According to a new study by the Council of Hotel And Restaurant Trainers (CHART), 53% of the restaurants surveyed had cut back on their employee training budgets. Only 19% increased their budget, with the rest remaining the same. The study covered a wide variety of restaurants, from small independents to large national chains, with the largest number of respondents falling into the small to mid-sized regional category.
These numbers obviously reflect the lean economic reality in which everybody in the food service industry is operating presently. Cuts are inevitable as revenues fall. But how much is too much? Where is the line between trimming back and damaging a key pillar in your business: professional, experienced service?
New employees get some pretty good training for the first 90 days after hire, according to the respondents to this survey. After that, wait and kitchen staff receive very little or no training, while management tends to receive more. No matter what the size of your restaurant is, ongoing training should be a cornerstone of your overall strategy. Research shows that employees who are given regular career training and whose company philosophy revolves around a reputation for service are much more likely to stay longer and perform better, which attacks the biggest monster in restaurant staff: high employee turnover.
Okay, you say, I get it, employee training is important. But I can’t afford it right now, so what should I do? Well, as long as you are willing to take the time, staff training doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money. Sure, supplemental training materials and videos are more efficient, but when you need to cut back, canning expenses on training materials doesn’t have to spell the death of your training program.
Some ideas for training on the cheap:
Role play with employees. Don’t take it the wrong way (and at least one person on your staff is going to snigger in the back every time you bring this up) but role playing customer service situations with your employees is a very effective way to train. If you hold regular role playing sessions, the awkwardness will eventually wear off and very positive employee interactions will develop.
Start a mentoring program. Assign your top servers and kitchen staff to one new employee each. Have the new employee do nothing more than follow the more experienced members of your staff around for a shift a month. Not only will the new employees learn by example, they will form relationships with your best employees, which encourages retention and improves performance.
Cross train employees. Train servers how to be hosts, hosts how to be servers, line cooks how to expo, etc. The benefits of cross training are twofold: your staff will be able to fill gaps on busy nights or when you have no shows, and they will better understand how the restaurant operates as a whole, which usually means they will work better as a team.
Whether money’s tight or pouring in, simple, effective training techniques usually translate into one simple principle: taking time out and spending it with your employees. There is a cost associated with taking time, but the benefits far outweigh this costs. Done right, interactive training will form the solid backbone of your business and position you to succeed no matter what the economic climate is like.