Are You Sure It’s a Restaurant Training Problem?


“No one’s doing what they’re supposed to! I’ve got too many training problems!”

Wait! Are you sure you have too many training problems in your restaurant? Maybe you just don’t have enough restaurant training programs. Or maybe the problems aren’t even connected to training and have simple solutions.

For example, one restaurant owner wanted servers to improve check averages by selling side salads. Everyone would be happy: the owners with the chance for increased check averages, and the servers with the chance for better tips. But the whole plan flopped.

Train on the Right Objective

Management’s first instinct was to require restaurant training on suggestive selling. But a closer look at the situation revealed the real obstacle. When servers sold a salad, they had to stop what they were doing and go to the kitchen to make it. That cut into the time they needed to focus effectively on their other tables. Forced to choose between an increased check average and their ability to cover all their tables, the servers ignored the salads.

In this case the servers knew how to sell. They just decided that they couldn’t sell and still serve well. The problem wasn’t with a training program problem, but a logistical one with a logistical solution. The salads could be plated ahead of time, with dressings poured into ramekins, ready to grab and go. 

Train on What’s Important

Another bottomless pit of wasted restaurant training program dollars has to do with the relative importance of the task being trained. Your restaurant training will be more effective when you start need-to-know topics only. With budgets and margins tight, there’s no room for initial training on may-need-to-know or nice-to-know issues. 

Here’s an example of confusing need-to-know with nice-to-know. One operator required servers to pass a written exam covering every type of liquor and brand of beer and their prices. They also had to know every type of wine, its flavor profile and price. Product knowledge is certainly important, but would knowing all this have a huge impact on the majority of the guests served in the first month of work? Probably not. Now ask yourself how much time and money was spent on the trainer who did the teaching and how much time and money was spent on the trainee doing the memorizing and taking the test on material that may never be used? After all, how many guests look at a menu with wine prices and then ask the server how much a certain bottle costs?

This operator could have decided to focus the training on the 11 top 10 or 15 most popular drinks, the two or three best-selling beers and perhaps two white wines and two red wines. This small sampling would probably be sufficient to satisfy the needs of most guests. And the server could have spent valuable training time honing other skills such as service.

Evaluate the Importance of Training

To evaluate the importance of training a particular task, ask yourself if it’s truly important to making a new hire competent, then think of every aspect of that task in terms of costs. This includes thinking of employee turnover and re-training costs if you scare a new hire away by overloading him or her with information. How many new employees left that operator who thought everyone needed to know the entire beer, wine and liquor list and all the prices within three days of starting?

Never forget that turnover costs money, both in training dollars spent (which are now gone with the lost employee) and in management dollars, because now a manager has to sit down at the recruiting table one more time, schedule interviews, find the replacement and start the process all over again. So train for the need-to-know situations first. The nice-to-knows will come.

Restaurant Service and Sales Training

The Service & Sales Excellence Waitstaff Training Series is based on Service That Sells!, a restaurant training philosophy developed by restaurant owners for restaurant owners. Click here to learn more.

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