Losing good employees can kill a restaurant. And no one is safe from this killer, because most restaurants struggle with turnover. The most recent employee turnover rate for restaurants, from 2016, pegged turnover at 73%. But restaurants can fight against staff jumping ship with a great training program that gives new hires knowledge and confidence while keeping veteran staff engaged and fulfilled. Dedicated restaurant training can reduce employee turnover, so you need to make sure you have solid training program in place.

Why restaurant training programs are so important

Proper training is essential for both employees and employers. A study on employee commitment, published in Public Personnel Management, found that proper training decreases an employee’s likelihood to leave a job by 9%.

That 9% number is huge for employers, because according to the National Restaurant Association, restaurants lose an average of $150,000 a year from employee turnover.

The right training turns staff into all-stars

A serving or bartending position is a sales position. One of the most important aspects of sales is confidence. A great sales quote attributed to O.B. Smith is “confidence and enthusiasm are the greatest sales producers in any kind of economy.”

Employees need to feel confident on the floor when talking with guests. By giving them a strong knowledge foundation of the food, drinks, and service style they’re responsible for, they will feel comfortable handling guests. This confidence can result in higher sales, bigger earnings, and a better experience for the guest.

A checklist for training new hires

When bringing on new staff, it’s crucial to get them up to speed as quickly as possible. Having a training program in place is the best way to ensure that all employees are trained properly. Consistency is key in training.

Here are some tips for training new hires.

1. Create an employee training handbook

By putting a handbook together you’ll make sure that all the necessary information a new hire needs is available to them. You also be able to enforce standards and be sure that each new hire received the same training.

Here’s what to include:

  • Employee Conduct Codes: Dress code and uniform details, policies on requesting time off, workplace harassment policies, hours of operation, shift drinks, visiting the restaurant when they aren’t on shift, etc.
  • Restaurant mission statement: Clearly state the values and goals that your restaurant wants to uphold and employees are responsible for maintaining.
  • Food and drink information: Include all menus along with matrixes on tasting notes, ingredients, and allergy information.
  • Steps of service: An outline of style of service and how guests should treat and handle guests during service

2. Schedule time to shadow and observe each area of service

New hires should shadow in different areas of the restaurant so they can see the flow of service and observe the do’s and don’ts of employees. A new bartender should see and understand how the entire restaurant works, not just how the bar operates.

Kitchen: Reserve a training time in the kitchen to observe the line so new staff can see dishes as they come out and become familiar with each plate. They can also see how servers interact with kitchen staff or the chef when asking questions or making requests. Etiquette is important in a kitchen. Schedule this on a slower night so the kitchen has time to answer questions and a new hire won’t be in the way.

Bar: New staff should also work with the bartenders and bar staff. Set a time to observe the service well so they can get familiar with cocktails, the size of wine pours, and the pace of service.

Server Shadow: New staff, especially servers, should spend at least one shift shadowing a lead server so they get a firsthand look at how to greet and interact with customers, ring tickets, communicate with service staff like bussers, and use the point-of-sale system.

3. Food and drink training

One of the most important aspects of training for new employees to learn about the products they are selling in the restaurant.

For food, newly hired staff should get a matrix that lists each dish, as well as the individual components used in each dish. They should be provided tasting notes for the food, as well as helpful upsell information like wine and drink pairings to go with the food.

This information should also include allergy warnings, as well as vegetarian and vegan options. It’s also helpful to provide information on what dishes can modified to avoid allergy issues or diet restrictions, as well as the dishes that can’t be modified.

Once new hires have had the time and experience needed to get familiar with the food menu, they should be tested on it and be required to pass with a 90% grade or better.

4. Bar Training

Drinks from the bar should be treated as importantly as food. Particularly wines by-the-glass, cocktails, and beers. These drinks will generate the most questions from guests, so it’s important that staff can answer them and provide suggestions and insights.

An important facet of wine training in particular is food and wine pairing. A great tool in a servers tool belt is to be able to upsell guests on wine pairings.

The ability to speak confidently and knowledgably about drink selections (and food) will have the greatest impact on sales, and ultimately, the tips that staff earn.

Making good money is the best way to keep staff from leaving your restaurant and finding another job.

Ongoing training for staff

When people think of employee training, the first place their mind goes is training new employees. But training should never end. Restaurant menus change, drink selections are swapped out seasonally, and new, exciting products are always entering the market.

By continuing to train staff you will keep employees engaged and learning, giving them the satisfaction of continuing to grow their skillset and knowledge. Satisfaction should be a goal of ongoing training, so making it fun is key.

Pre-Shift Tastings

Holding meetings before the start of each shift is the perfect place to engage employees and give them something new to learn.

Going over food specials or new items, new wines on the list, etc., is important so staff knows what to sell and can offer guests something new.

To make pre-shift meetings more fun and engaging, allow servers and bartenders to taste the food and even taste new wine and cocktails. Not only is this fun for staff, but will also allow them to talk confidently about new items and speak about them in their own language.

Communication is key for ongoing training. So educating staff and alerting them to new products will keep them informed and engaged.

Supplier and Distributor Tastings

The suppliers and distributors you buy products from are eager to have you sell their products in your restaurant. Many supplier and distributor reps will be happy to come to your restaurant to train your staff on their products. Especially wine, beer, and spirits sellers.

Invite sales reps or supplier educators to come to your bar or restaurant and conduct tastings and education seminars. These can be a lot of fun for staff. It will provide a bonding experience, and of course, give them detailed insights to use to sell items and talk to guests.

Field trips for staff

One of the great features of the current food and drink economy is that food and drink production happens locally. From neighborhood breweries to small farms, your suppliers are closer than ever to you.

Setting up an offsite visit is a great way to engage and reward staff. Take them to a small farm that provides your pork or vegetables. Or a whiskey distillery whose product you stock.

An off-site training won’t feel like a training, and it will be another bonding experience for staff. This brings people closer and gives them a network of friends at your restaurant that they won’t want to leave. It will also build a connection to the products they are selling that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Building relationships with local suppliers is also a great way to create connections with local businesses that will open up opportunities for marketing and events. If you take your staff to a local brewery, you could then do a week of a “Tap Takeover” where you reserve a handful of beer draft lines for the brewer’s beer.

Or if you visit a local farm, you can put on a dinner that features the farm’s products. This builds a sense of community that is ideal for a work environment.

Create a resource library

There are so many great books, online courses, and websites that cover food, drink, and the world of restaurants. A cool thing to provide for staff is a physical library of books and resources that employees can borrow if they are interested in learning more about a topic.

By building a culture that promotes learning and growth, staff will feel more fulfilled by getting value from their employer that goes well beyond a way to earn rent.

Key Takeaways for Training:

  1. Proper training can reduce employee turnover, saving money and time for restaurant operators.
  2. Consistency is key. Make sure you provide proper training to all new hires.
  3. Make it fun. Keep people interested by making training rewarding and a fun experience.
  4. Training never ends. It’s important to make sure you have a plan in place for ongoing training so veteran employees continue to feel engaged.
  5. Foster a community. A great training program will promote a work culture that values learning, growth, and a connection to co-workers and the products you sell.

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