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Serving: Common Wrong-Ways of Doing Common Things

Sometimes in life, the experience we gain, the repetitions we perform, can create a false feeling of perfection. The more times we perform a task without complication, the more we tend to believe that we are performing it perfectly.  This isn’t always the case.

A false feeling of perfection is something I have witnessed many times in the restaurant industry.  It seems that once servers get comfortable with their environment, they stop considering their actions.  As professional servers and managers, we must always strive to be better, to learn more, to hone our craft and to question our processes. When working with the same group of people, who have the same mentality and knowledge as ourselves, there is no one amongst us to correct us, to improve us or to guide us; we must rely on ourselves.

Below is a list of common wrong-ways of doing common things.  Do you do any of these?  What could you change tonight that could make you even better at your job?Waiter serving drinks.

1.  Handle stem-ware from the stem not the globe.  Holding glasses from the base is what your customer can do, not you.  Keep the glass clean and free of smudges for as long as it is in your possession.

2.  When clearing glasses from a table DO NOT GRAB FROM THE RIM.  Palm the glasses in your hand or use a serving tray.  When you grab glasses from the top you are touching lots of people’s lips and spit…yuck.

3.  When you go to your table, return to the same spot every time.  People are creatures of habit.  Create a fast habit for your table and train them to notice you by being consistent.

4.  Seams down, seams in on all things linen. It’s a small thing but it creates a polished look that lets customers know that attention to detail is important to you.  That can create trust in the server/customer relationship.

5.  Do not carry your check presenter in your butt.  Some people do this and those people shouldn’t.

6.  Do not carry your serviette over your shoulder.  Your serviette should never be near your hair. Carry the serviette in your hand and pocket it when not in use.

7.  Do not point in the dining room.  Pointing is rude, you were taught that when you were little.  That rule applies in the dining room as well.  A flat hand or pointed fist is how you should show direction.

8.  Don’t call a female guest “Mam” or “Hun”.  Mams & Huns hate that!  Call them Miss.

9.  Don’t stand akimbo at a table (hands at hips).  Don’t stand with your hands in your pocket.  Stand with your arms at your side, clasped in front of you or clasped behind you.  This shows attention without showing a casual or over-familiar attitude.

10.  Present food open handed.  What is open handed?  If you could immediately and easily hug your customer after you set down their food that is open handed.  If when you set down their food Serving Platesyou could immediately and easily elbow them in the face, it’s not.

11.  Do not auction food.  Unless you work at Denny’s, Denny’s servers have a free pass. If you don’t work at Denny’s, know who ordered what before you get to the table.

12.  Don’t tell a guest how you are unless you are doing good.  If they say “how are you?” DO NOT tell them ANYTHING negative.  A customer should never have to hear that your house burned down, you’re tired or you’re having a bad night. When they ask how you are, treat it as a nicety and nicely reply.

13.  Don’t touch your face in front of guests.

14.  Don’t touch your hair in front of guests.

15.  Don’t interrupt your guest’s conversation.  If they are in conversation, go to your “speaking spot” at the table, count to five, if they don’t give you attention then walk away and try back in a few minutes.  Do this as many times as it takes.

16.  When asking permission to remove dinnerware from someone, do not ask the guest if they are “still working” on their meal.  Remember, dining on the food that your restaurant serves is not work.  Instead, ask if they are finished “enjoying” their meal.

17.  When bussing a table, don’t stack plates on top of food or silverware.  There is a correct way of stacking plates.  Hold one plate in your hand, this plate is for silverware, share plates, bread plates and food scraps.  Place the next plate on your forearm, balancing it.  From that position add more plates to the plate nearest you and the food scraps, silverware and small plates to the plate in your hand.  When you have stacked all you can, put the plate from your hand on the top of the plate stack nearest you.   You are left with a nice, neat, manageable stack of plates.

18.  When presenting plates to guests you should not have your thumb on the plate.  Carry with the meat of your thumb/palm as much as possible.

Opening a Wine Bottle

19.  When possible, remove from the right; deliver from the left…unless it is soup.  Soup is delivered or poured from the right.

20.  Do you follow a set direction on the floor?  Developing a traffic map will make service more seamless and less clumsy.

