Without a structured guide outlining the responsibilities of each position in the restaurant, training new employees could become one big game of telephone with a lot getting lost in translation.
During my past 30-plus years working in the front of the house at a number of restaurants, I’ve learned that when it comes to running a successful restaurant business, restaurant staff training is of the utmost importance. I have even written a book on the subject: The Secrets to Restaurant Management and Staff Training.
What I’ve found is that utilizing a training tree can make all the difference—it can be the deciding factor between a restaurant that cultivates a strong culture of excellence or one that eventually crumbles under the weight of its own issues.
What is a Training Tree?
A training tree is a network of restaurant staff training programs designed to help individuals perform their jobs to the best of their ability and contribute to the well-being of the team. Everyone works best when they feel like they’re a part of a team and contributing to something larger than just themselves.
Creating a Restaurant Training Manual Using a Training Tree
From each restaurant training program on the tree, individuals should understand how their actions affect others in order to help create a culture of unity, respect, and appreciation. Keep in mind that new hires come with their own experiences and level of knowledge, so be sure to outline your specific objectives and expectations and make time to answer questions.
The company sets up the foundation of core values, vision, and mission statements. These should be taught and upheld in all service staff training plans. The foundation is crucial—if you skimp on the foundation, it’s eventually going to collapse, so make sure you invest in setting it up before moving onto anything else.
From foundation we move to the trunk of the training tree—the information that everyone must know. These items may be about food, computer knowledge, table numbers and location of necessary tools throughout the restaurant.
Think of the trunk as the essential knowledge, abilities, and skills that someone has to have in order to work in a restaurant. They’ll have to know something about food and drinks and understand how to navigate a POS system (or at least be able to learn it). They’ll have to be able to remember orders and carry several drinks and meals at the same time. As any restaurant owner knows, the ability to multi-task is essential.
Next we move up to five different training branches. First, we have the hosts, who must be trained to be well-versed in the restaurant layout, the computer system, and general operations.
Server programs make up the second and third branches, and programs for bartenders make up the fourth and fifth branches. These branches start first with job basics, such as the steps of service servers should follow and how bartenders should count while pouring. The next tier represents programs for individuals who already have the basic knowledge, and who may only need to learn the computer system, menu items, specialty drinks, and the layout of the restaurant.
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Putting Your Restaurant Training Manual into Practice
Many restaurants make the mistake of having only one training program. Employees who have done the job before can become bored and disengaged and they may not show up for the subsequent classes.
The tree itself is representative of the managers, who must bring each part of the team together. While training can primarily focus on the basics of culinary arts, food costing, labor costs, and the like, don’t overlook the psychological aspects of “soft skills.”
Are those skills not just as important? Doesn’t a server’s attitude affect service thereby affect the guest? When managers listen to staff, appreciate all that they do, understand their needs, and make sure they work together, they help the restaurant run more smoothly, have fewer problems, and create opportunities for higher profits.
The ultimate task throughout the training process is to make sure that what is taught is actually enforced. Many times, people go through the training process, only to find out that their new skills are not practiced on the floor or upheld in the office.
It’s also important to keep in mind that training never really ends. Once individuals have gone through the training process, keep up with the learning process. Training and teaching go hand-in-hand and need to be done on a daily basis no matter how long a person is with the company.
As you change and expand your menu, for example, your staff will have to be updated. Any major changes, especially those that are going to require something new of your staff, should be accompanied by clear communication and updated training, if necessary. Setting your employees up for success means continually keeping them in the loop and giving them all the tools they need to not only do their job but do it well.
Maintaining a culture where everyone enjoys their work will have a positive effect on a new staff member, who will be encouraged to join in and become part of that culture. It all starts with the proper training.
Things to Include in Your Restaurant Training Manual
Your restaurant’s mission statement is an expression of your creative vision. In 1-2 sentences, it explains what you do and why you do it—something your entire staff should commit to memory and be reminded of regularly.
The guest experience should tie directly to your mission statement. Some points to address when you explain the ideal guest experience in your staff training manual:
- How to greet guests: Do you want servers to follow a script or go off the cuff and be themselves?
- Go above and beyond: Whether it’s a new guest with a challenging special request or a VIP with high expectations, train everyone on staff to think beyond the customer’s basic expectations (within reason, of course).
- Be genuinely personable: Beyond just being friendly and polite, front of house staff should be aware of opportunities to make genuine connections with guests—even a small gesture like remembering a guest’s name can go a long way.
- Surprise and delight guests: Let your staff know what is and isn’t okay when it comes to adding that extra touch to a guest’s evening—give specifics like what desserts they’re allowed to comp for a birthday and which brand of champagne is designated for an anniversary celebration toast.
The dress code will be different for the host, servers, bussers, cooks, and bartenders, so make sure you clearly establish what type of uniform is expected of which positions. One thing they all should have in common? Non-slip kitchen shoes. (The host may be the exception to this rule in some restaurants.)
Food and Kitchen Safety
Food safety is no joke—the last thing you want is to make a guest sick from eating improperly stored or handled foods. To keep the highest standards possible, make sure everyone on staff (not just BOH) has obtained a food handler’s license. A food safety program, like the one offered through ServSafe, will also provide information for staff on keeping themselves safe and healthy in the workplace as well.
Procedures and Policies
Putting your restaurant’s procedures and policies in writing makes sure everyone is being treated fairly and being communicated with properly. Some things to consider are:
- Time off policy
- Calling out procedures
- Shift swapping policy
- Starting pay and pay raise timeline based on tenure
- Policy for shift meals and consuming alcohol onsite
More Restaurant Staff Training Tips
Hold an Orientation
This doesn’t have to be a formal all-day event, but as the restaurant owner, it’s a good idea to sit with new hires and give them some face time with you—this is especially important if you are not at the location every day, as it allows them to see and get to know you as a person. Tell them about your background, the building’s history, and any other background information you can.
Schedule Multiple Shadowing Shifts
Have your new FOH hires shadow your best servers so they can see what is expected of them during an actual shift. Make sure they are completing their shadows over a variety of different shifts—weekdays, weekends, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and anything in between.
Give your staff a heads up before pairing them with a new hire for server training and instruct them on what to focus on, like showing the new hire how to use the POS, how to complete their sidework, where they can find supplies and stock, and opening and closing procedures.
Hold a Menu Tasting
The more your FOH staff understands the menu, the better they will be at upselling. Hold a menu tasting for new hires that highlights your most popular and profitable items so servers can answer guest questions based on first-hand knowledge.