How to Engage More Millennials with Restaurant Staff Training

By: Emily Tatti

11 Minute Read

Jul 19, 2019

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Restaurant Millennials

Staff training is one of the biggest recurring challenges that impacts almost every restaurant. Within the industry, there are numerous barriers preventing restaurants from implementing the training programs they want and need, including time, money, and resources.

And then there’s the difficulty of keeping that training up-to-date and 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 hinges on how well you can adapt your training to suit their needs.

Let's debunk the "millennials are lazy" myth: it's important to update your training not because they're unmotivated, rather because they've developed a learning style influenced by the huge leaps forward in technology over the past 15 years.

This year's Restaurant Success Report found that 51% of restaurateurs ranked hiring staff a top challenge, with training staff and retaining staff close behind at 35% and 31%, respectively. Many restaurant managers and owners are now trying to improve their onboarding and training processes to keep their staff fulfilled and on the team longer. These investments set restaurant owners and operators apart as employers who care about the happiness and growth of their teams – these types of investments need to continue past the first 90 days of a staff member’s employment.

Providing your restaurant staff with consistent, skills-based training will not only enhance your guest experience, but also shows your employees your commitment to helping them grow as people and professionals.

What Millennials Want

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

There are still plenty of millennials who work in restaurants to support themselves while attending school, but 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. They've also grown up with the influence of technology and seen how it can improve the hospitality and restaurant industry.

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. In addition to smart, continuous training, restaurant employers need to get creative with benefits, increase opportunities for higher wages, and create a fantastic work environment if they want to keep their staff members.                                   

How Millennials Learn

So how can you reach millennial workers during that initial training stage? There are two key aspects that will 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. This makes book or paper-based training seem outdated, especially since many of them will be used to online training modules from other jobs. 


Industry Statistics:

68% of restaurant professionals
have an employee handbook to help
in the onboarding process.

53% provide trainings for food safety and alcohol serving certifications. 

46% of restaurant professionals put an emphasis on shadowing and mentorship to emphasize the potential for employee growth.


Learning Method #1: Incorporate Video Training

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.

There are plenty of YouTube channels that offer great professional development opportunities in addition to training. 

Here are a few channels that consistently upload great videos for the industry that you can share with your staff. You can even create a fun competition to incentivize people to watch extra training online. 

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 to have a stern chat with your servers about keeping off their phones during shifts. The average U.S. millennial spends three 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.

Tablets are becoming the training technology of choice for restaurants who want to upgrade their training methods. This eLearning initiative also allows your staff to find answers for themselves, rather than going to a manager first - which saves time and money. Plus, with the mobility of tablets, your staff can learn on the go. Employees can view content whenever and wherever it's convenient.

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 a fun experience, gamification actually increases knowledge retention.

Learn More: Using Restaurant Employee Gamification to Retain Staff

Gamification is an easy and fun way to engage employees in training and keep them performing throughout their tenure. Using a game to replace any part of training, from sales to customer service, can make work more enjoyable while simultaneously driving performance. It can be as simple as instituting a sales competition for who can sell the most specials, to service-related compliments on Yelp.

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 dinner, team kickball tournaments or scavenger hunts.

Another important aspect of team building is knowing the work that goes into other jobs around the restaurant. When employees understand what it takes to complete different jobs, they are more empathetic and can make decisions that benefit the entire team – not just the individual. Give your staff the chance to learn about other people's jobs during family dinner. Have a different person speak about their challenges and what they love about their specific role each week. Or, dedicate monthly shadowing time for employees as part of their training.

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.

More Educational Resources:

Before diving into these, make sure the certification you will be receiving is recognized in your state. 

The NAFEM offers three courses for restaurant staff: An Introduction to the Food Industry, Negotiation and Sales, and Building Customer Rapport.

If you or someone on your staff is a secondary educator specializing in restaurant management and culinary arts, you have the opportunity to obtain certification to demonstrate your knowledge of the foodservice industry.

A restaurant training course that is designed to educate employees about food allergens and how to serve people with allergies.

You can get your alcohol certification online with Learn2Serve’s quality state-specific alcohol seller/server courses. 

Food Handler Training course will discuss various food safety handling and serving principles.

The Certified Restaurant Server designation recognizes the high level of professionalism that is needed to succeed and to bring outstanding service to every guest.

ServSafe certifications are accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) under the Conference for Food Protection Standards.

  • Restaurant and Hospitality Management Certifications from eCornell.

eCornell is Cornell University’s online certification hub, and provides extensive training for busy professionals. 

Designed to provide individuals with the skills to succeed in management roles in the restaurant and food service industry. 

A credential for entry-level food managers, the Food Safety Manager Certification is accredited by ANSI-CFP. The exam covers topics such as food safety management, supervisory duties, FDA regulations, health and other inspections, and risk. 

Food Safety First Principles for Food Handlers is a certificate program designed to ensure food handlers have the skills to handle, serve, prepare and display food.

Designed for experienced food safety practitioners, the CP-FS credential validates knowledge of regulatory requirements, HACCP principles, food safety, food microbiology, foodborne illnesses, effective sanitation, and emergency responses. 

This credential targets food management professionals in the hospitality and culinary industries and prepares them to manage food safety risks and employ best food safety practices in the workplace.

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