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4 Ways to Improve Restaurant Training

4 Ways to Improve Restaurant Training    There are some fantastic training programs and trainers working in the industry. At most restaurants though, training is squeezed in with other daily activities because of the urgent demands of operating a restaurant.  This is the nature of the industry.  Because of this, there is room to improve restaurant training.

Well into my tenure as a waiter, I realized that most of what I know about waiting tables I did not learn during formal training.  Because of this, I started writing down ideas about improving restaurant training, particularly for front of the house service.

Invest Resources in Training   

You must exhaust resources to improve training: time and energy.  Should one of your restaurants goals be to improve training, consider increasing that time by a reasonable amount.  If training is 2% of your activity, consider making it 3-4%.

Focus on the Trainee    

The focus on restaurant training is about the material and tasks that need to be learned. And for good reason.  Chances are, training will not be successful if the trainee determines what is and is not important.  However, failure to properly engage the trainee or tailor the program to their needs could render training ineffective.  Good trainers are skilled in adapting the training to meet the trainee’s needs and being able to assess progress during the training process.  If your program’s and/or trainer’s approach is always the same with everyone, you may not be getting the most out of training.

Two things need to be assessed before training begins.  First, you must assess the trainee’s experience level.  This helps determine the pace of training and expectations of the trainee.     Someone with no experience needs to be handled differently than someone with over three years experience.

If possible, find out how the trainee learns best.  Most of restaurant training is hands on, and in order for the trainee to be successful, they will need to actively participate.  However, when dealing with menus, wine lists and POS systems, a trainee’s ability to learn along with their learning style becomes very important.  A good training program will allow visual, auditory and hands-on learners equal opportunity to grasp the material.

Be Selective in Choosing Trainers    

Selecting restaurant trainers is a tricky task.  A trainer is an ambassador within the organization. There is pressure and responsibility in choosing them.

The most important criteria for being a trainer are simple.  First and foremost, a trainer must set a good example.  This is not the only qualification, but it is the most important one. There are top performers and effective employees who do not represent a picture perfect example of the textbook way to do things. They may not be the best selection for a training role.  By contrast, you may have someone who may not rank at the top of the list for sales or work in the best sections, but is a picture perfect example of how to do the job.  That candidate could be the better choice.   For trainers, execution is important, but so are ideals.

Also remember, a trainer is a mentor.  Once you have identified a candidate’s ability to represent your organization then consider their ability to teach and mentor.  These skills are vital.  The pedigree of a top performer and a mentor do not always intersect.  Are your trainers actually willing to teach?   If they are not, do not select them.

Also remember, training may end, but the learning process continues.  During their early tenure, a new employee will continue to ask questions.  And they will ask people whom they feel comfortable asking.  There is a good chance they will approach the trainers first.  They will also look for help from the official or unofficial leaders in your restaurant. Ideally, your trainers set a good example, teach and mentor, and have the respect of the entire team.  Should you select approachable people who are perceived leaders within your ranks, you increase the chances of success with your training and development efforts.

Add Continuous Training and Coaching  

Most of what I learned about waiting tables took place after training was over.  Even with great training, this will likely be the same for most trainees. Development must be treated as part of the training process.

First and foremost, wisely use pre-shift meetings. These are great opportunities to communicate knowledge and best practices and further develop your employees.  Another function of pre-shift meetings is for briefings and when needed lecturing.  Only managers and owners can decide the content and structure of a pre-shift meeting.  Nonetheless, the opportunity to train and develop is there.

Another way to ensure employees develop is to evaluate them.  While I see a fair amount of in the moment coaching, I see very little in the way of formal evaluations.  Again, I understand the many demands in operating a restaurant.  However, simple evaluations can go a long way in reinforcing policies and best practices and improving performance.   Consider what’s important to you and your team and give your staff feedback on those criteria.

A third way to improve development is to have periodic meetings and training sessions.   Typically these are held before or after hours and are longer than pre-shift meetings.  These present great opportunities to train.  However, scheduling and attendance can be issues.  Also, everyone can relate to attending meetings that seem like a waste of time.  Regular pre-shift meetings have potential to be more effective.

Erik Bullman is a Writer and a Waiter.  He has more than 6 years experience in Hospitality and Sales.  His blog is Writer, Salesman, Waiter.

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7 Small Things That Make a Big Difference

Restaurant service is all about details.   Everything from the demeanor of the people at the front door, to the cleanliness of the seats and the restrooms, to the quality and consistency of the food, and the attentiveness of the service are all important.  As is everything in between.

