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July 16, 2019 Ask the Experts: How Can I Improve Onboarding and Training for Restaurant Staff?

onboarding/training new restaurant staff

Imagine. Every time you hire a new employee at your restaurant or bar, a training team swiftly arrives.

They know the ins and outs of your business – and the foodservice biz in general. As the manager or owner, you’re still involved in the process, but this training “A” team takes care of the legwork: from orientation to onboarding, and beyond.

Sounds expensive, right?

Prepare for sticker shock, of the good kind.

Bob Duprey, owner and founder of Restaurant Playbooks, has developed a turnkey online training system that significantly reduces the time and expense involved in planning, development, and delivery of onboarding and training restaurant staff. Bob has worked in almost every position in the restaurant biz, where he began at age 15. Later on, his career took a turn into online training, where he developed 3D simulations, training games, and mobile learning for Fortune 500 companies including Burger King, Dunking Brands, and Subway.

Bob generously agreed to share what goes into developing an effective plan for onboarding restaurant staff. His strategies can work whether you utilize e-learning for your team, or decide to go with a DIY method. Ready? Let’s dive in…

Buzztime) Your company revolves around training restaurant staff, so it’s clear that you think it’s very important. Why is that? Can you give us a quick example?

Bob) First impressions matter in this business.

It’s not just about what customers think of you. It’s the impression you give a new hire, the first day on the job. Let’s say you just hired a new bartender. She’s excited about her first day. But she walks in and the manager doesn’t greet her, in fact, he’s too busy with inventory to spend any time with her, so he asks her to just shadow another bartender.

She’s thrown into a new, potentially hectic environment and doesn’t know what’s going on. Her morale is low…and it’s day one. How long do you think this new bartender is going to stay on? Is she set up for success…or failure?

After nearly 30 years in the hospitality industry, I believe how you hire, train and onboard restaurant staff will have a huge impact on your turnover, and consistency of your guest experiences.

Buzztime) We’ve heard from some managers at the 2,600 bars and restaurants we work with, that onboarding and orientation takes too much time. So, they’ll just wing it when it comes to onboarding restaurant staff. What do you think about that?

Bob) I get it…100%.

The National Restaurant Association did a study a few years back and found that 9 out of 10 restaurant managers do not have a formal education in organizational development, coaching, and management. I was one of those folks!

At 15 years old, I started as a dishwasher and worked my way up to manager at an independent restaurant. Eventually, I moved into restaurant management for a number of large chains. That’s where I was exposed to formal training plans for onboarding restaurant staff. At the time, having a set onboarding process to follow streamlined everything for me as a manager.

I also understood why so many managers DON’T have a process in place:

1) Onboarding vs. Orientation: First, they may not understand the difference! Orientation is just one part of onboarding restaurant staff. It will take a few hours to a day. Orientation is giving employees “the lay of the land.” It’s reviewing policies, culture, values, and ideally…giving them a training plan and schedule for onboarding. Onboarding is a process that helps new employees acquire new skills and learn new behaviors.  Onboarding restaurant staff is not a 1 day event, but can last for days, even weeks for complex roles or management positions.

2) No Appreciation of Benefits: If you don’t know why you’re investing time and effort into onboarding restaurant staff, of course you won’t see the value. But consider this…according to a Cornell study employee turnover can cost the average restaurant over $150,000 each year. You’re more likely to retain employees who feel like they know their role and your expectations from day one. That’s where that plan for onboarding restaurant staff comes in. A great onboarding plan will get your employees productive, faster and you can ensure consistency for customers – both of these factors will improve your profitability.

3) Chicken and Egg Syndrome: Do you already have a high turnover rate? If so, you might feel that there’s no point in onboarding restaurant staff, because they’re going to leave anyways. But maybe they’re leaving because you don’t set them up for success in the beginning. If you want to stop that chicken-and-egg mentality, try using  this free tool to calculate the exact cost of your current employee turnover rate, and then take steps to reduce it with better tactics for onboarding restaurant staff.  

4) Lack of Time and Knowledge: This is why I founded Restaurant Playbooks in the first place, because today’s bar and restaurant managers are busy and may not have received formal training…in how to effectively train and coach their team. We developed online systems and training based on what works in high performing companies with strong training cultures.

Buzztime) So what exactly goes into a plan for onboarding
restaurant staff?

Bob) The answer is actually in the question you asked…you
need a plan!

At a minimum, here are the 4 elements that I believe go into a really strong plan for onboarding restaurant staff. 

