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How Applebee's uses gamification to retain staff, boost sales

Lauren Brousell | Oct. 2, 2015
One of the restaurant chain's largest franchise owners was suffering from high staff turnover rates, so it launched a custom gamification system that uses competition, recognition and awards to motivate its staff.

RMH Franchise also shares its experiences using the gamification system with other franchise owners, as well as Applebee's corporate branch. Jenkins says so far, the top 50 percent of the franchisee's locations have seen improved customer service ratings, and it plans to roll out the system to 33 newly acquired locations.

Corporate gamification challenge and pitfalls

Samantha Searle, senior research analyst at Gartner, says Applebee's and others should be cautious of the negative effects that can come from the lure of cool prizes. "A best practice for gamification at work is to run an experiment or proof of concept to check that the designed game really is driving the desired behaviors, rather than creating unintended behaviors and side effects as employees are tempted to game the system to get their rewards."

Applebee's also uses gamification to challenge employees. For example, if a restaurant has a special menu promotion on Wednesdays and kids eat free, they can create a challenge that tasks servers with upselling specific desserts for families with children. If the servers deliver, they are eligible for special prizes on the spot.

Andy Petroski, corporate faculty member of learning technology at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, says points and prizes are effective as short-term motivators, but Applebee's should strategize about long-term rewards for employees to make its gamification program more effective. "There are ways to use game mechanics and data to identify potential managers or franchise owners," he says. "There are even ways to give opportunities to college students who are looking to build a portfolio of skills."

Petroski says Applebee's could, for example, let servers earn points based on how well they perform in terms of customer service and then encourage them to add accomplishments to their LinkedIn profiles, which could help with future career prospects. "The challenge with gamification is the long-term impact. It's about how you are going to retain employees past that stage where they would've left without gamification," he says.


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