In this article: Why training restaurant workers is a challenge, why traditional training is ineffective for the restaurant industry, how to simplify and modernize restaurant training.
Training restaurant workers is a full time job. We all know that restaurants are prone to unusually high turnover rates, which makes training employees a never-ending cycle.
Many restaurant managers and owners get overwhelmed by traditional training approaches, which are expensive and time consuming. All of that work creating systems that no one seems to be able to follow, then having to start at square one each time you hire a new person, which seems like every other day.
We’ve gotten used to this “norm” in the industry of just throwing employees into the fire without much training, because it’s easier than creating a system that we don’t have success implementing, and most will figure it out eventually.
It’s important to understand how we got here, why our traditional methods aren’t working, and how we can start to change our approach to training restaurant workers entirely.
Effective training for restaurant workers is challenging mostly because of the nature of our industry, and the type of people we are! Most of us are hard-headed, stubborn, and like doing things our own way.
Classroom-style learning isn’t a perfect fit for people who tend to learn by doing, so trying to adapt restaurant training into a textbook complete with exams and checklists doesn’t quite work.
Of course it’s highly frustrating when you’ve spent time and money creating a thorough training program just to have your entire team roll their eyes, complete it, but then not apply any of the information to their day-to-day performance.
As a lead server, training new employees was always about getting them the information that they needed, and keeping it updated at all times. The biggest challenge of working in a restaurant is the fact that things change very quickly, and there are a whole lot of people who need to stay notified of those changes as they happen.
Staying organized and simplifying information should be the basis of good restaurant training, not throwing copious amounts of information and tasks at our team members and expecting them to jump through hoops to blindly retain it.
As a manager or owner, what do you typically think of when you think of “good” staff training? You probably think of things like detailed employee handbooks, training schedules with daily tests that you can grade and file, videos of the right way to do things, reading material, step-by-step instructions for perfect service, and a good way to track each employee's current performance level.
That all sounds really great, but even if you execute it all perfectly, will it actually work?
Let’s play it out. Either you’ve spent lots of your own time, or paid someone lots of money to create all of these components, and you’re ready to execute it with your team. You hand out the fancy new booklets, pay them all to sit in a classroom-style setting while you go through the information and watch the videos, make sure they all know they have to pass their tests with a certain grade by a certain day in order to keep their shifts, they all agree and you think you’ve taken your team to the next level.
Flash forward two weeks, everyone has taken and passed the tests, and you’re in the middle of a dinner rush. Your best server (who had the highest grade on the test) is in the weeds because she was late to pre-shift that day and didn’t get the memo about how to fire courses for the new pre-fixed menu. She’s “trained” as well as anyone in the venue, but she simply didn’t have the information she needed to do the job, and now your guests are having a less-than perfect experience, and she’s ready to quit.
Traditional training doesn’t work for restaurant teams because the nature of our work isn’t traditional.
Stop making things so complicated. That’s really the main thing to remember here.
People love to make projects harder than they need to be, staff training included. We need to get away from the idea of making training longer, harder, and just more work for your team to do. Instead, let’s simplify the job for everyone, including yourself and your managers.
How to interact with guests: Clearly outline the steps of service for each role within your restaurant.
Menu details so they can accurately inform guests: Keep their menu matrices up-to-date, and notify everyone as soon as something is added/edited/removed.
What to wear during their shift, or what to keep in their apron: Clearly outline uniform guidelines for each job role and make sure the information is up-to-date.
How to complete sidework or other cleaning duties: Upload sidework sheets or other checklists somewhere that is easily accessible to everyone.
General Info about the venue: hours of operation, address, phone number, who the owner is…all important details! But you can simply create a “general info” sheet and place it behind the host stand, or upload it somewhere that’s easy to find.
That’s really how simple it should be. Issuing tests and being able to track grades or completion is important too, so find a simple tool that lets you do those things, even if it’s just a filing cabinet.
You are the expert on your restaurant, and you have a vision in your head of exactly how you want things to run. Try not to get distracted by all of the “fluff” that leadership and training specialists like to throw at you.
The key to training employees, especially restaurant workers, is to keep things simple and organized. Give them the information they need, remove the information they don’t.
Reinvent your training, your employees will thank you!