21.  When presenting a bottle of wine for a table, remember to place the cork on something, never just place it on the table. Your goal is to keep the table free of clutter and clean, not add to its messiness.

22.  Do you leave the cork on the table?  You shouldn’t…unless they want to keep it, so always ask. The idea here is table maintenance.  One of your constant goals is keeping the table free of clutter, mess or debris.  An unwanted cork on the table is a mess, clutter and debris.


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E.M.P.L.O.Y.E.E.: How to Spell Hired in the Restaurant Industry

Any restaurateur knows that hiring the wrong employee can be very costly for business. Not only will a bad employee cost you literally, by spending the money to hire and train them and the employee that eventually replaces them, but the level of work they bring to the table in your restaurant can also be very costly. While employed this problem employee is representing your business to the public. This can be more costly than the money spent to hire and train them because your company may lose current or potential customers as a result of the poor customer service.

Waitress with trayThis makes employee interviews and knowing how to recognize a good worker when you see one an important skill for a restaurateur to master. This skill does not come easy; people can seem like a very capable candidate in an interview and turn out to be a below average employee after they are hired.

Before starting an interview it is always important to be prepared. First thing to do before an interview is know exactly what characteristics and experience you are looking for in a potential candidate. Setting a clear list of required skills and work experience will help you judge the candidates and find the ideal employee. Also, before the interviews, review each candidate’s resume carefully and form a list of questions for each one. It is important to ask open-ended questions that require the candidate to do most of the talking. This will give you a better insight into the person’s personality and work history. Some key questions are asking them to describe previous jobs, how they preformed and why they left.

It is not always easy to identify a good candidate in an interview but there are a few personality traits to look for that can indicate a good restaurant worker. The characteristics of a successful restaurant worker can be outlined by the acronym: E.M.P.L.O.Y.E.E.


When working in a restaurant atmosphere it’s always important for an employee to be engaged with their work and the customers they are serving. This means that they are always focused on the task at hand and are ready and capable to handle any problem that may arise. A good way to test if a job candidate possesses this quality is to judge the way they carry themselves in the interview, an engaged person will not only give you their full attention but also capture yours with their answers.  Also talk with past employers to get a feel for if this characteristic was evident in their past working experiences. This includes being engaging with customers who come into the restaurant by being able to interact with them and keep them comfortable and satisfied throughout their visit


Many workers in the restaurant industry are students and young adults. This demographic can be tricky to judge and manage in a work environment. If you aren’t careful it can be very easy to hireMature looking waitress someone in this age group that simply is not mature enough to thrive or even survive in a work environment. An employee like this can be very toxic to a restaurant’s work environment.  An immature employee will struggle to carry themselves in a professional matter when dealing with coworkers and customers which will hurt customer service and staff teamwork. This may be the easiest personality trait to identify in an interview by judging the way they carry them self and looking at the quality and importance of their prior responsibilities.


Attitude is contagious in a work environment. The way one employee carries them self in the restaurant affects the attitude and work ethic of the staff around them. For example, if an employee is constantly complaining it will bring down the morale of the whole team and negatively affects productivity. And the opposite is true as well; a positive attitude can raise the staff to another level. This personality trait will be evident in the interview and when checking on past work experience.


Having leaders on a restaurant staff is crucial. It is important for staff members to know what they need to do at all times and be willing to take the initiative when they know something needs to be done. An employee that always needs to be told what to do and needs help with simple tasks is not a very productive employee. Leadership skills will be evident when looking at a person’s extracurricular activities and other tasks that they have voluntarily taken on.


Being well organized in any professional setting is crucial to an employee’s success. In a restaurant this skill is paramount. A restaurant worker needs to be organized in order to stay on top of incoming orders and customer requests. An unorganized restaurant staff can be a big headache for a restaurant manager. A well-organized candidate will be very easy to spot. A well put together resume and appearance are good indications of this skill.

