Training your Restaurant Service Staff for Success
In the restaurant and catering business, you are only as good as your personnel; therefore, priority must be given to the professional training and development of your wait staff. Service is such an integral part of the dining experience, that even excellent food preparation and presentation will not support a restaurant without a well-trained and attentive wait staff to showcase it. At the end of the day, the success of your restaurant may depend on your ability to ensure that professional, courteous service ranks right up there with skillfully prepared dishes and delicious cuisine.
Start Early to Train Wait Staff
Training restaurant servers should start before your business opens, or ahead of a new employee’s first day of work. You want all employees thoroughly trained before you make them the public face of your restaurant. Training includes being ready to interact with customers, knowledge of the menu, and familiarity with any tech equipment your wait staff has to use.
Every person learns in a different way. There are no 100% correct methods to train all your wait staff, nor do you have the time or resources to custom-make a training system for each employee. But by starting early, and paying attention to the way an employee learns best, you can more efficiently convey information.
Pick a Method of Training
Many restaurant training methods exist, so decide which approach – or combination of approaches – works best for you and your crew. Some examples of methods are:
Shadowing and Demonstration – This is a method in which an employee follows a more experienced staff member who shows the new employee how to execute tasks. The trainee watches and then replicates the actions later. This is meant to give a new employee a feel for the way responsibilities are completed, start to finish. It also gives the trainee a glimpse into real-life scenarios.
A side benefit of shadowing is that an inexperienced new employee can recharge your existing staff with enthusiasm. In addition, during the training period, the experienced server will be challenged to remember that the small details, which may be overlooked with time, are just as important as the big picture and that they too can lead to greater tips and loyal patronage.
Instructing and Supervising
– Instructing is a more passive form of training. A new hire is provided with a set of instructions – written and verbal – for how to accomplish a task, without demonstration. The new employees put the instructions into action and can either finish a task successfully, or learn from the mistakes that they make. They can keep the directions on hand as a reference when they officially start the job. A trainer is available to supervise performance and make suggestions when needed.
Role-Playing – Here, practice events are held during which some of the staff work and the others play the role of customers. This form of training allows new hires to experience what might happen in real-life scenarios, without the pressure of a real-time situation. Trainers act out the role of the customer to test trainees on what they have learned. This helps to build confidence before a new employee has to interact with actual customers.
Other options for training wait staff are brief bursts of training slotted around regular work schedules; quizzes to drill employees on menu items, weekly specials, and other data; and digital, interactive e-learning systems, which attempt to tailor the training to each employee’s level.
Servers Are Your Sales Team in Disguise
Your wait staff is actually part of your sales team, and servers can greatly affect your bottom-line profits. Statistics related to the success and failure of restaurants indicate that over 70% of customers return to a restaurant because of great service. It is crucial that your patrons experience exceptional service that lingers in their minds long after they leave your establishment. This experience will help you build customer loyalty, maximize sales, and create a buzz about your restaurant.
One of the best ways to motivate your servers to be a successful part of your restaurant’s team is to teach them to work smarter, not harder. Training them to “sell” menu items, while providing exceptional service, reinforces the idea that they are a vital part of your sales team and makes the job more interesting and multi-faceted. Ongoing training will create momentum so that your wait staff will continue to strive to achieve optimum sales and profitable results.
Prepare an Employee Handbook for your Servers
Every training program should start with a solid plan. Write out the goals that you want your staff to achieve; and make sure they are measurable, so you can determine what is working and what changes need to be made to reach success. Utilize the same plan for each employee who comes into your establishment, making adjustments when needed. Consistency ensures that everyone is on the same page and is held to the same set of standards.
Too much information can be intimidating to even the most qualified new hires; however, an employee handbook is your best chance to set your staff up for success and its importance cannot be over-emphasized. This is your chance – right at the beginning – to guide your new hires and to point them in the right direction, before mistakes are ingrained and behavior patterns, hard to change. The employee handbook is a vital opportunity to get every facet of your restaurant down on paper. You want your staff to be experts—on the menu, the kitchen, your mission statement, your concept, everything. The employee handbook is your chance, as an owner, to articulate your mindset, goals, and passion for your restaurant. If you find it hard to organize a handbook, you can find plenty of examples online; but once you begin, you’ll find it comes naturally.
Don’t Skimp on Information in Your Wait Staff Training Handbook
A good employee handbook is equal parts menu knowledge, restaurant policy, and general information. The menu knowledge section should cover every item the kitchen produces, spelling out ingredients, recipes, and product origins. It has to provide the answers to any question a guest could ask, as servers have to be able to convey the details of the menu with expertise and enthusiasm. A solid paragraph on each entrée, side dish, and special should be the minimum, plus any other relevant information.
The restaurant policy and general-info sections must contain everything about the restaurant—from the hours of operation, to what to do if a customer has an allergic reaction to something he or she eats. It should be the reference point for any potential question, including what goes on in the kitchen, hygiene specifications, parking arrangements, and anything else you can think of. In the end, all the sections of the handbook will be indispensable parts of the employees’ training experience.
Don’t Stop Training
Even after your employees are proficient at their jobs, you should continue to schedule regular training sessions. It’s not just about keeping their skills sharp: menus change, daily specials change, and the layout or tone of your establishment may change too. By implementing an ongoing training program, you have the opportunity to increase productivity, update policies to comply with new industry regulations, and improve job satisfaction in a work area that’s often high in employee turnover.
Training keeps your employees current – and your restaurant an ongoing success. One-time training sessions can often be forgotten or seem overwhelming for a new employee on the first day. Ongoing training allows employers to evaluate and follow-up effectively to get the most out of their staff. This type of restaurant-server training can elevate your operation to a higher level of professional, reputation-building service.
A Great Wait Staff: The Face of Your Restaurant
Maintaining a high level of customer service in your restaurant is perhaps the biggest key to success–as important as great food and ambiance. Ongoing training is vital: Even good employees may need practice with uncommon situations to keep them at the top of their game. With your unflagging efforts to keep your team well-honed and at their best, your restaurant will continually put its best foot forward.