Going beyond a Pat on the Back –

Motivation Theory at Work in the Food Service Industry

America’s love affair with restaurants has never been greater. According to Roy Alonso of the National Restaurant Association, there were over 750,000 locations offering food services of some sort in the United States as of 1997. It is estimated that half of all adults are foodservice patrons on a typical day, and over 43 cents of the consumers food dollar is spent at these establishments. In 1997, sales of restaurants of all types topped $286 billion dollars, and experienced a growth rate of twenty percent. However, all is no t well in the industry. With the national unemployment rate hovering around five percent – the lowest level since 1973 – the business of keeping and motivating workers poses a threat to an industry already in the midst of an 150 percent annual turnover rate. In addition, luring quality employees from other markets (such as the health care and retail industries) to fill the nearly four million new jobs that the industry is anticipated to create is a difficult proposition. According to Laura Parsons, director of staffing in North America for Burger King, "The perception [among possible employees] is that fast food, and the service industry in general, is at the bottom of the barrel. We’re losing employees every day because of this. We have to take steps to become the first employer of choice."

Thus employee retention through motivation has become one of the focal points of the industry. In fact at the Multi-Unit Food Service Operators Conference held in Los Angeles last year, it was the main topic of discussion, with countless seminars devoted to the subject. Even a cottage industry of "incentive specialist" firms has sprung up. Numerous methods, techniques, and ideas have been tried, with varying levels of success. However, despite the superficial differences between the techniques, they are all based on the theories of motivation prompted by Abraham Maslow and Frederick Herzberg that have been modified for the industry.

According to the Penguin Dictionary of Psychology, behavior is defined as being purposeful and directed towards some end. That is, it is motivated by someone or something. According to the need theory of motivation, the driving force is the need, and the direction is towards a perceived reward and away from a perceived punishment. Building on this is the Hierarchy of Needs developed by Abraham Maslow in 1954. In summation, the needs of an individual are hierarchical, and the procession up the varying levels of need are successive. For example, a person’s physiological needs must be met before they can progress on to safety needs, affection needs, and so on. Manfred Davidson, a scholar of Maslow’s work and theorist, adds, "once primary needs are met, they cease to act as drives and are replaced by needs of a higher order. Higher order needs manifest themselves only when this is the case.

Frederick Herzberg presented another major theory of motivation through needs. In 1959, Herzberg and his colleagues asked more than 200 engineers and accountants to describe a job event that caused them extreme satisfaction, and another that caused them extreme dissatisfaction (Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman, 1967.) He found that factors causing satisfaction dealt with job content, and those causing dissatisfaction descried the job environment. Herzberg called the job content factors motivators and the job environment factors hygiene factors. More striking was his observation that an absence of motivators produced no satisfaction but also no dissatisfaction; it produced a state of neutrality. Also, fulfilling the hygiene factors eliminated dissatisfaction but did not satisfy. The results have come to be known as the Motivation-Hygiene theory or the Dual Factor Theory (Shipley and Kiely, 1988.)

Although these experiments showed the motivating factors present in the workplace for professional and industrial workers, there was little data involving hospitality workers until Kwame Charles and Lincoln Marshall explored the motivational preferences of workers in Caribbean hotels. An interesting point that was determined from the study was that the top motivational factors for workers in this industry differed greatly from their counterparts in earlier surveys. The results showed that the top motivators were good wages and better working conditions. When Simons and Enz replicated this research on American