DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. You should contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.
Think about it: When you’re trying to make a good first impression with a new hire, is it better to have them serve tables or get cooking on day one, or send them home with a training manual and some homework? As it turns out, a short training period can go a long way and have a huge impact on employee happiness.
Training should go beyond an employee’s initial onboarding. Ongoing on-the-job training and skills-based training not only keep restaurant staff clocking in day after day, they help employees see the industry as more than just a revolving door. Professional development training helps you show staff it’s possible to build a long-term, viable career path in the restaurant industry.
In this how-to guide, we take a look at training’s impact on staff retention and do a deep dive on all things training for new restaurant hires, from training programs you can offer to engagement strategies and so much more.
The Correlation Between Employee Training and Staff Turnover
According to the National Restaurant Association, there are currently 15.3 million employees in the restaurant industry. And there are estimated to be 16.9 million jobs in the restaurant industry by 2029. Despite this growth, the industry is seeing all-time-high rates of staff turnover, at a whopping 75% (based on results of the 2019 Restaurant Success Report).
Why? It’s mainly because many restaurant employees feel that they're in a job they see as temporary, leading, eventually, to a transition to larger career goals with clearer avenues for professional growth.
It makes sense — who would want to be stuck in the same role for the rest of their lives without a way forward? But just as a career in law or education can be traced upwards with professional accomplishments and milestones, so can a career in the restaurant industry. It’s just not super common right now.
Sure, you’ll find employees who are there to simply clock in and clock out, but don’t let that stop you from providing your team with opportunities. They really do want them.
A 2019 survey by TalentLMS on the state of training in the food and beverage industry reported that 62% of restaurant employees said a lack of training would make them leave their company.
Restaurant employees want more and better training for their jobs. They want more chances to move up within the restaurant and advance their careers. And while training and professional opportunities benefit your staff, they could also be the answer to your staff retention challenges.
What’s the Difference Between Onboarding and Training?
Before we get into the weeds of employee training, let’s answer one question: What’s the difference between onboarding and training?
Onboarding is part of the training process, but you can think of it as everything that has to happen between handing over the offer letter and getting someone to their station. Onboarding activities usually happen during an orientation shift and can include:
- Collecting and submitting important paperwork like W4s and I-9s
- Setting up direct deposit
- Outlining restaurant and team policies
- Setting up benefits
- Setting up the employee in your tech systems
Onboarding might also include some initial training, but it’s usually a one-time process. Training, meanwhile, should start at the beginning and be ongoing throughout a staff member's tenure at your restaurant. It’s the process of getting a new employee up-to-speed and ready to start in their role, but it shouldn’t end there.
Regular on-the-job training and professional development have a positive impact on employees’ confidence, motivation, loyalty, and performance levels.
Onboarding is important to getting a new hire going. Training takes things to the next level. It’s essential to an employee’s ability to succeed in a role, now and in the future.
Who’s Responsible for New Employee Training?
When it comes to who will lead your new restaurant staff training, you have a few options to choose from. Staff trainers can be fellow employees (usually your best-performing staff members), an external trainer, or a supervisor or manager.
Whoever you decide should help, make sure you’re giving them the tools and resources they need to succeed. And that’ll likely mean providing training to the trainers, to make sure every trainer’s on the same page. If everyone’s using the same training guidelines and working off of the same training manual and SOPs, you can keep the team consistent and better track progress.
Types of Restaurant Staff Training
After a new employee joins the team, kick off training with the basics. This usually involves the team member going through orientation and reading through your restaurant training manual and employee handbook. Take the time to sit down with them at the start: properly introduce yourself (if you haven’t already), discuss the restaurant’s core values, and give them a warm welcome.
After that, it’s up to you to set the training schedule: What do you want your restaurant staff to learn and at what pace? That might depend on your restaurant’s concept and goals.
When creating your training schedule, you can choose to have staff do trainings at different points in the employee’s tenure — thirty days out, sixty days out, sixth months out, and so on. You can also schedule group trainings for the whole team to take part in.
Let’s take a look at the different types of staff training you can offer your restaurant team: some mandatory, some specific to the role, and some more advanced and career-focused.
Mandatory Restaurant Staff Training
Food safety training
There are a number of training programs and courses available for both front-of-house and back-of-house staff that focus on food safety, food handling, allergens, and more.
ServSafe is administered by the National Restaurant Association and offers a number of courses and certifications for food handlers, managers, and servers. It’s important that your team can handle, prepare, and store food to prevent food-borne illnesses. No one wants a guest getting sick.
Food safety considerations include the practices of food labeling, food hygiene, food additives, and pesticide residues. Many states require restaurant staff to obtain the ServSafe certification. You can find the regulatory requirements for your area here.
Learn2Serve also offers a number of food safety training courses and certifications. The Learn2Serve Food Allergen Training Course educates employees about food allergens and how to serve people with allergies, and the Learn2Serve Food Handler Training Course covers various food safety handling and serving principles.
