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.