Training Outside the Box!
Restaurant owners wouldn’t be owners if they didn’t know everything about every position in the business. While that is certainly true, owners/managers are not always able to make sure that training is being handled in the way that is the most productive and profitable. In fact, I don’t know of an owner or a manager who can spend more than 10 minutes per day with an individual and expect to accomplish an effective change in attitude and check average. I have been told by more than one restaurant owner that a problem with offering training for wait staff, hosts and buspeople is that owners don't want to believe that their staff may need more training beyond what they have received in standard, in-house training.
Managers hold weekly or monthly staff meetings in which they remind staff to really push those sides and appetizers. Try to get check averages above the usual $9 per person, do your side work, pick up trash if you see it laying on the floor, be a team player, don’t run with scissors, etc. They have heard it before; they’re not going to listen this time either, because they know all of that.
Growing up on a farm in the Midwest, when my father told me to go rake the hay across the road, he didn’t just tell me to take a particular tractor and go to it. He went with me to the field, went a couple of rounds with me to show me the best way to get the job done, stayed with me while I did a round and then left me to it, all the while telling me why and how this and that turn was effective. All of that probably took an hour to do. But he felt sure that I was doing the job the way it should be done and he could go about doing other fieldwork, etc. Now, I knew how to start the tractor and pull the rake across the road and into the field, but had he left me to my own methods, he would surely have lost some valuable hay. I was made aware of how I would affect my own standard of living by how well I did my job in that hay field. There was a very definite chain of events that would occur if my father hadn’t taken the time to make me aware of all I could do to make sure that hay was properly raked.
Likewise, the kind of attention to detail you give your servers can be the difference between a $12 per person check average and a $13 per person check average, and even more when they really get into it. The point is your staff knows how to take orders and serve your guests. You wouldn’t have hired them if they didn’t. However, if your staff is made aware of how they can affect their own bank accounts by changing the way they view their careers and how they can guide guests through the dining experience, they will want to get in the habit of up-selling. If they are successful, you, of course, are going to benefit from their success, as well.
Most restaurants put a manager or trainer/server in charge of training. They feel confident that it is being handled properly. No one would dispute that fact. Maybe you have books, manuals or videotapes that you encourage your staff to read or watch. That’s all fine and good, but is anyone interacting with them? Is anyone spending quality time with them and letting them practice the routines until they feel comfortable? Sure, they are learning exactly what they are being taught, and that is the menu items, where the coffee is made, where to get bread, etc. They aren’t being taught up-selling and increasing the check average. I guarantee that as soon as they are left to their own devices, they are just getting by.
People come into your restaurant to eat, not to browse and look through your menu and see if you have the entrée they want to purchase. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that waiting tables is the easiest job in the world because of that reason. It’s not like buying a car. People come in because they are hungry and they need to eat. There is no choice in our survival; we must eat. They may or may not need a car. The fun part is guiding their experience and making it enjoyable so they feel like they get more than their money’s worth! They feel compelled to tip their server because he/she has displayed knowledge, charm and true customer service skills, which is really a caring attitude.
Hiring an outside trainer doesn’t mean you are incapable or don’t know enough about your own business to run it; it simply proves a fact that you do not have enough hours in the day or week to accomplish everything you would like to. Practice makes permanent, not perfect. Let’s face it, no one is perfect and, try as you might, you are not going to have a perfect team. But you can come close! You will not lose control of what your staff does; you have the right to tell an outside trainer the goals you are trying to reach with your staff. Two or three hours in a fun, interactive class on a day off really isn’t too much to contribute to the improvement of a career. Make an outside trainer work for you; one certainly wouldn’t want to work against you.
Keep in mind that most people won’t tell you that they like your food but would rather not have to deal with your staff. It’s usually little things that wait staff don’t perceive as significant, or they think that your guests don’t care one way or another how they are served, just as long as they are served! Your guests tell people like me. They tell people who are in the business, but never directly. They may even tell a competitor about their experience. We live in a society where people don’t want to hurt others’ feelings, but they do so at their own detriment. They would rather tell someone else. Statistically, people tell 10-12 other people about a bad experience. They have begun to expect the usual, mundane, just take the order and leave as quickly as possible attitude. Therefore, they don’t tip any more than they feel the service is worth. It is not that folk like I have a superiority complex, we just recognize where there is room for improvement, and we have the capability and time to do something about it! You would probably love to take the time that I can offer to your staff, but let’s be realistic; where are you going to fit that in? In between meetings, interviews, inventory issues, disciplinary action, and the list goes on.
Invest 15 minutes, if that is all you have, to an outside trainer like myself. Take advantage of me and tell me exactly what it is you would like to accomplish with the staff that you have. People who are offering you a service are going to be as accommodating as possible. Your staff will come back with more tools to make more money. I can’t lie to you; this takes time. It will take some cheerleading on your part. Bad habits are hard to break. It is proven that people, when breaking one habit, will replace it with another habit. Why not make it a good habit?
Last but not least, if you are skeptical or you don’t want to send your people into a class without first checking it out for yourself, ask if you can attend a class and observe. I welcome the opportunity to show you first-hand what I will do with your staff. What you will find is that you know everything I cover in a class. You may know more than I cover in my class. What you don’t do because you don’t have the time is interacting and working with them the way I do. Imparting that information to your staff is much more difficult in the restaurant because there are so many distractions. Sometimes servers are intimidated by your presence. Sometimes they are intimidated by guests and don’t feel comfortable trying out new things in front of them, so they never move out of the “order-taker” mode. In my class, they get to practice with their peers, not guests, so there is really no fear of failure, no fear of losing tip money. Even if they only sell one more dessert or one more drink per check, that is, at the very least, a $3 increase per check! You do the math. How many covers do you do in a whole business day? How long will it take for that class to pay for itself? My math says not very long. Train outside of the box and see how much more money can be made.