagement contest or to participate in a raffle, either straight up for these products or to fund a donation to a charity.


Under $50

Paromi Bourbon Vanilla Full Leaf Tea and Matcha with Cocoa

Paromi Full Leaf Tea ($10 for 15 full leaf biodegradable tea sachets)

Giving out booze is (maybe “was” is more accurate these days) a time-honored holiday gift-giving move. Not everyone wants alcohol as a gift—some people want to relax after a hard shift with something alcohol free. Teas from Paromi—the first to package tea in mason jars—comes in several enticing flavors, like Bourbon Vanilla: “We blend bourbon vanilla beans from Madagascar with our full-bodied Assam black tea and a delicate note of caramel to bring out this brew's intensely smooth, decadent side.”

Paromi Matcha with Cocoa ($14.99 for 1.23 oz., approx. 35 4-oz. servings)

The popularity and versatility of matcha makes this powder a great gift. Matcha with Cocoa is “a delicious blend of matcha green tea from Kyushu, Japan, and antioxidant rich cooca from the Dominican Republic.”

Miami Cocktail Company Margarita, Sangria and Mimosa

Miami Cocktail Company Copper Pot Margarita, Sunset Sangria & Blood Orange Mimosa ($14.99 each)

Made with organic ingredients, each Miami Cocktail Company bottled cocktail has just 100 calories per 4-oz. pour and comes in between 8.4-percent and 12-percent ABV.

Smirnoff No. 21 Ornament Bottles

Smirnoff No. 21 Ornament Bottles ($12.99)

Of course, some people do love getting a free bottle of their favorite spirit as a present or reward. These ornament bottles from Smirnoff are loaded with No. 21 vodka and emblazoned with festive holiday sayings.

Blondies Ready-to-Drink Cocktails

Blondies Ready-to-Drink Cocktails ($15.99)

Blondies is a light and natural vodka-based RTD cocktail developed by Jenny McCarthy. Blondies, available in Lemonade, Blueberry Lemonade and Strawberry Lemonade, is made with natural flavors, real fruit juices and no added sugar. The right level of sweetness comes from a hint of Stevia.

Cascade Blonde American Whiskey

Cascade Blonde American Whiskey ($19.99)

Finished with water from Cascade Spring in Tennessee, this is a blonde whiskey aimed at those who love the outdoors and spending time with friends. Cascade has partnered with American Rivers to host cleanup events to protect, restore and conserve America’s rivers and lakes.

Simple Vodka bottle

Simple Vodka ($19.99)

Not only is Simple Vodka gluten free and distilled through sustainable practices (while being free of added sugars, flavors and preservatives), the brand captures the spirit of the holiday season. Simple Vodka gives back by donating 20 meals per bottle produced to both local and national hunger relief programs.

Chandon Limited-edition “Harvested Under the Stars” Brut

Chandon Limited-edition “Harvested Under the Stars” Brut ($19.99/750ml, $43/Magnum)

Has the holiday season really arrived if Chandon hasn’t released a limited-edition bottle of bubbly for it? This year’s design honors Chandon harvest their grapes at night, under the stars.

André x Tipsy Elves Fanny Pack ($24.95)

With a drink holster and two compartments, this branded fanny pack let's everyone know the wearer is prepared for a great time.

Absolut Vodka with Two Samples of Absolut Juice gift set

Absolut Vodka with Two Samples of Absolut Juice ($25)

This is really three gifts in one: a 750ml of Absolut Vodka plus one 50ml bottle of Absolut Juice Apple and 50ml of Absolut Juice Strawberry.

Aerstone Sea Cask & Land Cask bottles

Aerstone Sea Cask & Land Cask ($28.99 each)

Offer your team something different: distinct 10-year-aged Scotches. Sea Cask features a subtle salt note due to being aged in warehouses located on the Ayrshire Coast. Land Cask, using Highland peat during malting, is rich and smoky.

Jameson Trilogy gift set

Jameson Trilogy ($33)

Speaking of three-in-one gifts, the Jameson Trilogy set comes one 200ml bottle each of Jameson Original, Jameson Caskmates Stout, and Jameson Caskmates IPA.

Lyre’s Alcohol-free Spirits range

Lyre’s Alcohol-free Spirits ($36/700ml)

New to the United States market, Lyre’s has an expansive lineup of alcohol-free “spirits.” Using more than 12,000 all-natural essences, distillates and extracts, the brand mimics classic spirits like bourbon, absinthe and gin.

Balcones Distilling Glencairn Glasses and Leather Travel Case

Balcones Distilling Glencairn Leather Travel Case ($40)

A leather travel case—lined with black velvet—that contains two Glencairn tasting glasses that are bronze-etched with the Balcones Distilling logo.

Tres Comas Añejo Tequila bottle

Tres Comas Añejo Tequila ($44.99)

The pop culture fans on your team will appreciate this tequila. It may reference the fabled Three Comma Club but it’s priced under $100. Russ Hanneman, a multi-billionaire from the HBO show Silicon Valley, is the “owner” of Tres Comas, a limited-edition tequila intended to “re-billionize” his bank account.

FEW Spirits Cold Cut Bourbon Whiskey

FEW Spirit Cold Cut Bourbon ($44.99)

Evanston, Illinois-based FEW Spirits is known for crafting innovative, high-quality spirits. Their latest creation is Cold Cut, the brand’s cask-strength bourbon cut with cold brew coffee to imbue the liquid and flavors with an inherent smoothness.

