“Hello. Nice to meet you, (insert random name of new server). So, I guess I am training you tonight.”
Does that sound at all familiar? The process of restaurant server training has descended to become a rudimentary task for your managers and veteran employees, but when it isn't done right, things can get very ugly in your restaurant.
So, are you ready to take on the job of onboarding employees to make sure they stay at your restaurant and consistently exceed guest expectations?
The Fun Begins
Think back to that first line. Maybe you've said it - you've definitely overheard it. So what happens after that?
After a quick conversation about the restaurant, all the issues and challenges, and highlighting the “just make sure you never do this” checklist, the training starts. But because it's done without conveying your restaurant's core values or without expressing the passion for what you do, that employee has not gotten off to the best start.
Let's go over some of the biggest problems restaurateurs face when training their new servers and what can be done to make the whole affair a lot better.
"Here is your apron, now get to work!"
We have all fallen victim to this, and it’s never our intention, but hastily training a new restaurant employee is an all-too-common yet unforgivable action in a restaurant.
Recently I had the privilege of attending a very small and intimate event where Marcus Lemonis, host of the television show The Profit, spoke. He asked the question, “who here has an employee that is dramatically holding back the growth of your business?” He then picked a woman from the crowd who raised her hand.
She went on and on about all the issues with this employee. Then Marcus simply asked three questions.
- Does this person report directly to you?
She shouted a loud "yes!"
- Did you hire this person?
"Yes," she said. But it was not as enthusiastic of a "yes" this time.
- Did you train this person?
After a brief pause, you could hear a needle drop in the room. With a deflated voice, the excuses started pouring out. Marcus repeated and said "just a simple yes or no will do."
"Yes," she mumbled.
When hiring servers for your restaurant, the “training” process starts well before the official training begins. This is important, especially when hiring servers - the ones who have such intimate contact with your guests.
Sharpen Your Axe
“Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first 4 sharpening my axe.” – Abraham Lincoln
Prior to beginning the training process, you must follow these steps, in this order.
- Create clearly defined job descriptions and job duties.
- Create clearly defined personal traits you are looking for in this person.
- Take them through a well thought-out and thorough hiring process, on-boarding process, and training program.
It’s important to have the job descriptions and duties clearly defined before you even begin the job search. If not, it's easy to hire impulsively. In the chaos of day-to-day operations, compounded with being short staffed, it's likely you will “settle” for a lesser candidate because they have some previous restaurant experience.
"Well," you tell yourself, "because they've waited somewhere else, I assume they can do the same at my restaurant."
But you know what they say about when you assume something, right?
Hire the Smile
Instead of hiring hastily, I encourage you to hire the smile. Look for good, responsible people, and test their basic skills based on you requirement for the position, not what the general assumption of a server is. This starts with the application processes. If applicants can’t follow directions through the process, count them out.
If they can’t show up to an interview on time and prepared, count them out.
If they can’t complete some simple follow-up, count them out.
Don’t make your application process so easy - you are setting the bar too low right from start.
Hiring a Restaurant Server
The importance of the hiring process cannot be overstated. With recent statistics putting hospitality annual turnover at 72%, hiring the right person protects your budget and the flow of your restaurant long after the moment of "you're hired."
Personally, I never conduct one-on-one interviews until candidates have first gone through a group interview. In my opinion, a one-on-one is a total waste of time. Instead, weed out a majority of the applicants at the group interview without wasting the time it takes to conduct a one-on-one.
Then, if they have the “stuff” you are looking for, invite them back and share with them their job description, duties, and responsibilities. Introduce them to the rest of the staff, and tour them around the restaurant. Pay very close attention during this process and take note of what is their body language is like.
Are they polite? Do they smile? Do they greet others with a proper greeting?
I was recently asked by one of my clients how to get their manager to be as passionate in the pre-shift as they are. I asked the client if the manager was a passionate person in general.
“Not really,” was their reply.
"Well then, you should have a hired a more passionate person if that was important to you," was my response.
Onboarding a Restaurant Server
After an applicant is offered the position, they need to be onboarded. This is where they are once again walked through their job description, duties, and responsibilities. Only this time, they are expected to physically sign on to them. This should take at least one to two hours and should be done with their direct supervisor so there are no questions or points of ambiguity.
Then they should be given a tour around the facility and be informed of the general guidelines of the business, the mission, the vision, the core values. This should be done by the Owner or Operator of the business.
RELATED POST: How Core Values Impact Your Restaurant's Culture
Lastly, the basic operational minutia like clock procedures, sick pay, etc. can be done by the head of HR. If you wear all those hats yourself, then you must do all the steps yourself. This is about a four-hour process, but these will be the most important four hours you will spend with anybody in your restaurant.
Restaurant Server Training Tips
While I can argue for the greater importance of the above steps, the immediate results in your establishment will come from focusing on a regimented training process first.
After this is complete and your current employees have gone through your “new” training process, then you can begin working on the steps above (at which point I expect you to completely “re-hire” your employees by taking them through the process again).
Yes, you heard that correctly. “Re-hire” all of your employees.
You can make very quick and effective adjustments to your training program by adopting my five-step training model.
- Why Do
- How Do
- I Do
- We Do
- You Do
Most training skips over the "Why Do" phase, but as per Honest Abe in his quote above, I think this is the most important step in training on any skill or task.
Without the why, employees are likely to skip steps or impart their own little changes on your perfected process. When they know the big picture, the outcome, and the why, they are less likely to skip those steps.
Then simply explain how to do the task ("How Do"), demonstrate the task ("I Do"), do the task with them ("We Do"), then have them do the task alone and demonstrate their knowledge ("You Do"). You now have an employee who is trained on a specific task. I suggest creating a document for each specific task in your restaurant and then using that document when training each staff member. This document then goes into their employee file.
If you would like a template that you can use in your restaurant, click here.
Restaurant Server Techniques & Best Practices
A great restaurant server is not an order taker - they are a sales person. Their job is to assist and enhance a customer’s experience. Anything short of this and they should be washing dishes in your neighbor’s restaurant, not yours.
You can work on the details you want, but teach your servers this one thing: “Hello folks, my name is (insert name) and I am here to ensure that we exceed your expectations today. If there is anything I can do help with that, please let me know.”
Now the mic has been dropped.
Your staff's goal is to ensure they give guests more than what they came in here expecting. All your server has to do know is make good on that promise.
In response, as a mangers walk the floor, they are never allowed to ask a table ever again “how is everything?” (What a terrible question, stop asking that right now). They are only allowed from this moment forward to ask, "Is everything exceeding your expectations?"
If yes, fantastic!
If no, then find out what and fix it before they leave.
That one change is like a domino that will create better service in your restaurant. Train servers to tell the customer your restaurant will exceed their expectations. Have them do everything they need to do in order to make that happen. Anyone who has a personality like this will be easier to train in your restaurant and will be a strong employee in the long run.
Train your servers how to do this and watch your service issues disappear! But remember, it all traces back to the vision and the passion for your restaurant that you instill in your new hires. This needs to be done before day one.