No matter how much experience one might have in the restaurant industry, we can all agree that starting a new restaurant job always has a learning curve. New menu items to learn, new service standards to follow, and a new culture to adapt to. Reducing these challenges as much as possible not only improves the guest experience, but the employee experience as well. As a waitress and lead server it was always obvious to me that employee experience has a huge impact on guest experience. It was also obvious (painfully at times!) that restaurant owners and managers often struggle to keep that factor in their sights.
Our experience as restaurant staff goes way beyond what happens during our shift. It includes everything and anything that has to do with the job: Did I get good training? When do I get my schedule? Do I have to go to a pre-shift meeting? Do I know when things change on the menu? Are the uniform details clear and consistent? The list goes on! But perhaps most important is the question: Am I included in the “loop” of things that are happening in my venue that affect me and my ability to do my job in an easy and effective way?
I know without any doubt that making life better for your staff makes your restaurant a better restaurant. It is more welcoming to guests, more efficient, more profitable and guests enjoy themselves and their meals more when surrounded by a staff that feels satisfied and prepared within their roles.
Pay, tips, hours and benefits tend to get all the attention when it comes to staff perks and conditions. While those all matter greatly I would add that the other big three are equally vital: Training, Organization and Communication.
Traditionally, training in restaurants can be tedious and expensive. Restaurants spend $1500-$5000 every year for every employee on training alone. Match that with the high turnover rate that our industry knows so well and you’ve got a big figure on your hands. But what are you actually paying for? Well, of course you have to pay the new employee, and the employee who will be training them. You also have to pay your managers, who are spending time putting together training schedules, organizing menu details, and constantly coming up with creative ways to test for product knowledge.
When a new employee joins the team, they spend a few shifts learning the ropes. Whether they are learning through a formal system or it’s “training under fire,” these first few shifts should be setting them up for success - not discouraging them from showing up. As a waitress, when I go through a training program that is efficient and thorough, I am always left feeling excited to start and confident that I will be able to do my job, make good money, and most importantly, enjoy coming to work.
Since our venues are constantly evolving, we can never really press pause on staff training. There is always a new menu to roll out, or new uniform guidelines for the summer, or a wine list that is being expanded. So how do we streamline these details and get them to our staff so that they have the tools they need to get the job done right? The answer that I have seen work best is all about organizing, presenting and sharing your restaurant details with your staff in an effective and easy to understand manner.
Put it all in one place. Keep everything that your staff needs in a place or format that is complete and covers it all. Traditionally this is a binder or a training manual and these do work. Make sure it is all there! Include the drink and wine lists, the uniform details, the sidework lists, and more. If your staff has to go searching for info behind the bar, or from a manager or another employee, they may come up empty, give up, get the wrong info or end up guessing about something that can make or break their day.
Make it easy to find, easy to understand and easy to learn. Organize it all in a way that makes sense for a restaurant. Use categories, sections, headings and details. Use pictures or flash cards. Keep in mind what it is like to not know everything about your venue. Chances are as a manager or owner you know everything there is to know about your restaurant, but try to put yourself in your staff’s shoes as they learn. Make it easy, keep it concise and to the point. Start with the basics and add the details they need. Stop there. Try not to over explain or add in things that don’t really make it easier for them to do their job.
Share all the changes. When something changes that affects their job your staff needs to know about it. The closer to real time they find out the better...the better for them, the better for your guest and the better for your restaurant. This one may take some doing and some vigilance to keep up with but it will pay off in big ways.
Your staff will love it. Trust me on this one. I’ve worked as a server in places where the information flow was top notch and it made my life better. When the information was lacking it became frustrating and distracting. Without the info I needed, current and easy to find it became almost impossible to be a really good waitress. Organize what your staff needs and make sure they can find it easily. Not only will it be a game changer for how your venue runs, but your staff will love you for it!
The more your staff knows about the things they need to do their jobs and the sooner they know it affects your venue more than almost any other factor. We have all had amazing service experiences (in a restaurant or at the mechanic shop), and we have all had horrible ones as well. The truth is that at the root of all good service is knowledge combined with an attentive team member. When a staff knows their stuff and is aware of up to the minute details the potential for amazing service soars.
Getting the latest details to your staff needs to be a priority to those that lead them. Anything less is making it harder for them to do their job. Find a way to do this at the next level and everyone that enters your restaurant will notice.
Notify, notify, notify. If a menu item changes...notify your staff. If a large party is coming in….notify your staff. Is the salmon sold out...notify your staff. New drink items, new bartender, new health and safety items, uniform changes….Notify your staff! Your restaurant will change and your employees will be better restaurant workers.
Think about your staff, but also think like your staff. Put yourself in their place and focus on making their lives better when they are at work. Ask yourself what your venue can do to train, organize and communicate with your staff in ways that work. Your restaurant will thrive as a result and so will your workers.