Yes Sir”

A restaurant employee must be able to take orders from managers, customers or anyone else in a position of power without resistance. This is especially important when dealing with customers. In the restaurant industry the customer is always right; even if they really aren’t. When customer makes an employee aware of a mistake that has been made it is that employee’s job to accept the complaint, admit they made a mistake, apologize to the diner and immediately fix the mistake. Many people struggle with this and it can be very detrimental to customer service if an employee can’t swallow their pride and fix the problem. This characteristic may be hard to spot in an interview but can be verified by checking with the candidates past employees.


Woman holding a hired signAs stated before jobs in the restaurant industry are demanding. Restaurants are fast paced environments where timeliness and quality of the product being served are very important and is commonly how a restaurant gains an advantage over the competition. Employees must be able to complete tasks quickly and without mistakes. Efficient employees help the business run smoothly and make up for the inefficiencies of others on the staff. This is another trait that will be obvious upon contacting the candidate’s references.


The last but absolutely not the least important trait is energetic. Having energy in the work place can be contagious just like attitude. One employee’s level of energy can either bring others down or raise them to new heights. An energetic candidate will bring energy and great work ethic to your restaurant and help to positively influence workers around them. Energetic people will obviously bring energy to the interview and come across as extremely active on their resume.

These are in no way set in stone as qualities that every good employee must possess, but this is a good place to start when judging the quality of a job candidate. Some potential employees may be very well organized but not possess any leadership skills or they may be highly energetic and not as efficient. These types of candidates can still be highly successful but combining all of the qualities together should describe the ideal employee.

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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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Restaurant Management Tips: How To Deal With Employee Theft

Tips on How To Deal With Restaurant Employee TheftAs anyone in the food service industry knows, staff turnover is a constant problem.  Hiring and training employees is important but often tedious work, and keeping your team motivated and happy can also be a challenge.  Yet these “human resources” tasks are not nearly as tough to deal with as employee theft.  An employee who is caught stealing presents two problems for your restaurant: first, someone is stealing from you, and second, something in the process of hiring, training, and retaining quality staff has broken down and led to theft.

The problem of losing money to theft should be dealt with first, obviously.  However, dealing with the employee in question must be handled properly in order to minimize the impact of the problem and ensure other employees understand the consequences of stealing without feeling alienated in the process.

Some tips on how to confront an employee who is stealing:

Make sure you have adequate proof.  Account sheets, video surveillance, eyewitness testimony, or a combination of damning evidence is key to leveling accusations at an employee.  You should be able to prove theft beyond a reasonable doubt before you ever confront the employee.  If that requires you to wait a while in order to catch him or her red-handed, then so be it.  When you do have that confrontation, you want to be ready with substantial evidence so the rest of your staff immediately sees your case.

Whatever disciplinary action you take, do it discreetly.  There’s no reason to “make an example” out of somebody by staging a big confrontation in front of other employees.  Bring the employee who has been stealing into a private area, confront them with the evidence, and present the consequences.  If that involves termination, allow the employee to gather their things and leave of their own accord.  There’s no reason to be forceful or aggressive, as this will only allow the employee to gain sympathy by looking persecuted.Communicate Effectively With Your Staff

Hold a staff meeting.  After you have taken disciplinary action, call your staff together and explain exactly what happened, present the evidence you have, and explain the action you have taken.  This will prevent rumors and gossip from driving employee perceptions of what happened and presents you with an opportunity to show the rest of the staff how serious you are about employee theft.

Dealing with the second part of the theft equation isn’t nearly as easy.  Finding the root causes behind the theft and improving prevention is a much more involved process.  And a good prevention program is never going to be 100% effective.  However, that doesn’t diminish the importance taking steps to prevent theft in your restaurant.

Tips for preventing employee theft:

Vet candidates when hiring, train new employees well, and create a positive work environment.  Taking the time to find and train the right candidate will screen most potential problems.  Many operators get into trouble with problem employees because they need to fill positions fast and the hiring process becomes compressed.  When it comes to existing staff, maintain a close but professional relationship that emphasizes teamwork and community.  Employees that have a good relationship with the management and feel like their contribution to the team is appreciated and that they are well compensated for that contribution are much less likely to steal.

Communicate clear guidelines for employee behavior.  This also helps with other staff issues like poor performance, disputes, tardiness/absence, etc.  Make sure your staff receives a clear set of rules that outline exactly how problems will be handled, including theft.   When administering discipline, stick to the rules and reemphasize the standards you have already set.  Consistency will go a long way towards maintaining your employee’s respect and help you manage problem employees more effectively.

