How to Make Restaurant Training Exciting

In most restaurants, training is more of an endurance test than a measure of skill or compatibility. The hardest part for most trainees is just getting through the training. Classes are often knowledge dumps and training shifts usually become tag-along sessions in which little applicable information is often learned. In many instances, the bulk of the training is dumped off to a trusted server or line cook, who shows the trainee the ropes.

In fact, good training is essential for bringing in competent employees. There’s no better time to indoctrinate an employee on your restaurant’s way of doing business. As one longtime manager once told me, “let’s be sure we show them the right way first; they can learn how to screw it up on their own.”

But since the goal is to find and fashion people to shape the business in your image, a few helpful tips for making training fun are important to keep in mind.

Let Employees Know What’s in it For Them

Motivated trainees are, by far, the best trainees. When new hires know that there’s something at stake from their first day of work – a good schedule, immediate reward, a near-future raise – they’re far more likely to take training seriously. In fact, they must demonstrate that they care about their new job. Giving them a nudge along the way is in everyone’s bets interests.

This can take many forms. Pairing a server trainee with the highest-paid server on a busy night lets the trainee know that there is money to be made on the floor. Making sure a line cook trainee is learning from the chef who worked his way up the ranks emphasizes the rewards of hard work. In either case, employees who see that their work will be rewarded from their first day on the job are more likely to succeed during training.

Have Classes

Classes are only possible in medium- to large-sized restaurants, but they’re a great way to keep training social and keep it moving. Classes cultivate a sense of camaraderie among trainees, in which new hires come together to learn the ropes at the same time. Restaurant employees tend to be social creatures, so lumping them into a group often develops teamwork and keeps training fun.

Classes make it easier for trainers to keep new hires engaged. One method of doing so is by playing games during a break in a long week of training. Here are a few examples:

  • Blind Taste Tests: Blindfold a trainee and ask him to name an entrée after trying it. Teaming up and keeping score keeps the game moving and builds menu knowledge.
  • Role Playing: Letting server trainees wait on employees or fellow employees builds confidence and helps work out the kinks. It’s helpful to let trainees evaluate each other’s performance and explain what they did well.
  • Team Quizzes: Trainees team up and keep score, Trivial Pursuit-style. Questions range from menu item ingredients to the physical address of the building, with bonus points for stealing questions from the other team.

Smaller restaurants have a hard time holding classes. But having recent training graduates or other employees sit in on training or help out can help new hires feel welcome from the first day of work.

Don’t Overwhelm

Prioritizing the training material is an underrated step in what usually amounts to a week- or ten-day-long training crash course. Trainees often speak of having so much to learn, or being flooded with a data dump. This can inhibit the practical application that’s necessary when crunch time arrives, forcing new servers to learn on the fly.

Learning still occurs after training is over, so don’t worry if a new hire doesn’t know the fax number or can’t remember where the arugula comes from. Knowing the menu, the steps of service, how the POS terminal works and where everything is can often be a great foundation for new servers. Repeated exposure to entrees and a handy recipe book can be all a new line cook needs to succeed.

Mix it Up

Be sure to avoid assigning trainees to the same tasks each day. If possible, allow them to stand in the window one night and help the bussers the next. Let kitchen trainees prep the back line one afternoon and work the fryer the next. In the end, mixing it up keeps trainees on their toes and ready for action when they’re on their own.