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The task of restaurant server training often falls on managers and tenured employees, and when it isn't done right, things can quickly become chaotic in the dining room.
According to Toast research, when it comes to training new hires, the majority of restaurants (68%) share an employee handbook, but only 19% use online training and only 36% have a formal 30-day check-in.
Hastily training a new restaurant employee is an all-too-common move in a busy restaurant. Training usually consists of a quick conversation about the restaurant’s common issues and challenges with a classic, “Just make sure you never do this.” Then the server is sent off to shadow someone else or are given a few tables of their own.
This into-the-fire approach can work for experienced servers who just need to learn the nuances of your restaurant business, but they need so much more than that.
This is especially true now, with guest expectations changing drastically in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Guests are still searching for similar things: remarkable food, exceptional hospitality, and memorable dining experiences. But now, new preferences like safety and cleanliness have emerged.
In response, you need to train your servers to not only be their best but master the guest experience and navigate it with care.
How to Train Servers
Servers are front and center when it comes to how guests evaluate a restaurant. Your servers need to represent the restaurant and do their jobs well, which can only happen when they’ve been trained well to start with.
With great server training, you can reduce staff turnover and make your employees happier, which will, in turn, help your restaurant exceed your guests' expectations. Training current employees to effectively train your new hires also lightens the workload for you and increases accountability within the team.
In this guide, we’ll look at how to implement great server training from an employees’ first day all the way through to the end of their time on your staff.
Want to create a server training manual as you go? Oh, we already made one for you. Use this training manual template to create your server training guide.
Step 1: Introduce Servers to Your Business
Every restaurant is unique. From the obvious, customer-facing stuff like the dining space and the menu to the behind-the-scenes story and mission, every aspect of a restaurant should be used in server training. You should want your servers to care about working at your restaurant and feel motivated to do their best every day.
Here are a few ways you can get servers familiar with and excited about your restaurant brand.
Use an employee handbook.
Creating an employee handbook is a great way to make sure your new hires have all the information they need to provide the best service possible. It also provides a standard for your employees to reference throughout their training and their tenure working at your restaurant. A handbook serves as a guide to reinforce at every step of the staff training process.
On day one, sit down with new servers and read through the employee handbook together. This will help you set expectations for them and help them know what their expectations of you and their new team should be.
You likely already have a recipe bible for back of house, so it makes sense to also have a front-of-house bible. If you want your glasses polished the same way every single day, having your method documented in your front-of-house bible will make sure any employee tasked with polishing will know how to do it right, even if it’s not their job. You don’t want smudges on a glass just because a bartender no-showed and you had to put a server on the task. When your servers know their expectations and are trained to do more than just serve, they’re able to contribute to a high-functioning, ultra-efficient restaurant experience.
You can use this employee handbook template to build your own, and then you’ll only have to update it every once in a while. It can include your core values and behavioral standards but also little details like locker codes, where the cleaning supplies live, and staff and management phone numbers — important information that all employees should know.
Teach staff your core values.
Today’s restaurant workers are more concerned about the impact of their choices on these external issues. Nearly nine out of 10 millennials (those between the ages of 22 and 37) would consider taking a pay cut to work at a company whose mission and values align with their own, according to LinkedIn’s Workplace Culture report.
When you sit down on day one to go through the employee handbook, also discuss your restaurant's core values, how you and your staff enact them, and why you're passionate about the work you do.
Why? Your excitement will be contagious and put your servers in a positive headspace that will increase their connection to the work. And the fact that you're taking the time to properly introduce yourself and your restaurant shows them you care about your employees' happiness and success.
Simply taking the time to show staff they matter will make them more loyal to your restaurant and more motivated to show guests why it’s such an awesome place.
Taking time to sit with a new employee to kick off their training will instantly set you apart from the competition. This small gesture early on can help a person feel greater pride in their workplace, which is key for employee retention. Happy employees stick around longer, become better brand ambassadors, and are more inclined to provide outstanding customer service.
Step 2: Show Them How You Do Things
Once you cover the high-level mission and purpose of your place, then you can start digging into the particulars. No two restaurants function in the same way, so even if servers have extensive experience, you shouldn’t assume they know how to do everything the way you do it.
More experienced servers might pick things up faster, but taking the time to explain how you operate on day one will help avoid miscommunication going forward.
Explain your space.
You’ve been to hole-in-the-wall bars, you’ve been to multi-story restaurants, you’ve been to many in between. Ever wonder how management runs it all? Your new servers will need to know how you organize your restaurant.
Before they hit the floor, make sure your servers know the sections of your restaurant, table numbers, how sections are assigned, and introduce them to the hosts so they know when one of their tables has been seated.
It’s a good idea to give servers a map of your space before sending them out on the floor to verify they know where they should be on any given night. You can even quiz them on this later on.
Remind them of the little things.
