If You Want Great Servers, Give Them Great Training
Servers are the ones who interact with customers on a minute to minute basis, and most likely know your customers best.
What makes a server “average” or “great”? Half of it comes from personality: Are they able to speak clearly and confidently? Are they able to be personable and friendly even on bad days? Are they able to calmly deal with upset customers? There is a certain personality required to be a server, and it’s not a job for everyone.
Half of what makes a successful server is nature, but the other half is nurture. Having the proper training can turn an “okay” server into a wonderful server. Whether they’re new to the foodservice industry, or experienced servers, they will need thorough training to thrive in your restaurant or bar specifically.
Servers should know the menu inside and out.
If a server goes into service without proper training, they won’t know what ingredients are in each dish, how each dish is prepared, or where your products are sourced from. Customers find this annoying, but it’s oftentimes not the server’s fault they don’t know. You as the owner, or the chef, will know the answers to these questions. But if the server does not, the customer will not. Make sure your servers are trained in the preparation and sourcing of each dish and help them memorize the details. Instead of your servers running back to the kitchen to ask a question, they will know the answer immediately. This gives the customer confidence in your menu.
This includes the wine, cocktail, and beer list. If your restaurant does not have a sommelier who can arrive at a table and give a wine suggestion, the one giving the suggestion will be the server. If they have at least a basic knowledge of the alcohol you carry, what the flavor profile is, and what to pair it with, they can turn an $8 glass of wine into a $60 bottle of wine. And the customer will have a more fulfilling experience.
Being trained in the preparation of each dish will help servers in avoiding certain foods or spices for people with allergies or sensitivities. Customers with gluten allergies will be concerned with the ingredients going into their dish, as well as the preparation: does the food touch any equipment used to prepare food with gluten in it? Make sure your servers are familiar with the back-of-house processes.
Let your staff taste the food.
Customers ask for menu recommendations and the opinions of their servers all the time. But it’s incredibly difficult to sell something you know nothing about. Imagine being a car salesman having never been behind the wheel of the cars you’re selling. Telling customers that something is “good” because the owner or chef said so only goes so far. If your serving staff has sampled all the dishes on your menu, they’ll be able to sell more knowledgeably and confidently. This will also help them retain the ingredient and preparation information.
Listen to their suggestions.
It’s easy to turn down the concerns or suggestions of a server, as they’re generally seen as temporary. But they listen to the complaints and concerns of your customers every day. Listen to their suggestions, and you will improve your customers’ experience. If there are consistent complaints about a dish, a feature of your space, or a facet of service, it will pay off to attend to it. Rather than to consistently get negative reviews.
There are hundreds of “annoying things servers do” lists online, and unfortunately, a lot of these complaints are company policy, and not the intentions of the server. Listen to your staff: if they tell you that customers want to know the price of the specials, let your staff tell them.
Your serving staff can stop negative reviews before they happen.
Sometimes, not everything goes as planned during a service, and problems arise. Your servers are the first line of defense against a negative review or an unsatisfied customer. Have your manager go through practice runs with the serving staff on how to deal with different situations that may arise during service (late food, a wrong order, under or overdone meat). What is the company policy? Are they allowed to take the food back, or take it off the bill? Should they offer a substitution? Are they supposed to get the manager right away, or are they supposed to resolve the situation themselves? Answer as many questions as you can to avoid confusion later. The more prepared your staff is, the more likely they are to handle these situations calmly and effectively.
Negative reinforcement does not work.
That may seem like a given, but in the restaurant industry, negative reinforcement is constant for servers. Yelling at a server or blaming them for a mistake in front of a customer will ensure a quick staff turn-around. Serving is hard work (on your mind, emotions, and body) and sometimes mistakes will be made. If they feel that they will be punished or yelled at, servers may hide mistakes, potentially making a bad situation worse. Your staff should be able to trust that they can come to you or their manager with a problem.
Encourage your staff to be well-prepared for service, and assist them in coming up with ways to better perform their job. Newer staff members will not always remember what is in a dish, or they may give the customer the wrong dish at first. But if you want your newbie staff to eventually be a veteran staff, accept that there will be a learning curve, and encourage your servers to perform better in a positive, mentoring way.
Servers are skilled workers, as deserve to be treated as such.
Servers are often seen as temporary, seasonal, or student workers. Turn-over rates for servers are high. It’s easy to use that as an excuse not to take the time needed to train them thoroughly. If servers are only given basic training, they will treat it as a basic job. However, if they feel that they are an important part of the staff and that they are knowledgeable about their job, they will perform more confidently. This means they’re more likely to stay at a location longer and will be more welcoming and helpful to your customers. Anyone in a position where they feel they have no voice and little understanding of the product they’re selling will seem unsure or nervous. And be more likely to quit out of frustration or lack of interest.
More extensive training is certainly time-consuming, but it’s an investment that will pay off in pleased customers. Given the right training, your summer server may turn out to be your greatest asset.