Below is a list of several simple aspects where a server can impact the guest experience:

Being Prepared and Ready

The successful server shows up a little bit early with everything organized and ready.  That way, when the show starts the show starts.  The mediocre and unsuccessful server shows up barely on time, and then if they get a table right away, that table is a warm up.  That is the wrong approach.  Being prepared and ready to go is important and it affects your tips and the revenue for the restaurant.

Showing up in Uniform

An important part of being prepared is showing up in uniform.  Restaurant uniforms vary.  That said, they must be neat and clean.  Shirts must be stain and wrinkle free.  Your appearance matters and your uniform is a part of that.

The Right Footwear

When I was young, I went to the chiropractor with my father, and the doctor said the most important part of a building is the foundation.  He was stating that not taking care of your feet can cause back problems.   What he was also saying was that taking care of your feet is important.

While your shoes must meet specifications and they must be slip resistant, they must be comfortable and supportive.  There are many slip resistant shoes that are not comfortable and not supportive.  However, there are now some that are.   Shoes for Crews has air cushion, sneaker type shoes, that are very comfortable.   I was given a free pair for a one year anniversary at one job.  I have since bought more pairs to replace them.

Since wearing them, my feet do not hurt during or after shifts.  I look around at some other server’s and am puzzled as to why they aren’t wearing the same or similar shoes.  The server’s job is physically active.  With that, your orthopedic health is very important.   Taking care of your feet is a part of that.

Pens

For too many servers, pens are an afterthought.  Many do not bring enough to work.  Others bring pens with logos for other businesses on them, instead of plain ones or pens with the logo for the restaurant where they work.  Some bring pens that have run out of ink and do not work.
With many people these days paying with credit and debit cards, consider this: the pen you give them is being used to write out your tip.  It isn’t a good time to tick off your customer.

Exact Change

Many restaurants specify that having a cash bank is part of your uniform.  That said, having a bank is not enough.  The bank must be broken down well so you can provide change.  Before every shift, I do two things.  I grab a big handful of coin change.  The other thing I do is have a bank broken down into mostly fives and singles.   Your bank must be broken down so that you can give change appropriately.  To do so, change must be exact, using coin change if necessary, and allow the guest to leave the tip of their choice.|

Not doing either will cost you money and could upset the guest.  Not giving the guest exact coin change, by instead rounding down to the nearest dollar, will cost you money, as will not giving the guest enough change to give you the tip they want.  For example, let’s say you give the guest $8 in change.  You need to give them $8 in singles.  If you give them a $5 and 3 singles, they cannot leave you a $4 tip.  You may be giving away a dollar.  The last thing you want to do is leave money on the table or upset the guest.

Smiling

Smiling is the best way to be perceived as friendly and likeable.   Being friendly and likeable is the best way to make money for you and for the restaurant.  With that, your smile is your most important asset.

Having a Sense of Humor

Knowing how and when to laugh and joke around is crucial. Even the most serious of guests are out to have a good time.   That said, interacting with the guest is an art form.  Your sense of humor must be discreet and tactful and be mindful of the guest.  On a related note, humor helps you smile more.   Above all, having a sense of humor allows you to have fun.

Erik Bullman is a Writer and a Waiter.  He has more than 6 years experience in Hospitality and Sales.  His blog is Writer, Salesman, Waiter.

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6 Steps To Making The Guest Experience Perfect

6 Steps To Making The Guest Experience PerfectThere are several moments that are crucial to the guest’s perception of your restaurant. In order for service staff and managers to deliver a great guest experience, they must understand these important aspects of the guest experience. Specifically these are when the guest is entering the building, being greeted by the server, checked on during their meal, asked for feedback and thanked before they leave.

Every detail in the restaurant is important. That said these are the moments when you can win people over and generate rave reviews. Your service staff touches all of these points, with staff members in different roles starring at different points of the guest experience. By emphasizing these moments to your staff, you can improve your staff’s awareness of them. The result will be improved performance and increased restaurant sales.

Entering the Building, Before and During

The server is the most important point of contact for the guest, the face of the company, and the person with the most responsibility for whether the guest leaves with a good experience. That said the server is almost never the member on the service staff who first interacts with the guest. That person is the staff member who answers the phone or greets guests at the door. Your hosts and hostesses are vital to the guest experience, as they are the people who do.