Trust but verify.  No matter how good your hiring, training, and employee expectation policies are, you will probably encounter a bad apple sooner or later.  Have systems in place to monitor cash, comps, and inventory.  You should always know exactly how much of each is coming in and going out of your restaurant.  And try to limit the number of people who control or handle all three.  That will make the job of tracking what went where much easier.

Hopefully employee theft is something you rarely have to deal with.  Following the tips above will help make sure it is indeed a rare occurrence.

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The 4 R’s of Driving Server Sales

Servers Are The Key To Better SalesThe tired old maxim “your servers are your salespeople” is as true today as it ever was, but just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean you have armed the front of your house with every weapon they need to drive your restaurant’s profits.

Really, there’s no understandable reason why servers shouldn’t be some of the best trained people in any restaurant, but as I go through a mental check of every place I have eaten in the past two months, I can only think of one that had exceptionally trained staff.

That place was the Macaroni Grill in Ft. Collins, CO.  I’m not trying to promote them or anything, I was just really impressed, as I always have been when I eat there, by the effective way their staff drives sales and provides top shelf service at the same time.  Those two goals don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and in fact they can be completely complimentary if you’re willing to take the time to train your staff.

Tim Kirkland, the founder of the Renegade Hospitality Group, has developed a highly effective strategy to improve sales volume, check averages, and server tips, not to mention the quality of service.  This strategy stems from the fact that 30 years of the standard upsell (“Do you want _____ with that?”) has lost its effectiveness because consumers recognize it as a sales technique and are more likely to say no as a result.

Besides, it’s not a very proactive tactic, because your servers are simply trying to tack something on to the customer’s decision, rather than helping to guide those decisions in the first place.

The more effective strategy, promoted by Kirkland, can be broken down into the 4 R’s:

Reconnaissance:  Evaluate what kind of customer has just been seated in your section.  Is it a couple on a date that probably wants to be left alone as much as possible?  Are they high maintenance or ready to party?  Servers should analyze the mood and disposition of the group and adjust their attitude and technique accordingly.

Regularity:  Determine if you are dealing with first time customers or regulars.  First timers need a lot more information and it’s important to make an exceptional impression the first time.  Regulars, on the other hand, don’t want to sit through all the explanations and are probably ready to get down to business.  Servers should adjust their approach depending on how experienced the customer is in your restaurant.

Reason:  Different customers have different priorities.  Some might be stopping for a quick bite before a game or a movie while others may want a long, leisurely experience.  Servers should engage their customers and determine their priorities.

Rate:  As a response to the information collected in the first three R’s, decide on a pace and flow of service that meets your customer’s expectations and needs.  Fine tuning service according to what the customer wants is a two part process: gathering information and then using that information to serve your customer better.

So how do the 4 R’s help you drive sales?  Because it creates a rapport with guests and that leads to a relationship.  The process of gathering information and then adjusting to it leads to a relationship between the server and the table.  That inevitably is going to create more trust, and when that basic level of trust has been established, the server can be more helpful to the customer.

This isn’t some cynical methodology.  Under no circumstances should your servers be trying to use a carefully built trust relationship to talk patrons into spending more money.  However, servers should absolutely be informative about everything your restaurant has to offer, and tailor the information according to the buying decisions the guest is making.

For instance, if a customer wants a martini, the server should let the customer know what kinds of gin and vodka your restaurant has, and include a mix of top shelf and well brands.  If a customer orders a hamburger, let the customer know that you offer mushrooms and cheese as extra toppings, or a house salad instead of fries.Make Your Restaurant's Customers Happy

Yes, this is upselling, but it’s upselling in a way that informs the customer rather than leading him.  The whole thing is built upon a relationship of trust, and that relationship can bring many benefits, from better service to better sales to great customer loyalty.  As a restaurant owner or manager, it’s imperative that you take the time to train servers in the strategies of relationship building based on the 4 R’s and use that system to drive sales in your restaurant.

