By Mark Moeller | The mission of a restaurateur is to provide their guests with a superior experience. They know that by doing this, the guest will not only come back, but they will also tell everyone they come in contact with, in person and online. In order to deliver that experience, the team must understand the mission and have the tools to succeed. Without those tools, success will not happen. One of the most critical tools to that success is a comprehensive training program.

A new team member’s journey begins at the interview. Internally they are observing and learning; they are watching the way the team is interacting, how they are taking care of guests, what management is doing, what the guests are experiencing and so much more. It is said that we have one chance to make a first impression with a prospective candidate, and it started the moment they applied for the position. By the time the candidate says to someone, “I am here for an interview,” they have made a decision on whether or not they want to work at this restaurant. You see, training isn’t solely paper and procedures; it is setting expectations and managing those expectations. The ability for a team member to deliver falls squarely on the operator to be consistent and, more importantly, to be involved.

Chain restaurants have always been praised because of the training programs they have developed, but how many of us have been to a chain restaurant with poor execution? Having a program is vital; a restaurant needs to have a solid foundation in which to build and maintain a team. That program, no matter how complete, is only as effective as the person or team that executes it. I dare to say that we have all had great experiences when visiting a chain, but we have had plenty of substandard ones too. That is not because the training program was any better or worse; it is because the execution and expectations of that management team were somehow different. Perhaps upper management isn’t paying close attention, perhaps they aren’t focused or maybe they don’t fully understand the expectations. Training isn’t just for the front lines; training is for every person that works with a company, all the way to the top.

If you visit an independent restaurant, chances are that you will see the owner there at some point and they will be working alongside their team. This isn’t always feasible for the owner of a chain restaurant. They generally rely on teams in the field. But even a small amount of time on the frontlines can help them see things from a different perspective and perform at a different level.

This comes back to expectations that are or should be ingrained in a company’s training program. For those who want it, growth is inevitable, though many owners wish to have a single location and execute flawlessly. Either way, leaderships needs to set and manage expectations of what they want both guests and team members to experience. This is done through training. All too often, we spend more time training our guests so that we can understand their habits. We do that because it is a measurable action, one that we can use to increase revenue and profits. Why is it that we don’t apply the same focus and energies to training our teams? Data can be gleaned through every aspect of the profit and loss statement to understand the ROI of flawless execution.

For example:

  • Cost of Goods Sold: This can teach us how well we purchase and price our menus, as well as what our actual vs. theoretical usages are, how much product (raw and finished) is being wasted, overproduction, underproduction and inventory levels, to name a few.
  • Labor: Whether you’re understaffed or overstaffed is obvious when looking at labor from just a percentage basis. If we dive into this number, we need to ask: How many labor hours are being used, and are they sufficient to properly run this location? Is the team fairly compensated for where they live vs. where they work? Is the right skill level being attracted to want to work at this location?
  • Operating expenses: Are we spending enough to keep the restaurant clean? Are we paying for linen on a usage or inventory basis? Utilities, pest control, office supplies; knowing where you stand on these things can tell you varying levels of detail that is in some way foundational in your training programs.

As I mentioned before, training isn’t just for the hourly team members. It is for management, too. Ask yourself, when is the last time I provided any level of ongoing training to my management team, formal or informal? Training is a lost art and often one of the first two pieces cut as soon as revenue and profitability decrease. The other piece is marketing, but that is a discussion for another time.

I believe some operators make a conscious effort to remove training from their day-to-day tasks, either because management runs out of time during the course of the day to execute training steps, they don’t know how or they lack the tools and guidance.

The first reason, running out of time, used to be more about time management skills. Now we can see the direct correlation to the staffing levels of the restaurant. In today’s environment, managers are empowering their best team members to train the new team member with little follow up on the managers’ part. The assumption is, “They are with my best team member so they will be trained correctly, I need to focus elsewhere.” They forget, there is a trickle-down effect that often comes into play. The trainer says, “We are busy but I will assume that my manager will support me and pick up the pieces I miss or overlook.” We all know what happens when one assumes.

In theory, the approach that my “best” team member will be my best trainer makes sense. We have to remember that making an introduction and saying you are in good hands is not enough. Through the introduction we need to explain why we are pairing the new team member with this particular individual. We need to explain to both the trainer and the trainee what you expect from today’s training (setting the expectation). During the course of and after the shift, management needs to check in with both trainee and trainer to understand how training is going and if the expectations are being met (managing the expectations).

Training programs are rooted in systems and structure. Systems and structure need to be documented with checks and balances. We do this for financial reasons, why not for operational reasons too? Owners and Upper Level Management need to stay connected to the restaurants they oversee. Connection happens through oral and written communication, but one cannot forget the impact of walking into a restaurant to experience what the team experiences. One of the most powerful statements in my corporate career was when a Regional Manager walked into the fast food restaurant I worked with and asked me, “How can I help you?” She asked me this after spending an hour working alongside my team packing guest orders. She led by example and made sure we knew that she was invested in our success.

The old adage “knowledge is power” has always been representative in how we operate in the hospitality industry. A properly trained team is unstoppable. The ability to focus, work together and deliver an exceptional guest experience is priceless.

Training doesn’t have to be complicated or overbearing; it needs to be clear and concise. The message needs to be consistent, supportive of the company’s mission. It must be embraced by every member of the company; no one should ever say that’s not my job, regardless of title. Restaurants excel when the team is moving in the same direction, together. I challenge you to look at your business, without ego. Ask yourself two questions: Have I set the expectations I wish everyone to follow, including myself? And, how well have I communicated those expectations?