Category Archives: Restaurant Training

Training your restaurant employees: The Art of Effective Training

By Charlie Candelas

Training, both initial and ongoing of all personnel that impact the guest dining experience is the most measurable and telling aspect in the long term success of your business.  The discipline required to insure…

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Quality restaurant guest service

In Southern California there seems to be a Mexican restaurant on every block. Big and small, chains and singular, high end and hole in the wall, they all work hard to survive and thrive.

Certainly, one begins to feel that they are all pretty much identical right down to décor and menu. So, how does one make a restaurant stand out in such a mass crowd?

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Some Like it Hot

When we think of “comfort food,” why is it that we typically conjure up memories of home? Are you thinking of Grandma’s special peach cobbler, or Mom’s Sunday pot roast? It’s not so much that our moms or grandmothers are truly the best chefs in the world (although this is a popular claim), but I have my own theory. Stay with me on this one.

In my profession, it’s normal for me to be on the road 4 out of 7 days a week, therefore I tend to eat out very often. Sure, I have discerning taste but surprisingly, the flavor of a dish served to me at a restaurant is only a portion of what makes me a happy customer in the end.


Think of it like this. My mom’s three cheese lasagna may not taste authentically Sicilian, but everything in her preparation was deliberate, considerate and thoughtful – her main goal was to ensure that when dinner came, I would be served a hot and satisfying meal, ready for me before I even heard my stomach growl. Naturally then, if I ordered my favorite pan seared halibut, what am I going to expect?

For one, it should arrive to me in a timely manner (prompt and courteous service, no less). Secondly, I’m eating my dinner so it’s got to be hot. Have you ever enjoyed a lukewarm or even cold clam chowder? I didn’t think so. And amazingly, of the scores of meals I eat on the road, many restaurants cannot maintain the most basic conventions that mothers across the globe understand, namely, serving food at the right temperature! It’s a no-brainer that still befuddles many establishments.

I truly believe a restaurant’s success lies in giving attention to the details that truly matter in an eater’s experience. Take it from mom and let’s go back to basics, because let’s face it: some like it hot.


It’s All About Little Things

We are continuously discussing customer services, restaurant training and the higher standards for which any restaurant business should be striving. There is never a time when customer service standards should be compromised or sacrificed for something else.  Since I am always harping on this issue, I won’t spend time going over the value of restaurant training or standards of customer service again.  However, I want to emphasize the importance of those standards in today’s restaurant business environment.

Take a minute and look around.  People are busier now than they have ever been. People have more choices for their goods and services than ever.  It is your job is to make certain that you are THE choice more often than not.  It comes to the forefront because I had a reminder lately of how important those standards of customer service are.

I read of a fellow who recently purchased gas twice in two days.  The first day, being in a hurry, he drove to a station where the price was a little higher than the place across the street.  It was easier to get in and out of this particular station.  The person working there was friendly and even told the fellow that if he purchased at least twenty dollars of gas, then he would be eligible for a free coffee or bottle of soda.  It may not sound like much, but for a guy who forgot his coffee at home it was a nice surprise.

The next day as this same individual went to fill up his wife’s car, he thought about going across the street because it was a little cheaper.  Then, he recalled the service received from the other place the day before and found himself turning in there almost without even thinking about it.

Sometimes we forget that most people, while they want the best deal possible, also want to be treated right and made to feel special.  A simple, free cup of coffee made this person forget the high price of gas, if only for a moment.

Your Restaurant Business should strive to find those little moments of customer service that make all the difference.


Pinot What?

Your restaurant might not call for a sommelier but even if it carries a modest wine selection, you may consider giving your servers a crash course in Vino.

Olive Garden, for instance, has gotten a bump in their revenue thanks to their strategically crafted “Steps of Service”.  Every server has to fulfill these steps throughout the entire service process and it includes informing diners, when first approaching their table, about the house wine availability and characteristics.  During this step they provide a brief description of the wines and offer the guests a sample tasting.  Using this tactic, they’ve been able to significantly increase wine sales and improve guest satisfaction scores.

