Despite an overwhelming number of challenges piling up over the last few years, the restaurant industry has continued to adapt and continue on.
It clearly hasn’t been easy. The restaurant industry was one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, and while restaurants have always had to adhere to an exceptionally high standard of health and safety regulations to protect both team members and customers, the pandemic and supply-chain disruptions made it even harder.1
National regulations continue to shift on a regular basis–and many restaurant operators are looking at mass rehiring situations.2,3 That means it will be essential to train and retrain staff and to have clear plans in place for doing so.
Here are some key considerations restaurant owners and managers should keep in mind when it comes to staff training–both in light of the pandemic and to help us move forward into whatever the future holds.
Top Considerations for Restaurant Staff Training
Prior to the pandemic, 51% of restaurant operators said that staffing is a major challenge–with an additional 35% admitting it’s a notable challenge (even if it’s not the most pressing one on the list).4
From knowing what your training should cover to understanding the right timeline, it can be tough to impart the wisdom to your staff that they need to be successful. While no two training plans will look exactly alike, here are some general tips to follow.
1. Clear communication remains vital
Restaurant staffing needs will remain in flux for the foreseeable future, so operators and managers should take care to make sure their communication with staff is clear, concise, and transparent.
As menus are updated or new health and safety solutions are implemented/revised, make sure staff on and off-premise receive regular updates.
In 2020, restaurant operators learned the importance of a strong digital presence in their businesses and can apply these same principles to their internal communications.5 Private social media groups, a Slack or WhatsApp thread, and weekly staff newsletters are all tools that operators can use to ensure their teams are thoroughly informed.
While team meetings are important, it is also incredibly valuable to provide staff with the chance to talk to their supervisors one-on-one. Reserved team members may want to bring up their concerns privately (if they discuss an important topic, operators can then share clarifications in a generic way through the staff communication channels).
2. Restaurant training should include the whole picture
Whether operators are welcoming new or returning staff, staff education will be key for delivering a safer dining experience for everyone. Staff members in all positions should be provided with holistic training to ensure each individual understands how they fit into the big picture.
Important training topics should include:
Restaurant Information: cuisine, average guest demographic, busy times, most popular menu item, rotating specials, executive chef/owner information
Operational Standards: Staff roles/responsibilities, using the restaurant POS, how servers and other staff interact, food handler safety, explaining what the temperature danger zone, how the menu is chosen, best practices for teamwork between FOH and BOH
There is a careful balance that needs to be struck between demonstration, shadowing, and practice for staff members. It will be the manager’s responsibility to keep an eye on new staff’s progress–restaurant industry veterans may need substantially less demonstration or shadowing time than a newcomer.
3. Foster a positive environment
Kitchen culture has always been notorious in the media (Season One of The Bear, anyone?) and in real life for brewing high-stress spaces. The stakes are obviously high due to food safety and customer satisfaction, but the changing industry landscape is providing operators with an opportunity to create better (and more efficient) working spaces for their entire team. Positive work environments create more engaged staff members-so everyone is set up for success.
4. Make sure the training is restaurant-specific
Many businesses make the mistake of offering generic training that doesn’t address their specific needs. In theory, this is fine-it “mostly” gets the job done.
However, for your training to be as effective as possible–and we’ve touched on this before–you need to make sure it’s tailored to your unique set-up as much as possible.
Restaurant-specific training helps your staff perform their roles more efficiently and effectively. A Chinese restaurant in the Bronx is going to have a different layout, table turn times, and menus than a fast food drive-in restaurant in San Francisco. Restaurant-specific training addresses these unique challenges and situations.
When staff members know precisely what is expected of them, what processes to follow, and how to do it, they are better equipped to take care of customers and their work duties. It also leads to better productivity, allowing you to serve more customers within the same amount of time.
No two restaurants are exactly alike, and a training program that addresses all the nuances of your business will be the most effective.
5. Incorporate customer service and soft skills training
Customer service is the lifeblood of any restaurant business. It is what sets apart average restaurants from the great ones.
From greeting customers to responding to inquiries, the way your staff interacts with your customers defines their dining experience. With the hospitality industry becoming more competitive, restaurant owners, now more than ever, should prioritize customer service and invest in their staff's soft skills.
Soft skills like hospitality, empathy, and teamwork are integral to delivering excellent customer service. When staff have these skills, it can help improve the guests' dining experience. A happy customer is more likely to refer your restaurant to others and return for more meals.
Not only that but incorporating customer service and soft skills training can improve your staff's confidence in relating with customers, resulting in better job satisfaction. When staff feel good about themselves, they are more productive and better equipped to handle challenges. Training can also convey the message that the restaurant owner is invested in their staff's personal and professional growth.
Remember that your staff is an extension of your brand. When they exhibit excellent customer service, they promote your brand loyalty. By training all foodservice professionals on how to reflect positive attitudes and values on the restaurant's behalf, they ensure that customers return for more meals.
6. Educate staff on new technology…
New technology can simplify restaurant operations and enhance operational efficiency.
Digital ordering systems eliminate the need for manual order-taking, which reduces the chances of errors. The automation of these processes saves a considerable amount of time for the staff, which can then be spent on other essential aspects of restaurant service.
However, if staff members are not adequately trained on the new technology, it could lead to delays, errors, and inefficient operation.
7. …And use technology as part of your training
Training your staff in the restaurant industry is crucial to ensure your customers receive the best possible service. However, traditional on-the-job training can be time-consuming, inconsistent, and costly.
With all the advances in technology that have come our way, there's no need to rely on traditional training methods. Incorporating technology in your staff training can provide many benefits and make the process smoother.
