server

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 internal issues.

What is a training a tree? A training tree consists of 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.

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 always make time to answer questions and assure your new staff that they can always come to you with any questions or concerns.

Let us start with the foundation. The company sets up the foundation of core values, vision and mission statements. These must be taught and upheld in all service staff training plans. The foundation is crucial. If you skimp on the foundation and focus instead on building an elaborate restaurant training structure to go on top of it, it’s eventually going to collapse Make sure you invest in setting up the right core values, vision, and mission statement for your restaurant before moving onto anything else.

From there we move to the trunk of the training tree, or 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.

front of house staff

From there we go 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.

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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.

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.

Restaurant Industry Report: Staff Turnover Statistics

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.

Many restaurants make the mistake of having only one training program.

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.

Male restaurant manager writing on clipboard conducting staff training

Last, keep in mind that training never really ends. Once individuals have gone through the training process, remember to 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.

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Christine Lueders grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and started her career as a busser at the age of 16 before being quickly promoted to server. Over the past 30 years, she has worked in every front of the house position - from truck stop cafes to fine dining - married, and raised 2 children. During her time as a waitress, she trained hundreds of other servers, and before long found herself managing a family-owned restaurant with a staff of 40 employees. Since then, she has managed three upscale restaurants, trained multiple managers, and created three waitstaff training programs. Christine also assisted in opening two family-owned restaurants and one corporate restaurant. Throughout her career, she also put herself through college and received a B.A. in business administration with a concentration in hospitality from the University of New Hampshire.