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Restaurant Management Tips: Hiring and Training Employees

Hire and Train Good StaffRestaurants and commercial kitchens have always been relatively high turnover work environments, making new employee recruiting and training a constant chore for management. A few basic procedures can help you maximize employee retention and reduce turnover, which in turn reduces costs and increases efficiency.

Cast a wide net. When you have a job opening, get the word out so that you get a maximum number of candidates.  The more people you get to apply, the more likely you are to find the ideal candidate.

Use multiple media:

Screen carefully. Reading every resume and interviewing many candidates takes time, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.  A little careful screening will save you time and most importantly money later on down the line.

Things to look for during the screening process:

Relevant job experience. The more time a candidate has spent performing a similar job, the faster they can plug in to your operation.

This can be a double edged sword however.

A candidate with many recent jobs may have problems you can’t see up front, or a candidate with a long list of experience may want too much compensation and be hard to train.

References. At least three references can provide a window into a candidate’s background and personality.

Salary requirements. Perhaps the easiest way to rule out a candidate is to ask what their minimum salary requirements are.

Interview. Ask questions that require more than a one word answer.  Get a feel for how the candidate views their prospective job and where they are in their life.  Depending on the position, pare candidates down after the first interview and then conduct a second interview.

Structure the screening process so that everybody who will be working with the new employee is involved in some way, no matter how small.

This will help cohesion when you bring a new person in.

Use your best resource for training your employees. Once you have selected the right candidate, make sure they have all the tools they need to succeed in their new position by taking the time to train them well.

One of the best resources you have at your disposal to accomplish this is your existing employees.

Have the new person shadow one of your top performing staff members for a few days to start.  This will not only help them start to learn the details of their new job, but will also give them your restaurant’s best example of a good employee.

Create clear expectations. Nothing is more confusing to a new employee than contradictory or constantly changing expectations.

This is an easy trap to fall into, since everybody in your company will have expectations for the new guy.  Make clear not only to the new employee but also to the rest of your staff what your expectations are for him or her so that you avoid crossed signals.

Creating Clear Goals For Restaurant StaffSet a positive example. Ultimately, your employees look to you for cues on how they are performing and what their expectations are.  The best way to improve new employee and overall staff retention is to set a positive example for all employees to follow.

Create a positive work environment that values constructive criticism and mutual support.  Such an environment will not only keep morale high, but will reduce turnover and improve customer service.

Check back often for more restaurant management best practice tips from The Back Burner.

Also, please weigh in with your opinion!  What did we miss?  What can be better?

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Restaurant Management Tips: Cross-Training

The food service industry can be a brutal business, and sometimes the differences between making it and breaking are very, very thin.  As the manager, you have a lot on your plate – from training and supervising employees to running budgets and purchasing new equipment and supplies.

This series is intended to help you navigate the treacherous waters of restaurant management.

Train Your Staff To Handle Multiple Jobs

Cross-Train StaffThis technique is also referred to as cross-training, and is one of the most effective ways for you to reduce labor costs.

Inevitably, gaps are going to appear in the line of tasks involved in seating, serving, and feeding your customers.  Line cooks get sick.  Bartenders quit suddenly.  Servers and hosts no call no show.

And even if you get through a shift with every one of your staff present and ready for work, a busy night gets hectic, and someone is always going to need extra help.

This is where cross-training comes in.  Some examples include:

  • Train your hosts to be backup servers
  • Train your servers to be backup hosts
  • Train prep cooks to run the grill
  • Train bussers to expedite and run food
  • Train top servers to bartend, and bartenders to serve

Effective cross-training makes your staff more efficient and brings better service to your customers.

It also allows you to save on employee hours: on a slow night, cut your hosts and let servers handle both hosting and serving.

Bussers who can run food allow your servers to handle more tables, meaning you can schedule one less server for that shift, saving you money and making your servers happy because they will get more tips.

The list of benefits you reap from cross-training goes on.

Conduct periodic employee reviews.  Tracking staff performance is always an important task.  The best resource you have when it comes to evaluating your staff is the staff themselves.  Sit down face-to-face with each member and get a feel for how they and the employees around them are performing.