1) Communicate Your Core Values and Culture…and How They Translate in the Real World: Take time to articulate the core values of your restaurant, and then share them as you’re onboarding new team members. A quick note…you as the leader must live out these values and reflect them in your policies. Otherwise, you’ll create a cultural dissonance.

According to a Harvard Business Journal article, this disconnect – between what you say and what you actually do – is one of the factors that leads to high turnover. For example, if your core value is that “every guest leaves happy,” you want to empower your staff by telling them exactly how they can do that! How will they handle guest complaints? Do they need to check with a manager or do they have a framework they can use to make decisions on the spot?  For example, can they comp desserts or drinks based on a certain set of circumstances?

2) Create a Schedule for Onboarding Restaurant Staff: Map it out for them in advance, so every hour is accounted for. No worries, you don’t need to “babysit” this staff member all day. That’s where structured shadowing and online learning can come to the rescue.  

3) Plan Introductions: When you create the schedule for onboarding restaurant staff, it should include planned introductions to key employees like your heart of the house team. Don’t burst into the kitchen and “surprise” your chef with an impromptu introduction.

4) Know Your Role: Allocate time on the schedule for checking in with your new staff member, this sets up a pattern for positive coaching in the future.

At Restaurant Playbooks, we provide customizable templates and roadmaps that our clients can fine tune for their own business. In fact, I’m happy to share a free onboarding template – just contact me and I’ll send it to you.

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Buzztime) Can you share some examples of effective training methods for onboarding restaurant staff? For example, do you recommend quizzes or tests?

Bob) In general, you want to approach training as an
ongoing process and NOT an isolated, one-time event.

Studies show that within 30 days of a training session, up to 90% of what someone learned during that session will be forgotten. However, if the learner is provided with ongoing training, when combined with putting what they learned into practice, their retention will increase.  Think back to when you used to cram for an exam; same thing.

The ultimate goal of training is to turn what is learned into a behavior that becomes second nature. So, when onboarding restaurant staff, you want to present a lesson or skill – and then give your new employees a chance to put it into practice over time.

Quizzes and tests are a great way to reinforce new information as you’re onboarding restaurant staff. But steer clear of basic “true or false” or “pick the correct answer.” These question formats can involve guesswork. Instead, help your team process new information by asking them to interpret it. Give them a situation, like a customer who arrives 30 minutes late for a reservation, how would they handle it?

One more thing: in my work in the e-learning industry, I saw numerous studies that prove the power of “short and sweet” learning sessions. Don’t try to cram in a ton of information as you’re onboarding team members. Keep training sessions short, sharp, and focused. Then, provide worksheets or online learning materials that staff can work on between training sessions.

Buzztime) For someone who is still not convinced that onboarding restaurant staff is important or that they just don’t have time for it, what would you say to them?

Bob) I’d say this: The most successful restaurants have a framework for creating an experience that brings guests back again and again. Without onboarding and training, this will not happen consistently, with every guest, at every table, on every shift!

I’m a big fan of the Disney Way. Back in the 90’s I hosted a group of restaurant owners and we attended the Disney Institute. Disney’s approach to recruiting and training their cast, and delivering memorable guest experiences, is world class.

Whether you attend the Disney Institute, or read books by hospitality industry legends like Isidore Sharp (Four Seasons), J.W. Marriott, and Danny Meyer, you will see a trend in the value they place on selecting the right people, and developing them.

When you back that philosophy up with systems, tools and processes that managers can easily implement, you have a winning formula for reducing turnover, while improving the quality and consistency of the guest experience.

When I started Restaurant Playbooks, I took a similar approach. Together with subject matter experts in hospitality, we created 5 “playbooks” that involve key dynamics of a successful restaurant including: hospitality culture, recruiting, onboarding, training and coaching, and developing front-of-the-house sales pros.

Essentially, our playbooks help to transform restaurant managers into leaders and coaches, so they can develop their own team of A players. We include processes, training, and customizable templates, and a step-by-step framework for implementing proven tactics. It takes the guesswork out of creating an exceptional hospitality experience. Because every restaurant is different, the templates and tools are customizable to each restaurant’s unique culture and style of service.

Buzztime) Thank you so much for sharing your insights on training and onboarding restaurant staff. If folks are interested in learning more about your Restaurant Playbooks, what are their next steps?

Bob) Reach out to us! We can provide a demo, case studies, and even portions of our playbooks to show restaurant managers how we can help them achieve results. Restaurant Playbooks is based in Denver, Colorado, so we’re also happy to meet with anyone in the area.

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