After the guest has made a phone call to your restaurant and before they are greeted, their impression of your restaurant is forming. The appearance and condition of the building, either from driving by or walking up through the parking lot, can impact whether or not they want to eat at your restaurant. People hanging around outside can positively or negatively affect the guest experience, depending on whether it’s a lively crowd waiting to enter or employees off duty or on breaks.

Their impression continues to form as they enter the building. The first person on the service staff that greets them is usually a host or hostess. For this function, demeanor and appearance are the most crucial, as the door positions require a particular type of professionalism. There are some great servers and bartenders that might not be the best fit working up front. Managers and owners must be cognizant of this fact when hiring and selecting staff for these roles. The demeanor of the people working at the very front can greatly affect restaurant sales.

The Greet

Greeting guests at their table is a very important aspect of the guest experience, as well. The greet must take place in a timely manner. Equally important, it must be warm, friendly and hospitable. The server must smile, make eye contact, and use hospitable language. As they are doing this, they need to observe the makeup of the party, the tone of the guest and tailor the experience accordingly. In the initial greet, the server gets a lot of information.

As does the guest. While you are observing them and collecting information, this is when the guest decides whether or not they like you. This affects your tips and the future revenue for the restaurant.

If I had any advice for any server anywhere, it would be to be great at the greet. Pay attention to your details, because everything else you are doing is important, but be great at the greet.

Checking on Meal

Checking on the meal is equally crucial for the restaurant. At the end of the day, people are coming for the food. People buy the experience, but the food is a big, big part of that.

Of the several functions of the checkback, a key one is to show hospitality. You are checking to make sure everything is ok and most of the time it is. Still, while executing this step of service the server must be able to sincerely show empathy and concern.

After demonstrating hospitality, the next function of the checkback is quality control. The server must make sure that the orders are correct, complete, and satisfying. Orders usually arrive at the table correct, but sometimes the expediter in the kitchen may miss something. A correct order is also correctly prepared. If something is over or undercooked, you want to find out as soon as possible.

Sometimes orders arrive incomplete. Someone could be missing sides or one person at the table could be missing a meal. This is especially possible if a food runner or server assistant delivered the dinners and not the server. There is also the possibility that people may be missing condiments, napkins, or silverware. Should a guest need any of those, they must be delivered promptly. If someone waits four minutes for a soup spoon the soup will be cold. The same goes for mayo and mustard for a hamburger; the food gets cold and they are waiting that long to start their meal.

Along with demonstrating hospitality, checking also provides the opportunity to enhance the guest experience. For instance, if a guest labored over a choice, you want to take the time to specifically ask that person if they are happy with their choice. If they enjoy it, you can play up a great decision and celebrate a great product. Taking this action can impact future sales. By contrast, if the choice is unsatisfactory, you are allowed the opportunity to fix it.

Observing for Feedback

Asking for feedback is crucial. However that is not the only way for a server to collect information. The server’s observation skills are very important. They are used at the very beginning of the experience when they are greeted. They are also used throughout the experience. Keen servers can realize problems before the guest says anything and sometimes as they are happening. This can run the gamut from something missing from a plate, something that does not taste well, or a guest that is uncomfortable. Strong servers are strong observers.

Asking for Feedback

This is a crucial step for servers and managers. The server and the manager function differently in asking for feedback. The server asks and checks on the guest throughout. The manager will either come during the meal or before the guest leaves. Sometimes the managers have a better chance of getting candid feedback from a guest.

Getting the right feedback is important. To do this, the server and the manager have to actually stop and take the time to get feedback. Rushing through checkbacks and table visits does not work. If you are moving so quickly that it looks like you don’t care, they will assume that you do not care. There is also an intangible quality about getting the right feedback. I have noticed some managers are able to get better feedback than others.

Thanking the Guest

More than one person should thank the guest. Ideally, the server thanks them, sincerely. Then after that the people at the door should offer a warm thank you as well. These words are crucial. Otherwise the guest can leave without feeling appreciated.

Conclusion

All details in the restaurant must meet protocol. This article is about specific moments that can greatly impact sales. The success at these points of the guest experience is based on the service staff member’s soft skills. Your staff should be educated on how important these moments are and trained on best practices for these moments.

Erik Bullman is a Writer and a Waiter.  He has over six years experience in Hospitality and Sales.  His blog is Writer, Salesman, Waiter.

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It’s You: Three Reasons for Losing Tips

Its You: Three Reasons for Losing TipsThere are many servers and the occasional manager who believe that your tips are based on your clientele.  To them it’s all about the people you have.  Through my experience,  I have found this to be untrue.  Recently, I thought of some things a server could be doing wrong.  With that, I have some information on why a server may be losing tips.