Alcohol serving and selling certifications
Most states across the U.S. require a license before a person can sell or serve alcohol. Alcohol safety is paramount, so require your bartenders, barbacks, and servers to have their ServSafe Alcohol certification — and always make sure to stay on top of expirations and renewals.
Learn2Serve also offers an Alcohol Seller Training Course, with state-specific alcohol seller and server courses. BarSmarts by Pernod Ricard is another great resource for bar staff looking to continue developing their skills.
Workplace harassment training
Sexual harassment prevention training is not yet required in every state, but it’s becoming more common, given the industry’s unfortunately common issues with harassment.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, fifteen states have adopted laws protecting workers from sexual harassment. Of those fifteen states, ten — plus New York City — have prevention measures that include mandatory sexual harassment prevention training and workplace policy requirements for employers.
As sexual harassment protections and prevention laws become more common, do your research and stay informed about the laws and requirements in your state. It’ll help you stay compliant but also, even more importantly, you can make sure your team feels — and is — safe in the workplace.
ServSafe and other resources offer sexual harassment training programs online. But to learn how you can start building a more personal anti-harassment policy and prevention program at your restaurant, hear how Erin Wade of Homeroom did just that.
Server Skills Training
Whenever there’s a change in your restaurant’s menu — whether to a price, an item, or even an ingredient in a recipe — your servers need to know. They’re on the front line with your customers, answering questions about dishes every day. Include any questions relevant to allergies or dietary restrictions.
Keep the team in the know on menu updates, and train and test them on them, too. It’ll help you make sure they’re retaining the information.
Steps of service
Every restaurant has different steps of service. But it usually goes like this: greeting guests, taking drink orders, sharing features or specials, taking food orders, delivering the food, checking back in, clearing the table, and dropping the bill. Whatever your steps are, train your staff so they know exactly what to do.
There are also more in-depth server-specific training courses available online. One is the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute’s Certified Restaurant Server Training, which recognizes the “high level of professionalism that is needed to succeed and to bring outstanding service to every guest.”
Shadowing — following along with a fellow employee in their daily activities — is a great way to get a new server up to speed. They get one-on-one training with an experienced employee and a firsthand look at how to execute things they might already be learning in your training manual and employee handbook.
Shadowing will help bring the ideas they’ve been hearing and reading about to life. Encourage them to ask questions to the server they’re shadowing along the way.
It's also crucial that you make sure the employee that the new team member will be shadowing is ready to be a guide and mentor for the day — there's nothing worse as a new employee than shadowing someone who isn't particularly willing to help, or particularly friendly.
Just as it is for front-of-house employees, shadowing is essential for new back-of-house employees. Face-to-face training with fellow cooks on the line can help staff understand exactly how each dish is made. Consider having cooks shadow your front of house team and vice versa, so they can get a better understanding of the full guest experience.
Different stations in the kitchen have different rules, and it’s important that you pass on the various nuances during training. The new chef can start by doing prep, keeping the station clean, replenishing the mise en place during service, and cooking sides. After a few days of this, the cook on the line can swap placed with the new person, so the new cook is cooking the main dishes while the existing one is watching. After a week of this, the new cook should be able to pull the station by themselves on a busy day without a problem.
Starting out, chefs and other members of your back-of-house staff should learn a few basics when it comes to your kitchen’s safety tips. Even if they’re experienced, a refresher never hurts. These kitchen safety tips might include:
- Washing hands after handling raw meat, poultry, or seafood
- Keeping perishable foods in refrigerators
- Keeping cooked food away from cutting boards that have had raw meat on them
- Learning how to extinguish a fire
- Proper knife skills
- Wearing safe clothing, including closed-toed shoes
- How to handle burns
ServSafe offers a Food Handler certification you should consider having your team complete. Another option is the Food Handler certificate offered by the National Registry of Food Safety Professionals.
It might not be in your budget for now, but consider sending cooks on research and development trips to other cities, or even other countries, to learn about how other places prepare the types of dishes you make in your restaurant. Sending an employee on a trip can be expensive, but it pays off in spades when that employee sticks around because they know you're investing in their long-term career knowledge and growth.
Training for New Management Models
There are a growing number of alternative ways to manage, compensate, and reward restaurant staff. These management models include:
- The gratuity-free model
- Open-book management
- Employee profit-sharing
- Health insurance benefit offerings
- Safe and inclusive workplace management
- A “no forced cuts” policy
In the face of growing labor challenges, these new staff management models have emerged in an effort to create sustainable workplaces for the people who dedicate their lives to the industry. While they’re not for everyone and aren’t without their challenges, these management models have seen a positive impact on employee hiring and retention.
Adopting these models requires a major retooling of your staff training strategies and techniques. If you’re interested in a deep dive, hear stories of restaurateurs’ first-hand experiences using these models and hear from real servers about why outside-the-box management and business models keep them clocking in day after day.
