Sharpening employees’ competitive edge can push staff to work harder. But without the proper guidance and context, it can also create a more cut-throat work environment—forging frenemies out of coworkers. At Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., competition fuels employee morale and motivation for the culinary program through mediums such as contests, says Mark Miller, director of dining services. “There is great camaraderie that comes from events like this,” Miller says. Here’s how operators are keeping competition friendly.
1. Emphasize teamwork
Every year, Skidmore College’s dining team hosts an American Culinary Federation-sanctioned conference and competition. All staff members are welcome to sign up as a four-person team, and sign-up sheets are easily accessible in kitchens for hourly and salaried chefs. The dining services department tries to pick new members every year to involve more staff and pair up different people, Miller says. “We choose team members based on their overall work ethic, attendance, willingness to pick up overtime and overall attitude,” he says.
2. Look inward
Instead of competing against peers, the food services team at Norwood City School District in Norwood, Ohio, preaches a philosophy of competing with itself. “We compete with and challenge our old ways of doing things,” says Director Roger Kipp. “It’s not uncommon to hear one of our team members say something like, ‘We used to do this, but now we do it this way, and here is why.’”
For instance, when guests were disinterested in the team’s scratch-made meatloaf, the department brainstormed how to make the menu item more appealing to students rather than giving up on the dish. One employee came up with the idea of using the recipe for meatballs rather than meatloaf. With a whole-grain bun, homemade marinara and cheese, the meatball hoagie is now one of the program’s best-sellers.
3. Crowdsource staff
At Chico Unified School District in Chico, Calif., nutrition services stokes competition among various sites throughout the district. The department incentivizes employees at each school to increase meal participation with certificates, district logo shirts, pizza parties and—most of all—bragging rights in a daily department-wide email, says Vince Enserro, director of nutrition services.
“We keep the rivalries positive by encouraging the sites to drive the competition with their ideas, and as an administrator I support the ideas they come to the table with,” Enserro says.