How to Engage More Millennials with Restaurant Staff Training

By: Emily Tatti

6 Minute Read

May 23, 2017

Restaurant Millennials


Effective staff training is one of those unrelenting issues in our industry. There are so many barriers preventing restaurants from implementing the training programs they want and need.

And then there’s the difficulty of keeping that training engaging for millennials, who fill up most of the server roles in your restaurant. Since this generation – those aged between 18 and 34 – are set to make up 75% of the workforce by 2020, your restaurant’s survival really hinges on how well you can adapt your training to suit their needs.

It’s not that they’re lazy or unmotivated workers. It’s just that their learning style differs from other generations. Let’s take a look at what that means for your restaurant.

What Millennials Want

Before you even start planning your training program, it’s worth understanding what millennials want out of the restaurant industry.

Obviously there are still plenty of millennials who work in restaurants to support themselves during their studies, but since the rise of reality cooking shows like MasterChef, hospitality has become more of a long-term career prospect for these young people. They genuinely care about providing good food and good service, which makes them highly motivated workers in the right environment.

But this means that throwing them into the kitchen and leaving them to learn as they go is not going to work. Millennials have higher expectations for training because of the way they were taught in school (in collaborative classrooms, with constant feedback), and because they are more comfortable and assertive with authority figures.

They are also more determined to enjoy a healthy work/life balance, which means that they can become easily dissatisfied with the rigid shifts required of them in restaurants if the workplace isn’t making up for that in other ways.

How Millennials Learn

So how can you reach millennial workers during that initial training stage? There are two major things that influence their interest in learning: relationships and technology.

Because of their confidence with authority figures, millennials are far more critical of poor workplace cultures. If they can’t see themselves developing mutually respectful relationships with their leaders, then they’re far less likely to respond to the new skills they are being taught. According to restaurant trainer David Hayden, "When you're teaching millennials, you have to mentor them, not manage them. When you do that, they will remain loyal, and they will want to learn more from your company."

As for technology, that one’s pretty simple: millennials have been raised on the Internet. Most of them don’t remember what life was like without a computer. Naturally, their learning is strongly tied to technology.

Learning Method #1: Video

When millennials have a problem, they usually seek out the answer in one of two places – on Google, or on YouTube. There are millions of short, instructional videos on YouTube that help them pick up new knowledge at their own pace. So it makes sense that incorporating video into their restaurant training would make them more interested.

Panera Bread, for example, trains staff both in person with a certified trainer or manager, and online through an eLearning program called Baguette University. This audio-visual interactivity helps keep young staff engaged while learning about compulsory topics like policy and procedure. Through this portal, they can also familiarize themselves with new menu items and view step-by-step guides on preparing meals. This training isn’t intended to replace in-person training, but rather complement it without disrupting day-to-day productivity.

Learning Method #2: Peer-to-Peer Mentoring

Like millennial diners, who rely on reviews from their peers to tell them whether or not they should visit your restaurant, millennial employees also feel more comfortable learning from their peers. It’s easier for them to relate to those who understand their daily challenges. CTA

Give each new staff member a peer mentor, so they can learn from someone on their level. This will create a culture of feedback, which is something millennials crave from managers who don’t necessarily have the time to provide it on a regular basis.

Since this generation finds it harder to be open about problem areas in front of large groups, giving them a peer mentor will also make them more comfortable admitting to mistakes. This will allow you to properly gauge where they are falling short, and where you need to focus more of your training.

Learning Method #3: Mobile and Tablet Training

You’ve probably had a stern chat with your servers about keeping off their phones during shifts. The average U.S. millennial spends 3 hours every day consuming information online; it’s a compulsion that’s hard to break. But this is something you can use to your advantage. Instead of banning phones from your restaurant completely, you could meet this need head-on by introducing tablet-based training.

Pizza and taproom franchise Old Chicago has moved away from paper-based training to tablet training. Kitchen staff, for example, can log in on a tablet while working at a prep table, look at a recipe, and find the answers they need without going to a manager. Not only does this answer millennials’ need for independence, but it also reduces the costs associated with printing and distributing training materials.

Learning Method #4: Gamification

In a 2012 TEDGlobal talk, Jane McGonigal spoke about how playing games helps us bond with the people around us. That might sound a bit strange when it comes to planning a training schedule, but gamification could involve anything from team competitions and staff leaderboards to playful badges and daily quizzes. Because participants have such a fun experience, gamification actually increases knowledge retention.

Pep Boys, an automotive repair chain (stay with me here), tried to teach its staff about policy and safety compliance, but they kept forgetting what they learned. So Pep Boys started sending out short daily quizzes on company policies. If people got the answers right, they won points that could be used towards prizes, like Amazon gift cards. Think about how much time young people spend on their phones playing Candy Crush. If you can use that urge to play games to your advantage, you will entertain them and teach them something.

Learning Method #5: Team Building

Three out of five millennials say that friendships with their co-workers make them happier at work. And in building friendships at work, they will be far more productive over longer shifts, and less likely to leave.

So incorporate this into your training from day one. Play some icebreaker games during their orientation (it doesn’t matter if they’re cheesy! If anything they will bond over the silliness of it). Create opportunities for socializing, like after-work drinks, team kickball tournaments or scavenger hunts.

Restaurants are competitive and stressful environments, so it’s in your best interests to foster a positive team culture. If your young workers view your restaurant as fun and friendly from the get-go, then they will be motivated to succeed at everything you teach them.

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