Onboarding a new restaurant employee is the most important project you will ever take on in your restaurant.
Bad onboarding leads to ill-prepped staff, which leads to high turnover and bad guest experiences. Basically, bad restaurant onboarding is like throwing money into your oven and watching it burn.
Yet too often it’s overlooked, or worse, skipped entirely.
When the restaurant turnover rate is at a scarily high 73%, taking the steps to make a systematic hiring and onboarding process is a must for your restaurant.
Here's how to do it.
A Prologue: Why Does Onboarding Go So Wrong, So Often?
Remember playing the game telephone when you were younger? You would whisper something in your neighbor's ear and they would whisper it to their neighbor and then by the time it got back to you the message was totally different.
Now think about your current onboarding process.
Chances are, you designate a trainer for each new employee. Now the question becomes: how perfect an employee is the trainer?
Let's say new employee Alex is supposed to be trained by veteran employee Jessica. What if Jessica was trained by somebody who did things a bit differently than they were told, and Jessica emulated?
Now with Jessica training Alex, there are multiple staff members going about their job in a way they are not supposed to.
Just like in the game of telephone, the information you give to one trainer is imparted differently to the trainee, and the cycle goes on and on.
By the time Alex gets around to training someone, he'll more likely than not say something like, “we are really supposed to do it like this...but nobody does.”
Some Onboarding is Better Than None
As a restaurant consultant, the above situation tends to be one of the better methods of onboarding a new employee I've seen.
Why? Because some onboarding is better than none.
Honestly, how many times have you hired somebody and just put them right to work with no formal training?
I have never walked into a restaurant consultation without finding dozens of problems that prompt owners to say something like:
- “That’s not supposed to be that way."
- "That’s not how I want it."
- And my personal favorite, "That’s not how I trained them.”
When I notice this, I ask the owner the last time they trained somebody.
I think you know what the answer ends up being.
Now that you know how training can go wrong, let's look at the three steps you can take to make sure it goes right.
3 Steps for Better Restaurant Onboarding
Step 1 – The Interview
That’s right, the onboarding process starts before a new restaurant staff member even gets hired.
The restaurant interview is the first professional interaction your business has with a potential new hire. What better time to set the tone for your expectations for their employment?
Personally, I interview different than most. I don’t really ask applicants that many questions. Instead I spend a majority of the time sharing the details of the job and showing them their checklists, prep sheets, and recipes.
When I do this, I pay very close attention to how they respond and how interested they are.
I want them to ask me questions about the job, since I can use their reactions to gauge their understanding of my expectations.
More importantly we are setting the standard. We are letting the applicant know that we pay attention to details, we take pride in our work, we have systems and procedures, and we expect a lot out of them.
If that prospect is hired, they will know right off the bat what will be expected of them in their onboarding process - making the transition from new hire to all star employee all the more simple.
Keep in mind: not everybody will want that kind of responsibility and accountability, but better to find out now than later.
Step 2 - Day 1
Never - never - put your employee right to work once they are hired.
It doesn't matter how much experience they have or claim to have, nor does it matter how simple you think the job is.
Your new hires need a structured, formalized orientation session as part of their onboarding.
When the employee starts their first shift, they must spend 1-2 hours with the owner or manager to ensure everyone has the same basic level of understanding, regardless of their role. This can be done in groups if you are hiring a few at a time, but nobody should start a shift until this orientation meeting has happened.
In your restaurant new employee orientation, make sure to cover the following:
- Completing paperwork (employee handbook, contracts, tax information, etc.).
- Company history, mission, and goals.
- An overview of roles/hierarchy or an organization chart.
- Uniform, dress code, and behavior policy.
- A question and answer period.
The new employee should leave the meeting with a clear understanding of what it takes to succeed in this company and what behavior is not tolerated. This is not where you get into specific training, that will happen later.
Step 3 – The Next Few Weeks (and Months)
At this point, it is perfectly acceptable to hand the employee off to their trainer.
This, of course, assumes your trainer is nearly perfect in their own execution of the job and embodies the behavior you expect out of the position.
If they're not perfect, don't let them train anyone.
If you take away anything from this article, it should be this: don't hand a new employee off to a trainer and forget about them.
Over the next month, follow up with the trainer after every shift and ask what the new employee is doing well and what they can improve on. After 30 days, highlight the pros and cons of what the new hire has accomplished on a one-on-one basis with that employee and make sure they are still bought into the restaurant's vision.
The Importance of Proper Restaurant Onboarding
The reality is that no matter how perfect your interviewing and onboarding process, you will still get difficult employees who make it through.
The intention is to weed them out earlier in the process and set the standard as high as possible. All employees, even the best, will find short cuts and make mistakes. But when there are standards that we aim to exceed, even an off day or bad shift should still meet our standards.