1.    Missing Details

All restaurants have protocols and specifications for restaurant service.  Most restaurants have a specific protocol for front of the house service which is often labled “steps of service.”  It is simple.

A generic outline would read as follows:

  • Greet
  • Take Drink and/ or Appetizer Order
  • Take Order and then Place Food Order
  • Deliver Apps / Salads
  • Clear Plates
  • Deliver Entrees
  • Check Back
  • Clear
  • Offer Dessert / After Dinner Drinks
  • Deliver Check
  • Process Payment Promptly

According to this outline, it is 11 steps.  If you execute these steps effectively, service will go well.  If not, you will create problems that can eat up time and some problems that you cannot resolve, which result in lost revenue or losing future business.  How you prioritize and execute the steps of service is a separate issue, but nonetheless you need to do it.

When problems arise, they are a matter of two things.  They either don’t like you or your work habits and/or you missed steps of service.  More will follow on why they might not like you or your work habits.  As for the missed steps of service, it helps to know why they are important.

The two biggest things that upset patrons are long ticket times and incorrect or unsatisfactory orders.  Should you follow protocol properly, these things are less likely to happen.  If you greet someone on time, and take and place their order promptly, you are less likely to have a long ticket time.  If you perform check backs, specifically within 1 – 3 minutes of delivering a meal, you can resolve any issues with the meal, whether it is an undercooked steak, an incomplete meal, or the dish is incorrect in some way.

2.    Not Knowing the Art of Interaction

Interacting with guests is an art form.  How you execute your interaction rests squarely on you the server.  Most importantly, you should observe and read the cues of the guest and tailor interaction according.

Observe the appearance and makeup of the party

Most communication is non-verbal.  Likewise, good observation is a crucial skill for a server, particularly when it comes to interacting with guests.  The makeup of the party will often give clues as to what kind of interaction.  A business lunch, romantic evening, and birthday celebration will all be treated differently.  The manner in which people speak and the clothing people wear is also important.  By reading the guest, you should get information on how to mold your communication to them.

Mirror the Guests and Tailor Interaction to Their Wants and Needs.

While working in sales, I was instructed to “mirror the client.”  This was the best sales advice I have received.  To do this you mirror their tone.  If they are serious be serious, if they are lighthearted be lighthearted, and if they are quiet keep things to a minimum.  While everyone has their own personality and style, mirroring the guest and adapting your tone is still necessary.

Guests will always dictate the kind of interaction and how much interaction they want. Their experience is what matters.  If they have a good time, you will be taken care of.  I have watched amateurs try and win everyone over and fail.  There is a basic framework for being cordial and polite and there are some instances where you will treat everyone the same.  Everything after that will be dictated by the guest.

3.    The Server Does Not Put Their Best Foot Forward

Lack of Energy, Enthusiasm

When people dine out they expect their server to be coridial, energetic and enthusiastic.  They expect you to make eye contact and smile, have a hospitable attitude, and use hospitable language.  Without this, the patron may feel like they are the burden.  If you look and speak like you do not want to be at the restaurant, the patron will think you do not want to wait on them.  This will hurt your tips at the end of the night.

Volume of Business

Everyone ends up slammed and in the weeds from time to time.  There are also times when the restaurant is running on a skeleton crew or gets overwhelmed with business.  When this happens, the server must be graceful under pressure.  The business is about taking care of as many people as possible.  Lunch and dinner rushes happen within small windows of time.  When the business is there, you need to have a sense of urgency.  Do not miss details or lose business under pressure.

Not Adhering to Grooming and Appearance Standards

This should be obvious.  You must come to work prepared.  You must display a neat and clean uniform, appearance and hygiene.  But anyone who dines out can tell the story of the waiter with the dirty shirt or apron, scruffy beard, or wild hair.  Patrons want the people around their food to be clean.  If you’re not, don’t expect for those same people to tip you.

Guests See You Not Working

This one also should be obvious.   Patrons do not want to see you chatting with friends, watching TV, eating or standing around.  Even if there is nothing else to do.  While this often happens when business is slow or late at night, it does not look good.

Conclusion

Should your tips be less than you would like, fixing the problem could be simple.  While there are many reasons why you could lose a tip, this article provides some basic reasons as to why.  This information can be helpful to servers and also manager’s looking to develop new or inexperienced servers.