GH Mumm Grand Cordon Set with Two Cloupes

GH Mumm Grand Cordon Set with Two Cloupes ($45)

Not only did GH Mumm revolutionize Champagne packaging when they unveiled their laser-cut, gold-screened bottle a few years back, they announced their “Cloupe” just over a week ago. This gift set features one bottle and two Cloupes.

Under $100

Avión Silver Tequila with Collector’s Edition Canister

Avión Silver Tequila with Collector’s Edition Canister ($52)

Seher One, a street artist based in Mexico, designed this limited-edition canister that holds a 750ml bottle of award-winning Avión Silver.

Pierre Ferrand 10 Generations Cognac

Pierre Ferrand 10 Generations Cognac ($60)

Ten generations of the Ferrand family have been gaining and sharing knowledge, producing Cognac in the heart of its namesake region. Ferrand 10 Generations is a Grande Champagne Cognac made exclusively with Ugni-Blanc.

Chemex Six Cup Classic pour-over coffeemaker

Chemex Starter Kit ($62)

This is perfect for the coffee drinkers on your team. This starter kit comes with one Six Cup Classic Chemex pour-over coffeemaker with a polished wood collar with leather tie, a glass coffeemaker cover, box of filters, and a cork coaster.

André x Tipsy Elves Champagne Stocking Sweater

André x Tipsy Elves Champagne Stocking Sweater ($64.95)

There be uglier ugly Christmas sweaters out there but not many—if any—can hold a 750ml bottle of sparkling wine inside them. Available in the same design for men and women.

Nyetimber Classic Cuvee and Nyetimber Rosé sparkling wines

Nyetimber Classic Cuvee Multi-vintage ($68) & Rosé Multi-Vintage ($82)

Reward team members with something different—sparkling wine from England. The Classic Cuvee is characterized by honey, almond, pastry and baked apple flavors, while the Rosé has flavors of red currant, raspberry and cherry.

Booker’s Batch 2019-04 Beaten Biscuits bourbon

Booker’s Batch 2019-04 “Beaten Biscuits” ($79.99)

This is the final release in this year’s Booker’s Batch Collection. The nickname of 2019-04, Beaten Biscuits, is a callback to one of Booker Noe’s favorite things to make: cracker-like biscuits that are made by beating the air out of them. Booker used to make with these his grandmother, enjoyed eating them as he sipped his bourbon, and included them with the country hams he used to send out as gifts.

Spherificator by Cedarlane

Spherificator by Cedarlane ($99.99)

This amazing tool can basically turn any ingredient into pearls. Perfect for bartenders, chefs or anyone who loves to play with their food and drinks, the Spherificator can make up to 700 pearls in a minute.

$200 & Under

Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or Brut and Palmes d’Or Rosé 2008

Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or Brut 2008 ($136) & Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or Rosé 2008 ($200)

Team members who drive significant sales deserve something special. Both of these bottles certainly fit that bill: 2008 is considered an exceptional vintage. The Rosé is 100-percent Pinot Noir and a rare “saignee rosé,” which means the red wine juices were bled from the skins briefly.

Holiday Dinner by Grey Goose, Chef Jonathan Waxman and A-K Hada

Holiday Dinner by Grey Goose ($200)

This one is a truly special reward. Chef Jonathan Waxman was chosen to curate The Holiday Dinner by Grey Goose, a premade feast consisting of the award-winning chef’s most iconic dishes: Harvest Chicken with Salsa Verde, Roasted Japanese Turnips and Multicolored Carrots, and Potatoes with Rosemary and Pecorino Romano. Also included are the ingredients to batch Existing Conditions bartender A-K Hada signature cocktail, the Winter Star. This unique dinner feeds up to eight people and Grey Goose will donate $20 to Meals on Wheels America for each purchase. Available from 11/11 – 12/31. (Photo Credit: Ken Goodman Photography)

Big Ticket Items

Yeti Tundra 35 cooler

Yeti Tundra 35 ($249.99)

Guaranteed to motivate team members and spur raffle ticket sales, the Tundra 35 comes in five colors (Seafoam pictured) and has the capacity for 21 cans using a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio by volume or 26 pounds of ice only. Up to three inches of Yeti PermaFrost™ Insulation keeps those cans or ice cold for up to 48 hours.

WSET Level 1 ($300)

This gift benefits the recipient and you. Choose from WSET Level 1 Award in Wines, WSET Level 1 Award in Spirits or WSET Level 1 Award in Sake. Each is a hands-on, beginner's introduction to its respective subject matter. The team member (or members if you're feeling particularly generous this holiday season) explores the main styles and types of wine, spirits or sakes through sight, smell and taste to develop an understanding of the key factors affecting flavors and aromas. To gift a course just visit the website, enter your location, and the approved program provider in each city will come up. Click the appropriate provider and purchase the class through the school in their area. Upon successful completion of a course, participants receive a WSET certificate and lapel pin.

Heaven's Door Bob Dylan Bootlegger Series 2019 Edition

Heaven’s Door Bootleg Series, Vol. 1 ($499.99)

Really want to motivate your team to smash through sales goals? Put a bottle of this limited-production whiskey up for grabs. The first expression of the Bob Dylan collaboration whiskey, the 2019 Edition of the Bootleg Series (also referred to as Volume 1), is a 26-year-old whiskey that has been finished in ultra-rare Japanese Mizunara Oak barrels. The unique packaging features a handmade ceramic bottle decorated with Train Tracks, a famous Bob Dylan painting, housed in an individually numbered leather journal. All Bootleg Series whiskeys are one-time releases, meaning that once they’re all sold, that’s it.

No Nightclub & Bar or Questex employees or contributors received any products or other compensation in exchange for placement in this guide.