Soft Skills Training: 4 Soft Skills Required to Work in a Restaurant

By: Emily Tatti

6 Minute Read

Mar 28, 2018

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soft skills training

What do customers complain about after visiting a restaurant? A lack of soft skills.

In a Gripe-o-meter survey from the Consumer Reports National Research Center, the most common complaints included the following:

  • Impolite or condescending servers.
  • Slow service.
  • Being served meals that weren’t what was ordered.
  • Feeling rushed to leave.

If you were getting these complaints about your restaurant, you would think that your employees needed better restaurant staff training, right?

Unfortunately, technical skill training isn’t going to cut it here. That’s because all of these issues are due to poor soft skills training.

Here's how to fix that and make your staff more personable, empathetic, and customer-focused.

What are Soft Skills?

When we say soft skills, we’re talking about personality-driven skills, like:

  • Communication
  • Initiative
  • Organization
  • A Willingness to Learn

During initial training, restaurants will generally focus on technical skills like sales techniques, preparing and serving certain dishes, and so on, because these have an immediate impact on how someone performs their job.

However, soft skills are often neglected during training - they’re more intangible and difficult to teach.

While the presence of these traits will depend on someone’s personality, they should play a key role in your hiring decisions, and they should definitely be nurtured during training.

What Soft Skills Should Restaurants Value the Most?

So what skills do restaurateurs and chefs consider most important?

We posed this question to Glenn Flood, who was the training and development chef with Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen in Melbourne, and a food producer on Australian MasterChef.

soft skills trainingPictured: Glenn Flood

He cited four of the main soft skills he looks for in his restaurant staff when engaging in soft skills training.

1) Communication

Glenn was adamant – communication is the number one soft skill your staff members should have.

This doesn’t only mean having the ability to communicate with customers – it’s just as, if not even more important, to be able to communicate internally. The kitchen is a hot, busy, chaotic environment, and if staff aren't being openly communicative, that can make a difference between a customer getting their meal on time and everything getting backed up.

Proper communication also helps alleviate the natural divide that can occur between your front and back of house.

“The best restaurants I’ve ever seen are the ones that work on their communication tirelessly," Glenn pointed out. "They promote all inclusive environments and have training and mentoring in place to help create a harmonious workplace.”

soft skills training

How You Can Encourage This Soft Skill

While some managers will rule their restaurant with an iron fist and bark orders to get things done, that isn’t going to encourage an atmosphere of open communication.

Ask staff to speak out if they're having trouble putting together a dish or dealing with a table. Praise workers who are willing to speak up about mistakes. It's better to be aware of problem areas early so you can work around them.

2) Initiative

At the end of the day, you’re running a business. You depend on sales. And if your staff don’t have the soft skill of initiative, then you’re going to run into trouble.

When it comes to customer communication, servers must have the confidence and drive to make sales a priority.

“You don’t necessarily want someone who is just responsive,” Glenn said. “You want someone who... will go the extra step and ask, ‘Oh, would you like something sweet with that coffee? We do a fantastic croissant.’ The customer might not take them up on that offer, but they will appreciate the help.”

soft skills training

How You Can Encourage This Soft Skill

Create an environment where trust, initiative, and taking risks are rewarded. After all, your servers and kitchen staff are the ones in the trenches every day. They know the pulse of the business in a way that you don’t, and their feedback could end up benefiting your daily operations in ways you haven’t even considered.

Some businesses use chat platforms like Slack and Facebook as employee feedback forums, which helps create a strong sense of community. There is so much technology out there that can help you bring out the initiative in your employees – don’t be afraid to use it!

3) Organization

Small details mean everything in a restaurant.

  • If someone isn't detail-oriented, they won’t see a thumbprint on a glass.
  • If someone isn't efficient, they won't get a meal plated on time.
  • If someone can’t prioritize, they will be harried when they serve tables in their section.

“Team members need to be able to set expectations and be accountable for their tasks,” Glenn said. “Not doing this leads to frustration and, ultimately, bad turnover.”

soft skills training

How You Can Encourage This Soft Skill

People can't develop their organizational skills without feedback.

If someone is falling behind, chat with them about why. Help them set goals and come up with a clear action plan for each shift. For kitchen staff, teach them how to arrange their workspace so they can maximize their efficiency.

Once you’ve got these routines in place, keep checking in with staff to see how they're going, and praise them when you can see their performance improving.

4) A Willingness to Learn

The final thing you will want to look for in your employees is curiosity and a willingness to learn new skills.

People who are open to learning are adaptable, which is a must in the restaurant industry where no two days are the same. These employees are also more likely to have a positive attitude and a willingness to take on extra responsibilities.

But they will struggle if their need to learn isn’t being met.

Glenn believes that good leaders promote a culture of collaborative learning.

“You’re only as good as your weakest link,” he commented. “This is especially important in an industry like ours, which has such high attrition rates.”

soft skills training

How You Can Encourage This Soft Skill

Provide your team with resources that will help them pursue their own learning.

For example, you could give them access to a library of online training videos, which would allow them to explore their own areas of interest. You can give them access to your POS system's online training portal and empower them to train themselves and others. Or you could have a learning library in the break room full of books by famous chefs and restaurateurs.

People are also more encouraged to learn when they are exposed to inspiring people, because this shows them how far they could go. So host fun little workshops or inspiring talks in your kitchen. Invite friends from the industry to do a Q&A and give your staff special access to their tips. Not only will this help them improve their skills and knowledge, but it will also boost team morale.

Soft Skills Training in Your Restaurant

Those are just a few of the soft skills you can focus on developing in your team. Just remember, while hard skills are important, it’s these personal qualities that make the dining experience truly memorable, and that’s what keeps customers coming back to your restaurant!

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