September 8, 2022

Server Tips: Mastering Menu Knowledge

In this article: Tips for servers, bartenders and hospitality workers on mastering the menu when starting a new job, or to elevate service in your current restaurant.

It doesn’t matter how many years of restaurant experience you have, learning the menu at a new job can be challenging. 

However, it is arguably the most important part of succeeding in a restaurant. Whether you’re a server, bartender, host, or support staff member, being able to accurately explain the food and drink items to your guests is at the forefront of their positive experience.

Even though this should be pretty obvious, I can think of a handful of times when I’ve gone out to eat and my server can’t really explain the details of the menu to me. Of course, people aren’t robots and sometimes a nugget of info might slip your mind right when you need it, but guests can always tell if you know your stuff or not. 

This article has some tips and tricks for mastering your menu, whether you’re starting a new job or just wanting to elevate your game. Let’s start from the beginning, getting organized.

#1: Organize your menu details

The very first thing you want to do when you’re trying to master a new menu or bar program is to get organized. You can’t learn the information without having it laid out in a way that makes sense!

Related: Organization: The Key To Restaurant Success That Most Overlook

Depending on the training material that was given to you by your trainer or manager, you may or may not have to do this yourself. If you were given a menu matrix, you can simply start copying that information into flashcard format (skip to #2 below). If you weren’t given a matrix, and instead just have a copy of the menu that your guests use, you may have to do a little bit more work before you can start studying.

For food menus, you will want to know the following for each dish:

  • Category and name
  • Ingredients or components
  • Allergies
  • Plating/Garnish
  • Table Talk (how is the dish described to guests?)
  • Modification allowances
  • Price

There may be other information you need as well depending on the restaurant, so be sure to add if necessary!

Drink menus are a little different than food menus of course. For a cocktail program, you may use the following fields:

  • Name of drink
  • Ingredients or exact build
  • Ice type
  • Glass
  • Garnish
  • Modification allowances
  • Price

And for wine programs, you can use these:

  • Name of wine
  • Varietal
  • Region
  • Vineyard/Maker
  • Pairing Notes
  • Price

Once you have all of the information for every menu in your restaurant, you can start making flashcards.

#2: Make Flashcards

Flashcards are a great way to organize the information you need for each item, and quiz yourself over and over again. 

Using Notecards

Chances are that you’ve made flashcards once or twice before using the traditional method of paper notecards. You can buy a stack of notecards at your local store, or buy them online here.

On the front of each notecard, write the category and name of the item. For example, you might write “Appetizers - Calamari” or “Wine By The Glass - Meiomi Pinot Noir.” Then, on the back of the card you will write the details that you need to know.

Extra Tip!
For some people, the act of creating flashcards is the bulk of the actual memorization. If you find this to be true for you, grab a notebook and create columns that mimic the sections on your flashcard. Write out each item with the corresponding details 10 times in a row. You’ll still have your flashcards to study from later on, but chances are you’ll have basically mastered your menu by the time you’re done with your notebook.

Digital Flashcards

Since we are living in the 21st century, there are digital solutions when it comes to making flashcards. You can find a few different websites and apps that let you make your own flashcard decks, and some even let you share with your friends. 

Restaurant training software is another great solution for digital learning tools. Yelli, our app-based restaurant training platform, automatically turns your menu matrix into easy to access flashcards for everyone on your team.

Yelli Digital Menu Flashcard

Whatever format you choose, once you have your flashcards in hand you’re ready to master the details! Review the flashcards and then quiz yourself by reciting the details out loud before flipping the card over to check your answers.

#3 Practice, then perform 

The best way to learn it is to do it! Start elevating your guest experience on your next shift (whether you’re still training or on your own) by confidently explaining menu items to them in detail. 

If there are particular items that you struggle with (where the heck is our house rosé from?!) bring those items intentionally through your spiel or upselling to help yourself lock down the flyaways. Don’t worry about getting stuck or flustered - if it happens just laugh it off (I love making jokes when I can) or even be honest with them and just explain that you’re still memorizing the menu.

Before long, you’ll be able to recite every detail of every menu item in your sleep. The best part of this is just how easy your job becomes when you know the menu inside and out. So much stress is taken away when you’re not scrambling to get answers from Chef who is just as annoyed with you as your guests are!

Related: Best Practices For Training Your Team On Bar Knowledge

Conclusion

Help yourself and the rest of your team to make more money, reduce stress, and improve the guest experience by really mastering the menu your restaurant offers. The products you serve are the backbone of the business, and most likely the reason people come in! Everyone within your 4 walls should know the ins and outs of what you serve. 

Hopefully these tips are helpful to you and your team! Use them later to memorize new menu rollouts, seasonal or daily specials, or anytime you start a new restaurant training program.

Thanks for reading! See you on the floor :-)

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