Video learning has become increasingly popular as it allows staff members to learn at their own pace. This form of training can be done remotely, which is a significant advantage in a time when social distancing is crucial.
With video learning, you can create engaging content to help your staff develop new skills. You can also create pre-shift training videos covering essential information that all staff members should know.
Another smart move is to digitize training manuals. Putting handbooks online is an excellent way to ensure all staff members have access to crucial information. Online handbooks can be accessed from anywhere, anytime, and can be updated easily. It can also save you money on printing costs. You can use interactive PDFs to make the handbook more engaging, including links, videos, and quizzes to test knowledge.
And don’t forget–there are organizations that can help expedite and streamline your training processes, too. For example, Trust20. We have a variety of products that can help you keep your staff informed, aligned, and productive. From allergen awareness training to food manager products, you can find what you need to keep your team on track.
8. Come up with a training calendar–and stick to it
One of the most effective ways to keep your staff up to speed is by creating and sticking to a restaurant staff training calendar.
It all starts with orientation. Your orientation should introduce them to the core values and expectations of the restaurant. This is an excellent time to go over safety procedures, menu items, customer service expectations, and any basic kitchen skills they'll need to know.
After the initial orientation, you'll want to offer ongoing training opportunities for your staff. This could include a monthly or quarterly training session on topics like new menu items, time management, customer service, and more.
These sessions could be conducted in-house by experienced staff members or could be provided by outside trainers. Either way, providing your staff with the opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge is an excellent investment in the success of your restaurant. Keep track of when and where you want to offer training (and what you’ll cover in them) in a shared calendar so everybody knows what to expect and can contribute.
9. Set goals and check in on them
Setting goals for your restaurant staff is an effective way to motivate and challenge them to improve their skills and performance.
Whether it is improving the speed and accuracy of orders taken, reducing errors in food preparation, or enhancing the customer experience through friendly and attentive service, having clear performance goals can provide a framework for learning, growth, and achievement.
These goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Managers should work with their staff to set goals that align with their individual roles, skills, and areas for improvement and establish a plan for achieving them.
Once these goals are set, it’s important to check in frequently and provide feedback on the progress made. This might include regular performance reviews, one-on-one coaching sessions, or daily check-ins. The important thing is to establish a communication system that provides an ongoing dialogue and support to help staff members stay on track.
This feedback should be specific, constructive, and timely. Celebrate successes and provide suggestions for improvement. Make sure staff members know that they are being held accountable for their performance but also that you are invested in their success.
And remember-managers must also hold themselves accountable for creating a positive and supportive work environment that fosters growth and development. They should actively listen to feedback from staff, provide resources for additional training, and model the behaviors and attitudes they want to see in their team.
10. Make sure team members are cross-trained
Cross-training can be beneficial for both the restaurant and its staff. It provides opportunities for staff members to learn new skills and take on new responsibilities. These opportunities can increase staff morale and help to reduce staff turnover. If staff feel like they have a future in the restaurant, they are more likely to stick around.
In this age of staffing shortages and unexpected wrenches thrown into the cogs, cross-training also ensures that you always have adequately trained staff available. If a staff member is unable to work, cross-trained staff can quickly fill in for that position.
Cross-training ensures that every single team member understands the importance of every role within the restaurant–and with that knowledge and confidence, they are more likely to cover for co-workers when needed.
11. Include opportunities for mentorship and shadowing
The restaurant business is a fast-paced and dynamic industry that requires team members to be proactive and think on their feet.
By providing new staffers with opportunities to shadow veteran staff, they can experience the practical aspects of their roles first-hand. This provides them with a better understanding of what’s expected of them and what they need to do to succeed in their roles.
12. Safety first
Safety must be integrated into every aspect of your training plan. Creating a comprehensive safety training plan could help reduce accidents and protect your staff, customers, and the establishment.
Again, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. It needs to be tailored to your set-up.
Start by identifying the safety risks present in your establishment. From slips and falls to electrical hazards, ensure that your staff is well-informed about the risks and dangers that come with their jobs. Train them to use safety equipment, perform safety practices, and respond to emergencies in a prompt and calm manner.
Safety in the workplace depends not only on the protocols but also on the culture within. Encourage your staff to prioritize safety in everything that they do. Remind them of the importance of proper sanitation, handling of equipment, and prompt response to emergencies.
Reward policies and programs that encourage your team to become safety advocates. By looking out for one another, you can reduce the likelihood of accidents in the workplace.
It would be a mistake for operators, managers, and chefs to act like it's business as usual as we proceed into the future. The ripple effect of the pandemic touched every aspect of each person’s life, and there is no telling what a new or returning team member has experienced over the course of the last few years.
While the industry upheaval has been overwhelming for operators, the struggle has been felt by every single person. Approaching restaurant team member training with clear communication, strategic infrastructure, and empathy will create foundational strength among teams and allow the business and industry to be revitalized for the long haul.
And while it might be challenging to have to rethink or overhaul your staff training protocols, remember–it will pay off in the long run. Once you have a solid plan in place, you can adapt it as needed to adjust to whatever the future holds.
Most importantly, remain optimistic. The pandemic may have dramatically changed the face of the restaurant industry, but many of us came out of it stronger than ever–and with the confidence gained from lessons learned and experiences we had along the way. With the help of Trust20’s products, you and your staff can handle whatever might happen next!
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in March 2022 and has been updated for accuracy and to provide foodservice professionals with additional insights.
- Ryan McCarthy: State of the foodservice industry addressed in NRA report
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- Toast: Restaurant Success in 2019 Industry Report
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- Kristina Martic: Building a Positive Workplace Culture: Importance and Best Practices