Additional Restaurant Employee Training Resources
If you’re looking to provide your employees with even more training resources and help them advance their careers, here are a few options:
- eCornell offers a number of extensive online trainings through its Hospitality and Foodservice Certificate Programs
- The National Restaurant Association’sManageFirst Program is built to help restaurant employees succeed in management roles. The management program “teaches practical competencies needed to face real-world challenges in the industry, including interpersonal communication, ethics, accounting skills and more.”
- The North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers offers a number of courses in its learning center, including business skills, customer service, foodservice, and more.
Engaging Restaurant Training Strategies
The restaurant workforce of today wants to learn, but it’s getting harder to capture their attention. And it’s not because they — many of whom are likely millennials or younger — are lazy or unmotivated. It’s because they grew up in a time of rapidly evolving technology, and their learning styles have evolved.
So you have to follow suit.
Your employee training has to be built to capture attention and engage. Otherwise, your team won’t absorb the information they need to successfully do their jobs.
This doesn't just apply to your younger employees, either. Don’t you think every employee would prefer a more engaging training experience?
Instead of combining all training into as few pieces or hands-on sessions as possible, break up information and training into smaller, more digestible bites. When developing training courses or documentation for your staff, consider breaking them out by topic or experience levels instead of making every training course a deep dive. Make sure information and resources can be accessed at any time on-demand, like on a password-protected website.
Here are a few training strategies you can use to engage new employees:
YouTube is home to millions of short, instructional videos that can help new employees pick up new knowledge at their own pace. Providing video micro-learning alongside in-person training is a great way to mix up your training formats and keep staff engaged. You can create your own training videos if you have the resources, or check out YouTube channels from The Restaurant Boss and the National Restaurant Association.
Even if you decide to not have your employees be trainers, you can have them act as mentors to new employees. It’s important for your staff to receive training from managers and higher-ups, but learning from people on the same level as them has its own value. Being paired with a coworker makes new employees feel more comfortable and can create a culture of positive feedback. It’s easier for them to relate to those who understand their daily challenges.
Gamifying your employee training in some way — whether by making team competitions or daily leaderboards based on quiz results or training progress — increases knowledge retention. It also motivates your staff, both new and existing employees. And gamification doesn’t have to end with training. Apply it to something like a sales competition to see who can sell the most specials. It can be an easy and fun way to make work more enjoyable while also driving performance.
No surprise here, but team building and work friendships increase employee happiness. Gallup research has found that people who have strong work relationships are more engaged, produce higher-quality work, and have a higher state of well-being overall. So build team building and relationship building into training from day one. Play some icebreakers during orientation. Create opportunities for socializing, like team dinners, trips to the movies, or physical activities like a team running group. The restaurant is a stressful place, so anything you can do to help your team view it as a fun and friendly environment will get them to stick around and stay motivated.
5 Tips to Creating an Awesome New Restaurant Employee Training Program
Here are five ways to create an amazing training program, set your staff up for success, and make them happy.
Don’t assume employees don’t want to be there.
Don’t assume your employees are just waiting to leave the industry to pursue other opportunities. With the right opportunities, there’s a greater likelihood they'll want to stick around. So you need to do what you can to keep them trained and motivated.
Create and promote professional growth opportunities to all of your team members. Whether it's inviting in a subject matter expert (like a mixologist or a licensed dietician) to teach new skills, hosting a restaurant industry networking event, or providing access to a hospitality-focused e-learning platform, like Typsy or Toast University, helping your employees learn, expand their skill set, and hone their craft also helps your restaurant in the short- and long-term.
Ask your staff what kind of training they’re interested in.
Is your team interested in more customer service-based training? Or are they looking for a clear path to promotion?
Send out a survey to employees to get their thoughts, or ask them in person. Have them identify which types of training they’d be interested in pursuing and incorporate this feedback into your employee training processes.
It's also not a bad idea to add a question about training in your employee exit interviews. Ask employees who are leaving your restaurant to pursue opportunities elsewhere about the trainings you offer. It could be a great way to learn what's good, what's great, and what could use some tweaking.
Create and maintain a regular skills training calendar.
Maintain a regular on-the-job training calendar. Training every three to six months (if not more) will help you keep your turnover rates low and leave your employees ready to get their jobs done efficiently.
You can choose to require staff to individually partake in training at different points in their tenure, or you can have the whole team come together for training you feel would benefit the group as a whole.
Don’t over-automate your training.
Investing in software and apps that’ll help you save time and energy sounds like an ideal solution (and there are major value adds), but nothing beats in-person training by managers or fellow employees. Create a blended training system that includes online programs and video in addition to more hands-on training.
Monitor staff performance and collect feedback.
Last but not least, monitor staff performance before and after training. Consistently ask for feedback about what staff like about your training processes and where you could be doing a better job. Make it clear you value feedback: It’s necessary for the growth of your restaurant and your team.
For more on how one Boston restaurant prioritizes regular training — and retains their staff for years because of it — listen to the podcast below.