Use these meetings as a way to hand out raises, promotions, and feedback.  Meanwhile, you’ll be getting feedback on how your restaurant is running, and what areas need to be addressed.  Employee reviews help you cut the staff that aren’t working while quickly promoting the staff that are performing well.

The reveiw and cross-training process are mutually supportive.  Every reveiw period should reveal the areas that require more training, and as you train more you’ll be able to conduct more reveiws to track progress.

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Restaurant Food Safety Tips: Be Your Own Health Inspector

Health inspections are a regular part of life in any food service business, but too often it’s easy for a restaurant or commercial kitchen to fall into the trap of just passing the inspection rather than regularly practicing good food safety procedures. This series is intended to help your business improve food safety practices, because it’s about more than passing an inspection.  It’s about protecting yourself, your employees, and your customer.

The FDA estimates that 81,000 people suffer from a food borne illness every year, and that 9,000 deaths are a direct result of a preventable food borne illness.  Food borne illnesses are still the leading cause of emergency room visits in the United States. With those sobering statistics in mind, here are some tips to help you make safe food handling an integral part of your day-to-day routine:

Be Your Own Health Inspector

If you make food safety a priority in your restaurant or commercial kitchen, then the day the health inspector does show up shouldn’t be anything to worry about. If anything, a health inspector can be a great resource for helping you improve your food safety practices and you should take advantage of his or her expertise to make your operation better. However, in the meantime before your next inspection, it’s a good idea to conduct your own examination of food safety practices and identify trouble areas that need improvement.

Some tips on being your own health inspector:

  • Arrive unannounced. Surprise your employees and enter your business from the outside, giving you a more accurate perspective of what the real health inspector sees when they come for an inspection.
  • Use a copy of the local health inspection form. This will help you understand exactly what the health inspector is looking for and familiarize you with the process so that you know what the inspector is looking for.
  • Conduct a thorough walk through. Take out the white glove and be as objective as possible in identifying problems with food safety procedures.  Ensure that guidelines for food storage, labeling, handwashing, and food preparation are being followed.
  • Take the time to speak to employees. Make these mock walkthroughs a training exercise for your employees so they can stay fresh on food safety procedures.  Point out errors and take the time to teach employees about how to improve food safety.  This will only help them perform better when the real inspector arrives.
  • Identify problems and define strategies to address them. If you find potential violations, develop a strategy for addressing the problem. Don’t just lecture your staff about transgressions and consider the problem taken care of.  Re-check for violations more frequently until the problem has been addressed, and reward employees who quickly correct mistakes. Providing your employess with the proper training is also a good idea!
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Should You Allow After-Shift Drinks in Your Restaurant?

Some restaurants allow an after-shift drink, after which the staff is allowed to hang around and become regular paying customers.  The issue has come up in my trainings and I have a definite opinion on it.  I prefer that employees do not sit at the bar and drink after their shift – at all.  If they want to come in on a day off, absolutely great.

I have worked with owners who feel that it is a good morale booster for the staff, but they are wary that less than desirable behavior, including language, will ensue.  Accordingly, we have usually come to a mutual decision that rules must be adhered to in order to make it palatable for staff and guests.

Staff must be clocked out and change into clothes other than their uniforms.  And their clothes must be of a business casual style.  They are allowed one free shift drink and then they must pay as if they are regular customers.  Some owners have decided to not give a shift drink, but staff is allowed to stay and drink.

I have never seen any of these policies as a benefit for the image of the restaurant.  Inevitably, someone drinks too much and talks too loudly and inappropriately.  I have seen otherwise polite and charming staff members become loud, embarrassing drunks at the bar.  Even worse behavior has occurred at the horror of owners realizing they should not have allowed alcohol to flow as freely as it did.

For whatever reason, kitchen staff isn’t usually held to the same appearance standards as the service staff.  Chefs who have long, unruly hair and scraggly beards might keep them in check while working, but they often pass through the dining area where guests can see them.  And then they might see them at the bar later, hair flowing freely and language and subject matter being discussed that most guests feel is inappropriate.  It makes them wonder what is happening in the kitchen.