Usually training sessions don’t involve teaching the wine basics to servers.  This oftentimes results in them falling within a comfort zone where they get used to recommending what we like to call “foolproof wine”; the one most clients would drink without sending it away.  But your restaurant probably has much more to offer.  Why not share this information with your staff?  Bring them up to speed as to what’s in the cellar and you might be surprised with the outcome.

What they need to know:

  • Start with the basics: Teach them what goes with what.  Make their lives easier by pairing your wines with elements in your menu.  It is as easy as explaining why fish goes with white wine and beef goes with red.  There is no need to give them a 70-hour seminar.
  • What’s in a name?  You’re in the restaurant business so you probably know the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, but who’s to say they do?  Explain how the grape and region define the name.  And a correct pronunciation of the wine never hurt anyone.
  • Give them selling points.  When a customer asks ‘what do you recommend?’ it’s nice to be able to throw in a few “nice-to-knows” to the answer.  Maybe they produced a small amount of cases of certain wine or it was a celebrity’s favorite selection.  Google your wine list to discover interesting bits to share.
  • Make it fun.  Just as with a classroom setting, involve your staff in their education process.  Ask them to do a little research on the wine list and have them bring a different fact each week to review and post in a designated area.  It can be as simple as explaining the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine.
  • Learn from successful tactics.  If Olive Garden is offering a wine tasting and has gotten favorable results, why not join in this clever trend?

Over time your servers will feel more confident with their jobs and even learn a thing or two along the way.  Even if you only have house wine available they can tell the customers what makes it so special and make a huge difference in their dining experience.


When keeping it Clean, Safety Comes First

Cleaning chemicals can be friends or foes when using them in commercial kitchens. Chlorine, ammonia and iodine are the most commonly used sanitation chemicals but they can seriously harm your employees. To reduce cleaning-related risks, we’ve compiled a laundry list of hazards and how to prevent them.

  • Soaps and detergents can cause skin irritation.
  • Being allergic to latex isn’t uncommon these days, choose non-latex gloves for your workers and play it safe.
  • Nicks, cuts and other injuries can foster an infection from hazardous chemicals.
  • Chemicals like oven/grill cleaners and drain openers can cause burns to the skin and eyes.
  • Chlorine and ammonia can cause respiratory harm, skin and eye irritation and death, especially if they are mixed together.
  • Advice for your employees:
  • Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as aprons, gloves and goggles when needed, to protect the body from hazardous materials.
  • Mix chemicals to recommended concentrations: strong solutions can be extremely harmful and a waste of money.
  • Never mix chlorine and ammonia since this is a recipe for a highly poisonous gas.
  • Read the labels: follow instructions carefully for proper handling.
  • Label your cleaning products to prevent the risk of mixing the wrong chemical or even worse, poisoning someone.

As a restaurant manager consider training your employees for the proper use of cleaning chemicals and what to do in case of an emergency. Switch to eco-friendly cleaners if possible, they are safer for everyone. Store and dispose of chemicals safely and provide your employees with the necessary equipment to prevent any type of harm or accident.

Become familiar with the “Occupational Safety and Health Administration Standards” to prevent any type of mishap regarding these issues.


Protect Your Core Assets Invest In Staff Training

The restaurant industry is a classic service business.  Winning restaurants are all about hospitality and guest service.  Therefore, the most valuable asset a restaurant “owns” is its employee talent base.  Without proper store level training, neither the best real-estate, most attractive storefront nor the smartest ad campaign are worth as much to the enterprise as protecting and nurturing the talent base.

During these economic times training restaurant management and hourly staff may challenge the budget.  Please keep this in mind; restaurant training may be the most critical variable between you and your competition.  Training is the key determinant of success as restaurant operators plot their 2010 strategies to adapt to slumping sales and profits.