Restaurant Boot Camp: Basic Training for Your Restaurant Staff
Training your restaurant staff is like military boot camp, albeit it minus the yelling, mind games, shaved heads, and sleep deprivation. Like bootcamp, you need to make sure that your staff gets everything they need to jump into the battlefield of a busy Friday night rush; basic training for your restaurant staff is critical to operating a well-oiled machine.
During basic training, Front of House (FOH) staff will practice roundtrip “foot drills” that take them from kitchen to table and back, all while hoisting plates of food and drinks on large trays; receive inspections on appropriate restaurant attire; and have memory drills on menu items, drinks, and specials. Your FOH staff will need to know restaurant technology tools: like your Point of Sale (POS) system, pay-at-the-table technology, kitchen display system, and guest management programs.
Back of House (BOH) team members will gear up for the physical rigors of the kitchen: long hours on their feet, performing in an environment that often resembles a sweat lodge, and receive the kind of safety instruction usually reserved for a nuclear power plant.
During the onboarding period, new team members will –hopefully– develop a strong bond of mutual respect for all staff members who carry out varied roles within the restaurant. Awareness of the dependencies each has on the other leads to a more cohesive work environment that will help your restaurant provide superb guest experiences.
Onboarding Versus Training Restaurant Staff
Onboarding may sound like a new term for training, but the two words are not quite interchangeable. During the onboarding process, hiring managers, operators, or a specific training team will expose new employees to the history, culture, goals, mission, and hierarchy of the organization. The goal is to get the new employees “onboard” with the restaurant’s reason for being.
For onboarding to be effective, it must begin before new employees walk in to start their first day on the job and continue long after they have become a strong part of the restaurant family.By comparison, training falls under the onboarding umbrella and is one piece of that overall effort; it is specific to the position itself.
Training is much more than a day of shadowing another chef, hostess or server. A formal training program will help employees learn the knowledge and skills necessary to become proficient in their new role. Likewise, seasoned employees will use training to improve performance in their current role. To create restaurant rock stars, start with an amazing learning experience that is as instructive as it is memorable.
Where to Begin
When you are opening a new restaurant, competing priorities may put the creation of a formalized staff training plan on the back burner. While this is understandable, remember not to leave it off your priority list for too long. If the thought of creating a training plan that encompasses everything you do and everything you must relay to new employees is overwhelming, just get started and do your best. Your training program will not be perfect and that’s okay; even if you are a perfectionist, don’t let that stop you. Training plans evolve over time, and they will improve.
If you don’t have the time to create a full training program, you can rely on others who have gone before you and done the work. You can find free templates online that can be modified for your specific needs. Check out online restaurant training manuals and consider asking for mentorship to other restaurateurs asking what they’ve done. These experiences will provide general training language and you can save time by following a layout and customize it for your specific restaurant.
Another great restaurant training resource online is from the Small Business Bonfire community, which outlines their 12 Best Restaurant Employee Training Websites. You could spend days going through all the website links that cover everything from serve safety training to training students who are new to the industry, and even Five Star Training, for those establishments with sterling reputations and high expectations.
Since FOH turnover is the highest, every server and host that you employ today, may need replacements a year from now. To determine what the training should be for servers, think through all the various tasks a server must complete in a given day. Make a list, then plan your training one at a time. Some of those tasks include:
- Greeting guests — training on ways to provide a cheerful welcome, how to monitor table rotation, how to take reservations and take-out orders by phone, how to escort guests to tables and provide a great start to their meal
- Pre-bussing tables — guidance on how to remove table items quickly, determine what a table set up needs, so that diners aren’t left without silverware or condiments
- Taking orders — instructions on how to time orders, how to upsell, how to provide food preparation details, how to use the POS system
- Running and serving food — training on the proper way to carry food-laden trays to and from the table, how to serve hot food without getting burned, how to properly dispense wine and other beverages, when and how to check in on food quality
- Closing out tickets — give instructions on how to close out a ticket on the POS system, how to solicit survey responses about experience, how to handle money and different payment types
- Pacifying challenging customers — guidance on being accountable, how to find a solution, how to listen to complaints before responding
- Menu knowledge — learn which dishes have allergy-prompting ingredients, which items can be substituted, which menu items are best for vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians, those who have kosher, gluten-free, or calorie restriction requirements
- Food and drink pairings — what pairs with each dish and why, how to make customer suggestions that will impress
Back Of House Training
Operations in the back of house are critical to your restaurant’s success. Again, think through all the tasks someone in the kitchen must perform and start there.
- Cooking – teach your processes for food preparation
- Cleaning — instruct your new staff on how to prevent cross-contamination, cleaning of all appliances, and your cleaning rotation and timing
- Dishwashing — how to operate the cleaning appliances, learning which items must be hand washed, teaching kitchen preparation, as needed
- Communicating — ordering process, how to talk to health inspectors, how to talk to FOH staff to prevent misunderstandings
- Safety — accident prevention, hazard communication, delivery ergonomics, eye and face protection, scald burns and knife injury treatment and notification
Due to the large number of kitchen hazards, BOH restaurant training can quickly turn negative: “Don’t do this;” “Never open that;” or “Stay away from those.” Instead of lapsing into the negatives, try to approach training with the positive. Talk more of what works best and leave the “should nevers” and “should nots” to the interactive part of the instruction period, so that new employees can see first-hand what could go wrong.
Make Training Memorable
Days and hours filled in a constant “learning mode” can be arduous for anyone. Break up that monotony by keeping training fun and interactive. Here are a few clever ways that have worked well for other restaurants:
- Food tastings — set aside time for sampling different menu items.
- Wine tastings — food pairings are best taught by trying both the food and the wine at the same time.
- Quizzes — a great way to test retention of the training information. The more humorous the better.
- Scripts — role playing can get new employees out of their seats and on their feet. Provide several real restaurant scenarios to help your new staff learn the ways to handle difficult situations.
- Outside presentations — tap expertise from your vendors and suppliers. Vendors crave the opportunity to assist you on training days. Give your staff a break and let the vendors train your new hires on their product. Suppliers enjoy the chance to train your new employees about their products. Once trained, the chances are higher that your staff will use the product or suggest it to customers.
Learning Never Stops
While not all industry statistics correlate well to the restaurant industry, especially when it comes to staff retention, consider this: 69% of employees report that they are more likely to stick around with an employer if they had a good experience in their onboarding and training process. In the food industry, you probably would be happy if that tenure was 12 months, considering the 72.1 percent turnover rate cited in 2015 by the National Restaurant Association. Formal restaurant training that is engaging can help keep and retain employees longer.
This is also true for your current staff. As your menu changes and new technology products are added, even tenured employees will need periodic training. New training is also the perfect time to meet with your long-standing staff members to discover what motivates them to stay.
Every employee in your restaurant can add to or detract from your bottom line. Basic training for your restaurant staff can unknowingly provide a guest experience that turns customers away. Properly trained employees create great guest experiences that drive patrons back through your door. When you invest in training your team, your work force will be more inspired, have better attitudes, and acquire skills that make them more efficient. Your dishwashers, bussers and servers of today, can become your restaurant leaders and managers of tomorrow.
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About the Author
Amber Mullaney led all things marketing for QSR. A proud Texan native, she graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in Public Relations and spent her career in the healthcare industry before making the switch to QSR and beyond, saying she loves a good challenge. Amber has a long list of things she loves, including tacos (especially tacos), sweet tea, Texas, the outdoors, and traveling with her husband and two daughters.