How to Engage and Train Your Restaurant Workers Effectively

There are over one million restaurants in the US. Annual sales reach $799 billion. It is forecasted that by 2026, there will be approximately 16 million people working in the restaurant industry, suggesting tougher competition in the future. But it’s not just about winning over customers’ hearts and turning them into patrons; it’s also about cooperating with your employees and engaging them to progress as a business together. Only with a strong and dedicated team of professionals and enthusiasts, is it possible to achieve success both in the quality of your service and the ability to stand out among your competitors.

Unfortunately, the restaurant industry is infamous for its high turnover rate, rising from 66.7% in 2014 to 72.1% in 2015 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Staff leave can cost restaurants up to $15,521 per employee. Two things that can improve employees’ morale and decrease the turnover rate are a healthy environment and effective ongoing training.

Steps that have proven to motivate employees in service industry

1. Manage the right way.

It’s not a secret that working with other people can cause stress, especially when the motto is “The customer is always right.” That’s where poor management practices can lead to employee burnout and actual quitting. Your employees need managers who can set clear goals and provide support, ongoing communication, and recognition for the job done. Besides, manager’s responsibilities shouldn’t be constricted to interaction with employees only when a problem needs to be fixed—negative feedback won’t give any motivation. Give your employees credit for hitting goals, offer small-talk practices so that your staff can share with their colleagues how they managed to deal with a difficult situation. Listen to and teach them to ask questions.

2. Detoxify training.

When your employees are stressed out about training, it can’t be effective. Sending your new waiter home with a menu, hoping that he will learn everything by tomorrow is not practical. Leaving your inexperienced barista all alone during rush hour with “sink or swim” advice isn’t realistic. Your training should simplify work, not make it even harder. Since your staff doesn’t have much time to dedicate to training, your program should binge microlearning and just-in-time training, allowing your employees to learn at their own pace and get only the information they need. A well-trained staff will feel confident in their duties that, in turn, will improve the level of customer service and enhance overall employee morale.

3. Ensure employee safety.

According to research, 10% of restaurant workers are subject to depression. Moreover, 15% of female employees experience at least one episode of depression per year. Crazy schedules, personal issues, and demanding customers might knock your employees off-balance. That’s why managers need to address mental health training to help their staff deal with ongoing challenges. Another issue is that 90% of women and 70% of men experience some form of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. The manager’s responsibility is to ensure that their restaurant workers don’t accept it as a part of their job and that they can safely report existing issues through internal communication and training channels. If your employees feel unsafe, they are likely to leave.

Todd Edman, CEO at Waitrainer, maintains that “it is the responsibility of the restaurant to remove the threat, whether it is a handsy man on a business lunch or an aggressive group at the bar. It’s better to lose one sale than to risk getting a bad reputation among restaurant workers.”

4. Offer fair compensation.

If your employees don’t get the financial reward they deserve, they won’t stay for a long. A well-qualified staff that renders services of high quality should be paid accordingly. “The back-of-house staff are typically underpaid compared to the front of the house,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a restaurant industry research firm. Each one of your restaurant workers pays their dues, so fair compensation is the least you can do to show your gratitude.

5. Set clear career advancement goals.

When you hire people, define ways in which your employees can be promoted and help them grow with continuous learning. It is important for both those who work part-time and full-time. Your restaurant workers will be motivated to work hard, knowing that they can work their way up. In this way, they also can serve as brand ambassadors for other potential employees, showing that you value your staff and offer decent rewards.

Three ways to use interactive technology to enhance your restaurant team training

  • Embrace adaptive learning.

In the restaurant industry, time matters the most, and it’s always difficult to fit in some training sessions. Adaptive learning can become an efficient way to ensure effective on-the-job training, as it gives the possibility to access and acquire information anytime, accounting for each employee’s personalized learning path. With the right learning platform, you can only reinforce its effectiveness.

People who work in the restaurant industry know how important cross-training is. As it explains in Waitrainer, “the goal is to build a staff that can pinch-hit in a variety of functions when called upon. Ideally, it allows your business to function with a lean staff, without constant fear of being caught understaffed. You don’t need a great deal of imagination to appreciate when cross-training might come in handy. You just need one Saturday night.”

Just imagine how much time it would take to map out a training program that would include all the necessary information for your staff to learn the responsibilities of their colleagues. But what if the time and budget are limited? How about creating content on the fly? Say you want to introduce a new seasonal menu. Simply, take a video of the chef talking about dishes, ingredients, and any other important information, upload it, and share it with your staff. Voila!

Just have a look at Shake Shack, one of the most successful fast casual restaurants, which introduced the “ShackSource”, a social learning platform for its employees. “Our vision was to engage our team members in the same ways social media does—giving them the ability to contribute their own training videos, to comment on training content, and to recognize each other’s efforts,” says Peggy Rubenzer, VP of People Resources at Shake Shack.

  • Make use of gamification.

Gamification is a great way to engage and train your employees. People are much more enthusiastic about playing games instead of reading manuals or shadowing their more experienced colleagues. McDonald’s and City & Guilds Kineo created a till training game with a goal to improve employees skills while keeping them in a safe environment. They wanted to reduce service time and enhance accuracy in taking orders. Mark Reilly, Head of Learning and Development at McDonald’s Restaurants, says that gamification turned out to be very effective:

“This tool was placed quietly on our crew website with no advertising or direction to the restaurants. The crew found it, played it, re-played it and shared it. Its power was in the fact that it challenged people to try-out and experiment to succeed and improve, which is what the most effective learning is all about. As a business, we have seen significant improvements in customer experience, sales and profit metrics as a result. The success of the project has led to a wider cascade of the till game across European markets, and to the development of further game-based learning to support the introduction of new initiatives across the business.”

  • Introduce VR.

Did you know that Virtual Reality can simplify your overall onboarding process and training? Just imagine; your new hires can enjoy unique experiences with just a VR headset. They can take a tour of the facility, see other restaurant workers in action, and hone their own skills!

KFC, a popular fast food restaurant chain, decided to give it a try. As Eater reports, KFC launched The Hard Way, new virtual reality training simulator. The goal of this simulator was to teach employees how to make its signature Original Recipe fried chicken:

In order to get out of the virtual escape room, employees will have to play as a pair of disembodied hands to demonstrate mastery of the five-step cooking process—inspecting, rinsing, breading, racking, and pressure-frying—all the while being cajoled by a cackling Colonel.

However, KFC states that this game won’t replace the whole training program. “This is intended to be a fun way to celebrate the work KFC’s more than 19,000 cooks do every day in every restaurant across the U.S. in an engaging way.”

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