Training new employees is tough. You want to make sure they sync with the current staff. You want them to feel comfortable enough to provide excellent customer service. You want to equip them with the best tools, literally and metaphorically, to do their work at a high level. Starting over from scratch every time you add a new person is volunteering to take that boulder from Sisyphus. And that, dear friend, costs you time, money and resources! Don’t do it. Instead, build up a system, even if it’s a just a skeletal one.
Living in the future has not proven to be the hoverboarding happy-funland we might have hoped for. Yet even in the bladerunning dystopia we are muddling through, there are some upshots. Namely, templates on the internet. That’s right: One bright side is, you no longer have to create, or remember, or pay consultants! A quick googling gets you 3 million-plus results for restaurant training onboarding.
What’s that you say? You’re very busy and understaffed and don’t have time to sort through 3 million options? Fair. Luckily, bright side No. 2 is that you have to do this only every few years, depending on how much you change in-house. Bright side No. 3 is we’ve done the hard work for you. And bright side No. 4 is that this is a cherry-picking situation. Take what works for you and toss the rest, no hard feelings.
A (Relatively Painless) Restaurant Onboarding Process
So there are the (formerly 4) C’s of onboarding, which keep getting expanded to the point of no longer being catchy, but helpful nonetheless: Communication, Compliance, Clarification, Confidence, Connection, Culture, and Check-back. Which is fun, sort of, and obvious, kind of, but either way a list to keep in mind as you work through the nit and the grit. Lists are your friends, in any event. Getting the onboarding right is a low-key pro move to help reduce your staff turnover.
We know you’ve done the work to hire people who have the qualities and experience you were looking for, and you communicated your needs to them as well. You can get lost in the weeds of onboarding best practices as many of the “how tos” weren’t written for the fast-paced restaurant industry. It’s very easy for your eyes to glaze over at the idea of a 90-day training plan. Ninety days? That’s senior staff by some standards! Jokes aside, a culture of check-back is a healthy way to keep your staff happy and feeling valued. It’s amazing how much power the words “you good?” have when you actually stop and listen for an answer.
The Restaurant Employee Onboarding Checklist
tax things (W-4/I-9/etc)
HR practices and policies
(topics are going to range widely, so build yours needed)
reverse shadow shifts
Ok, with that in hand let’s start.
Front of House Restaurant Training 101
Paperwork is pretty self-explanatory. It is helpful to go through the manual together, if for no other reason, it’s likely the only time they will read it. This is your time to instill (and distill) the important points. Covid regulations change like the wind these days so make sure you are giving out all the info your new staff needs. PPE? Temp check protocols? Vaccines?
This is the info dump/communication part of the onboarding process. It can seem rote, but it’s critically important. Make sure your new hire is tuning in and retaining what you say.
If for some reason you don’t have your HR documents in place, it’s time to cobble some together. Every manual doesn’t have to be Ulysses, just a rundown of important rules. Menu descriptions are harder if you change your menu often, but all it takes is one fastidious employee who likes to nerd out on food and they can keep on top of that for you.
Orientation is your chance to convey the culture of your restaurant. Is it serious or playful? Does the chef demand a certain call back? What are the major no-no’s and wrinkles in your operation? Set your hire up for success. Point this stuff out in person and in the manual (if for no other reason than to remind them there is a manual). Remember that what may be obvious to you, a person spending all your time in this building, is not going to be obvious to a new person who has just walked in off the street. Over-explaining may seem tedious, but it’s usually worth it in the end. So go ahead and over-explain. That is, explain, and then explain again. Over again, if you must.
Literal training takes place on the move. Assign shadow shifts with trusted employees and kitchen shifts to watch the food, with menu descriptions in-hand! Depending on how serious your food is, this may take a couple shifts. Adding a food-running shift will expose the trainee to the food, the kitchen, and the table and position numbers. Follow that with reverse shadow shifts, so that they can get course correction in real time, early on. Here’s where you have to weigh your personnel needs and the speed of your trainee’s uptake. It’s easy to spot a seasoned vet and to throw them in the frying pan. For their sake, resist this temptation.
If you are running your training phase correctly, your new hire will let you know when they are ready for the fire. An open and honest review is meant to help you and the newbie set up for a great first shift. If you make it clear they won’t be admonished for saying “I need another day” you’ll get a better-prepared employee! Too frequently someone who clearly “knows what they are doing” gets a solo section before they should. Too many of us in the industry have had this done to us and have, in turn, done it to others. If you really can’t afford to lose another day, a small section and the promise of support can go a long way toward easing your new employee into their job.
This is also the best time to establish that check-back culture. The last thing you want, having gone through all this trouble, is for the person to begin concealing problems from you. Because once they walk out, you’ve got to find another new hire, and start again from the top.