Consistently greeting guests the same way, keeping water glasses full, and taking initiative goes a long way. The expectations you put on your server will vary based on your restaurant’s style, but it’s important to note the extra touches.
If your servers have a standard way of greeting customers, for example, “Welcome to Gloria’s. My name is Billy, and I’ll be your server today,” make sure that’s how new servers are introducing themselves. Diners appreciate the politeness, of course, but consistency can also go a long way in creating repeat visitors. Likewise, encouraging servers to not let water glasses or coffee mugs go empty is a simple way to help them be more attentive to guests.
Also, if you expect servers to turn over their own tables, deliver bread to other tables when another server is occupied, or otherwise just help one another out, make sure your new servers know this so they aren’t blindsided when another server expects some coverage. If you expect servers to cover one another’s tables on the fly, set that expectation clearly.
Introduce your restaurant tech and tools.
Point of sale systems are a crucial element of any restaurant, especially for front-of-house, and they’re all different. Don’t assume that because a server you’re training used the same type of system at a previous restaurant they automatically know how to use yours. These things are customizable for a reason. Every menu is different, systems are organized differently, restaurants apply promotions differently, and your new server will be learning this from scratch.
Some systems have built-in training programs for servers, so if that’s the case with yours, be sure your new servers are taking those programs. If not, simply taking 15 minutes to explain how to use the point of sale system can avoid frustrating new servers and creating confused customers.
Whether it’s static or handheld, servers need to know how to efficiently manage their tables in the system without getting their lines crossed. No customer wants to receive a bill that’s only half right, especially because that means another table’s bill is all messed up, too. And if orders aren’t reaching the kitchen correctly, chaos will ensue.
Before new servers hit the floor, make sure they’re well-practiced and have the POS system down pat. After they’ve gone through the in-system training or trained with you one-on-one, verify that learning with a test.
Step 3: Have Them Shadow a Server Who Knows Their Stuff
Some say the best way to learn is by doing. Others say the best way to learn is by observing someone who already knows how to do. In the restaurant business, it’s a little bit of both.
An important component of new server training is getting servers acclimated with your staff. One of the best ways to do that, while also helping them learn on the job, is by having them shadow a more experienced server. This will help new servers know what the job entails, how to perform various tasks, and get familiar with the restaurant operation, and they might also pick up a few tricks from a seasoned employee.
Emphasize that, in your restaurant, there's no such thing as a dumb question. All restaurant teams have different collective personalities, and if you create a culture of openness and learning, your new employees will feel comfortable coming to you with questions about anything. This will help them develop into a better employee long-term and allow them to pass on this knowledge (and patience) to a new employee down the line. You also don’t want employees making assumptions about how things work because they’re too intimidated to ask.
Step 4: Test Them on Your Menu
A great restaurant server doesn't just take orders — they're also resources and salespeople. Their job is to assist and enhance a customer’s experience and make sure they're experiencing the very best you offer. Upselling techniques can also help your profit margins if your menu is properly optimized.
Your staff's goal is to make sure they give guests more than what they came in expecting. All your server has to do is make good on that promise.
One of the most effective ways for a server to do that is by knowing your menu inside and out. During their first week, and before you’ve sent them off on their own, have your new servers hang around after work for a feast. Make sure servers have at least tasted everything you serve so that they’re able to make an informed suggestion whenever guests ask for recommendations. Servers are ultimately working to build a connection with customers, and one of the best ways to do that is to demonstrate a shared interest in food. A great tip on your menu from a server can leave a customer feeling pleased.
Sampling everything is just one piece of the puzzle. The other part is verifying that servers have your menu memorized. After letting them get a taste of everything, ask them to come to their next shift prepared to recite the menu from heart.
Step 5: Ask for Guest Feedback
Your new servers are ready to hit the floor. But great servers are always growing and learning, so as a manager you need to keep tabs on their performance when they’re just starting out.
When they’re first starting out, give new servers a smaller section of the restaurant and check in with guests. Guest feedback is crucial for a restaurant and will help you assess how new servers are doing and how effective your training has been.
You can collect guest feedback through your POS system if it has the functionality, or leave a feedback card with the check.
Share this feedback with your servers during one-on-one meetings or post-shift, explaining what the feedback is and what you think they could improve for next time.
Step 6: Talk Careers and Professional Development
The best server training is the kind that never stops. Most industries use employee check-ins as a means of gauging employee growth and satisfaction, and the restaurant industry should be no different. With new servers, it’s important to check in at 30, 60, and 90 days to update them on their job performance, hear how they’re enjoying the job, if they’re getting the support they need, and see what you can do better as a business. Turns out, the secret to great training is to never stop.
When it comes to new server training, it all starts with the values you have for your restaurant and your team. By thoroughly training your new server, providing them with the tools and information they need, and setting them up as part of a close-knit team, you can turn your new staff into happy, loyal team members.