Erik Bullman is a Writer and a Waiter.  He has over six years experience in Hospitality and Sales.  His blog is Writer, Salesman, Waiter.

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Want to Make More Money as a Server? Know Your Liquor

Want to Make More Money as a Server?  Know Your LiquorBeverage sales are a great way to increase your check totals.  Since that is what your tips are based on, the higher the better.  In order to do this you must know your liquor.  Not everyone does. A server’s lack of vital bar knowledge can result in lost sales for the restaurant and lost tips for the server.  To prevent this from happening, the service staff must know their product.  You need to know basic information about bar drinks and the products your bar has.

Here are 5 different ways to increase your bar knowledge:

1. Read your training manual, handbook, or menu.

If you did not get a training manual or handbook when you were hired, skip this part.  You’ve been left out on your own.  If you did, your manual is a valuable resource.  Revisiting your manual after training can help re-cement the information.  As the bar is a profit center for the restaurant, people providing training materials strive for through and pertinent information.  That way it is easy to sell drinks.

Within this information, you should be able to learn which beer, wine, and liquor that your restaurant carries.  Ideally it will provide a list of draft beers, bottled beers, wine varietals and selections, and different liquors and brands.  It is important to know what you have and don’t have because experienced drinkers often ask for specific brands.   Should you not carry something, you want to resolve the situation on the spot and provide an alternate.
Want to Make More Money as a Server?  Know Your Liquor
The manual will also have information about specialty drinks.   These are signature items and/or best sellers – often high dollar items – that bring people into the restaurant.  As a server, you want to know specifically the ingredients, the brands of liquors, and what makes them unique.  If you stumble, you could lose a sale or ring in a drink incorrectly.  Thorough knowledge will keep that from happening.

2. Get a bartending book from the library, book store or for your e-reader

There are many out there, including Bartending for Dummies, Bartending Basics, and Bartending 101, amongst others.  While somewhat encyclopedic, these books are thorough, providing both basic and advanced information on drinks.

For servers, bartending books are best for their basic information about beer, wine and liquors. The information about beer will provide detailed information about brews, explaining the differences between ale, lager and porter along with other specifics.  There will also be a list of currently popular domestic and import brands.   There is also information on wine, describing different varietals and comparing and contrasting different wine regions.  Lastly there is information about liquors including how they are made, the differences between them, popular brands, and popular drinks that they are featured in.  All of this information is helpful.

3. Visit a liquor store

By visiting a liquor store, you can sort out a few things.  Mainly, you will become familiar popular brands and prices.  You will also learn of what’s popular locally.  Things at the local liquor store can be similar to what’s at your bar.   Liquor stores and wine merchants sometimes have tastings for wine, high gravity beer, and liquor.  Tastings will allow you to make recommendations and provide feedback to guests.   Another benefit of attending tastings is that you can sample the product without spending a lot of money.  Should you want to invest a little of your own money, you can also pick things up for yourself and try them on your own time.  Don’t forget store owners, and most especially wine merchants, are a good source of information and like to talk about their product.

Want to Make More Money as a Server?  Know Your Liquor4. Talk to your bartenders

Bartenders function as specialists.  Like the kitchen staff, they deliver the servers the product.  Often times you will get drinks from a service bartender.  When it’s slower, they may have time to talk.

They are the best resource for two things: the product in your restaurant and the drinks that can be made.  Training manuals contain product information, but the bartender knows what you have right now in real time.  If the information is dated or a product is out of stock, they will know.  They can help you out with the obscure drink if you get stumped.  While you may not always be sure of whether you can make a drink, the bartender will usually know.   Bartenders can also educate you on how certain drinks are made and also answer questions about barware and glassware.    The bartenders are directly tied to your ability to generate tips, so developing a good relationship with them helps.

5.  Take a bartending class or ask to get trained on bar

One of the best ways to learn is through doing.  By taking a class or getting trained to work behind the bar, you will learn the products your bar has and how to make many drinks.  This could provide an opportunity to bartend, which could allow you to make more money.

Classes and bartending school can be great ways to learn as well, but they come with pros and cons.  The pros are that you will learn and get a certificate to show for it.  The cons are you might not get a bartending job and there are many bartenders that never went.   For that reason, if you have a choice, I would recommend getting trained on the job ahead of taking classes.

Erik Bullman is a Writer and a Waiter.  He has over six years experience in Hospitality and Sales.  His blog is writersalesmanwaiter.wordpress.com.

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