This isn’t exclusive to kitchen staff.  It is merely an example to point out that just because your position might be in the kitchen, where you feel you aren’t ever seen, may give you a false sense of obscurity.  Servers have an obligation to appear clean because of their constant and close proximity to guests.  I have seen servers and kitchen staff alike abuse the privilege of sitting at the bar and drinking.

Personally, just a couple of nights ago, I went out to dinner with a friend and witnessed this behavior.  I wasn’t working; I was out for purely social and fun reasons.  I was in the position of the guest, watching the staff lounge around.  Our waiter was wearing a chef’s coat and his hair was long and in a ponytail under a turned-around baseball cap.  It looked as if all the workers were at the bar.  One young man came shuffling through with his apron tied haphazardly across his body, his hair was long and barely contained in a ponytail and his beard was scraggly and unkempt.

Shortly after, we saw him sitting at the bar.  I don’t know if he was drinking or just hanging out.  Either way, it didn’t look professional.  The only thing that changed about his appearance was the loss of the apron.  His street clothes were sloppy and dirty looking.

Let me get even more specific, in case anyone is thinking of the atmosphere argument.  All of the places I used as examples are in a price point range where this kind of behavior should not be allowed.  There are dinner plates on the menus above $20; in my mind, guests shouldn’t have to witness the staff after work, complaining about work, making fun of each other and talking about their personal lives in front of people who are essentially responsible for their paychecks.

The exception to this rule, outside of the owner saying otherwise, is the very casual bar environment.  I have worked with restaurants who are primarily bar establishments with bar food as a secondary profit.  A very casual environment like that is very different than the other establishments mentioned.  It’s ok and sometimes even expected that staff will hang around and drink with the locals.

The point is this:  what image are you projecting to your guests?  You might be ok with tattoos, long hair and piercings, and personally, what people choose to do with their bodies is their business; however, when you’re dealing with the public at large and especially the preparation of their food, you might consider asking your staff to put their long hair into a neat ponytail or bun, cover up the tattoos and take out the piercings.  Health codes dictate length of nails and specific cleanliness details of food handlers – chefs and servers alike.

Just think about how it looks.  I’m not suggesting that people change who they are; I’m a big fan of individual characters and quirky personalities.  I encourage them!  But we’re dealing with food; the perceptions of our guests should match the reality.  That means that no matter your personal style, you should also appear and be immaculate.

This is a sensitive topic and I welcome comments and feedback.  If anyone has a unique perspective and/or a successful rule about this subject, please share it!

Training and information is the key! Contact Susie at Waiter Training, either by phone or email.  The business number is 720.203.4615, and email address is  Web address is

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Restaurant Management Tips: Recognize The Kids

Training servers to engage the kids at the table helps encourage the family to come back the next time.

Training servers to engage the kids at the table helps encourage the family to come back the next time.

I know this was the case when I was a server, and maybe a lot of you out there are a little more accommodating than I was when a family was seated in your section, but for me, kids were a disappointment.

Kids don’t order $8 martinis, and usually neither do parents when they’re with kids.  Plus those are one or two spots at the table you just know is going to order the least expensive entrees on the menu.  As a server I never minded actually dealing with the kids, I just knew my tip was going to be lower for that 4-top because ticket average was going to be way down.

What I didn’t realize, and what most managers and restaurant owners may not know, is that kids play a large role in deciding which restaurant to visit.  And in an economic situation where parents are limiting the number of times they go out to eat, anything you can do to get your restaurant at the top of the list becomes extremely important.

Patricia Farnham is a long-time restaurateur with a successful restaurant consulting website called Restaurant Pitfalls and Profits.  One of the more interesting pieces of advice she provides is training servers to recognize children by name.

Imagine two scenarios: one in which bored kids scribble idly with crayons or sit uncomfortably still while your server and the parents talk about what they want to order in the third person (“And what do they want?”).  Now imagine your server learning the children’s names and addressing them directly.  Suddenly that child is the center of attention (and what kid doesn’t want that??).  That makes him or her engaged in the dining experience and therefore invested in coming back to your establishment the next time.

Nothing could possibly work better for influencing your customer’s next decision to go out to eat than a couple kids jumping up and down and yelling your restaurant’s name.  And engaging the youngest patrons in your restaurant can do a lot to help you get a positive note the next time the family goes out.

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