They are the glue that holds restaurants together. They do not wear pressed shirts and ties, nor do they move around the kitchen in a chef’s coat. They are in charge of preparing team members to work the front lines of a restaurant, whether the front line is at a table, in the lobby, or at a food prep table. Restaurant trainers are the heart and soul of restaurant operations, yet many restaurant operators fail to put the right people in trainer positions.
Restaurant training requires restaurant trainers to wear a combination of hats. Restaurant trainers must be a friend for trainees to lean on during the tedious and highly stressful moments that occur during the course of a long training week. Restaurant trainers assume the role of teacher by possessing both the knowledge and the ability to convey that knowledge. Restaurant trainers must be disciplinarians to ensure that trainees follow all company and government mandated policies. Above all, restaurant trainers are mentors, not only teaching new employees how to do their jobs, but also guiding them towards their career goals.
What Makes a Successful Restaurant Trainer?
You can ask a dozen restaurant trainers what they believe makes them successful and you will most likely receive 12 different answers. Nonetheless, there are common themes that successful restaurant trainers share and the themes all come down to five primary traits.
It does not matter if a restaurant trainer is developing cooks, bussers, or hosts, he or she must demonstrate an extraordinarily high patience level. Restaurant trainers must be patient when trainees do not immediately pick up new concepts, such as how to present daily specials or rotate food inventory. They must be patient during question and answer sessions that will repeatedly review the same training material. They must remain patient whenever trainees carry on conversations during classroom training sessions. Patience is an innate trait, not a trait that someone can learn. Restaurant managers who need to fill trainer voids should seek out the more patient members of their teams.
There is a fine line between contrived excitement and genuine enthusiasm for developing other people. Too many trainers convey a phony sense of energy that most trainees immediately detect. There is nothing worse than having a restaurant trainer who obviously wants to be somewhere else. Restaurant trainers must want to develop new team members. Otherwise, they will go through the motions and develop an uninspired group of new servers or dishwashers. Enthusiasm often entails having a “The glass is half full” mindset.
Your restaurant trainers should have the answers to most, if not all of your new team member questions. While they do not have to be the best at what they do, they must know more than their working peers know. For servers and cooks, this starts by having an impeccable grasp of the menu and being able to suggest food and beverage pairings. Bussers and host trainers will receive many “Where is…” questions, so they must know where to find brooms to clear broken glass and crayons for kid menus.
Knowledge is one thing, but arrogantly conveying knowledge is quite another thing. I have watched trainers ask trainees, “What’s wrong with this picture?” That type of condescending attitude will chase away potentially wonderful additions to your restaurant team. It may be about what your trainers know, but they also must know how to deliver the content.
Restaurant trainers face ever changing training environments. Restaurant trainers will have to deal with malfunctions, such as DVD players breaking down and training manuals missing a few pages. These are simple problems to overcome. What separates restaurant training from other types of work related training is the time trainees spend waiting on guests or cooking from kitchen stations. Some trainees may be able to jump right in and perform at high levels. Other trainees, especially the ones who have minimal restaurant experience, will not be as confident when it comes to show time. Therefore, great restaurant trainers must recognize where a trainee is on the development path and adapt to address the learning needs that brings lagging trainees up to speed.
Restaurant trainers spend most of their training time verbally communicating with their trainees. They conduct daily classroom training sessions, which typically involve reviewing the previous day’s training materials and learning new concepts. Restaurant trainers should not monopolize classroom sessions, but instead they should involve every trainee in classroom discussions. When they speak, successful restaurant trainers communicate in a concise manner that involves continually backtracking to touch on previously discussed topics. Successful restaurant trainers must also provide clear verbal guidance during the hands on portion of new team member training. This means calmly and directly communicating with trainees on how to improve performance. Successful restaurant trainers must also be able to write daily summaries of their activities and maintain written performance files on every trainee.
The Best Player Does Not Make the Best Coach
Have you noticed that most professional coaches were not even close to being accomplished players in their sports? For instance, many Major League Baseball (MLB) mangers are former catchers and pitchers that did not achieve playing notoriety. However, they possess the traits required to manage and teach a group of professional athletes.
One of the biggest mistakes that restaurant managers make is selecting the two or three highest achieving servers or cooks to become trainers. Many restaurant employees have other obligations outside of work, such as school or second jobs. They do not have the time to commit for properly preparing a new group of employees. Restaurant managers should not assume that their most talented employees want to become trainers. Possessing the fastest cook times or achieving the highest number of add-ons does not translate to having the ability to develop job related skills.
One of the best ways to recruit trainers is to target team members who express a desire to make a career in the restaurant industry. Once you find these dedicated team members, make sure you compensate then enough to encourage them to continue training new team members.