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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Day

Techniques on Staff Training

If you have never had the pleasure of training a new person in the food and beverage business or, worse, training someone who has been in the business for several years, then buckle up. This is not for the faint of heart.

As you may have noticed by now, we don’t pull many punches when discussing business. We are not here to coddle or give the “Atta Boy” speech. We are here to provide you with an honest look into the greatness of the Food & Beverage Universe. And now it's about techniques on training your staff.

There have been a multitude of books, speeches, trainings, and the like on how to train people and staff. The truth is, you will never be fully prepared to answer every question with a straight face, know how to translate a question ( and I don’t mean specific languages), or understand how draining it is just to get to the task at hand with an unmotivated employee.

So, I fall back to the interview process: why do we take time to really get to know someone as much as we can before hiring? Understanding their past employment strength and weaknesses, did you even do an employment reference check, or were you so short-staffed you went with your gut or hired the first person that came through the door? Did you hire a person that is so talented they may leave you in a couple of months? Did you hire a person who will stay there forever because they don’t have any other options? 

Always hire talent, pay talent, and expect the utmost professionalism from everyone on your team.

The Tried and True “Shadowing”

You give the newbie to your best (or whoever was available that day) to show the new employee around your restaurant. Of course, they will show what is expected, but then the dreaded “Here’s how we really do it” conversation begins. The fresh new staff member says, “At my last place….” This statement must be nipped in the bud immediately. And without rolling your eyes.

If you expect a trusted team member to really train, you must first show them how important it is to everyone's success. Give a monetary bonus and put your faith in this person to train properly. Allow them to set aside their normal day-to-day work to give a thorough walkaround and explain what goes on every single day. This is not the time to cheat or skimp over the details. 

Do you expect their work station to be clean and organized? This is what a new person should see from the first interview to the first day on the job. If you hired the right person, they will be motivated and excited to learn your techniques, after some time, even asking about their skills and how we can grow as a team with new techniques. If you allow a newbie to come in immediately, spouting off what they know, it will cause dissension within your team. I am still a little old school and believe people need to earn their positions. A high-potential employee will respect this concept, and even the highly trained ones will notice where they can be of more assistance. 

busy bakery and takeout restaurant

The Most Common “Sink or Swim”

By a show of hands, who has been put in the position? Ok, put your hand down, you’re reading, and you look foolish. 

So you didn’t have time to truly interview and go through everything you wanted to with your new staff member, and now it’s Friday night, and you say, “Go get’em, tiger!”. 

It takes a resilient and unique person to prosper in this type of environment. Maybe they are used to the fast-paced kitchen, and they flourish there. It is true that talent always wins, and this person might be exactly what your team needs to get you to where your business needs to be. 

However, more often than not, a person in this position will grow resentment toward the unorganized management and begin harboring hard feelings. If your entire restaurant is run in this manner, it is only a matter of time before the groups begin forming, and then it is every shift against the next shift. The morning crew thinks the night crew didn’t stock or clean properly. The morning crew finds the one thing not done correctly from last night's shift, and they blow that up to be the worst thing since the remaking of that one movie you loved as a kid.

Now, let's go back to this person flourishing. That could be because of the calm nature of the rest of your staff. Your staff should know how to neutralize and de-escalate a bad situation immediately. Speaking calmly and giving clear directions helps everyone achieve more. I do not think the “Sink or Swim” method is my favorite, but let's be real; it happens. 

So expect your Core Team to work professionally and then, as soon as possible, give the newbie proper training.

The Perfect Opportunity:

Now, this one can be fun but unrealistic, especially when we have tried it.

Let's say you work in a seasonal resort. You know when your season begins and exactly what to expect for the next 96 days.

You start shuffling through applications and resumes two months before the season begins. You find a handful of potential new hires and could hire each one based on their paperwork. They answer your calls and come to the interviews, and the Culinary Gods smile upon you. They start three weeks before the season opens, and you have time to walk them through each station. They sample all the food properly and know how to set a table, run drinks, and make small talk. This is everything you could ever dream of. You bring in your family to test each server; they don’t know they are being tested; you have the “customer” ask for odd items and truly give the server a “stress test.”

busy bartender still smiling

You might decide to double-sit a server and have the tables ask for things at the same time. How does our server react? Are they cool under pressure? Do they begin to sweat? Do they ask for help, or are they the stoic type? You have the kitchen purposely make mistakes (remember the table, kitchen, and manager are all in on this); how does the server react? Does the server fix this without laying the blame on anyone? Have the customer second guess this billing, maybe ask for a free drink. This scenario happens every day in the food & beverage world, and you need to know: how does the server react?

You have noticed I keep saying, “How does the server react?”. This is because this indicates how they will react when it really happens. You cannot prepare them for every situation, but after the shift, it is a good opportunity to talk about the night. Let them in on the secret and have an open dialogue on how they felt, what they think they could have done better, or even if they think they can handle that on a daily basis. This type of training is not the norm, but who wants to be normal anyway?

There are many opinions on how to train someone. Ultimately, you have to focus on what is important to you. You will always have setbacks and not enough time in the day. You’re tired. 

But I have always seen people do what is important to them. If it’s important to you, you will find the time. Say that a couple of times, and you will agree. 

Now, train your staff on how you want it done—do it right the first time. Follow up. It's your business; treat it as such. Achievable high standards are never a bad thing. You may lose a few staff members over the years, but they weren’t going to stay long anyway.


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