In any industry, it is important to train employees properly if you want to get the best investment for the wages you pay. This is particularly true when it comes to restaurant staff since you need your servers to be eagerly and effectively pushing high-margin items and your bussers safely carrying trays full of food and dishes. You also need your team as a whole to work well together. While there are a lot of ways to train your staff, sometimes games can be the most effective because they make the process fun and engaging for everyone.
Restaurant Scenarios for Training
One of the most effective of all restaurant server training games is simply role playing. Ask a few experienced servers to pretend to be a table of customers and then have your new employees practice waiting on them. Start out by building confidence, having the new employees just take orders while trying to upsell items without sounding overly pushy.
After running a few basic scenarios, ask your experienced employees to role play some difficult customers in some more challenging restaurant scenarios for training. One employee could pretend to have an allergy and need help navigating the menu to find something he could eat safely. Another employee could demand special treatment and even ask to speak with a manager. Yet another employee could just act rude and demeaning seemingly for no reason.
These last mock customers may not be as easy for your new servers to deal with and could even scare some nervous employees, but the process will prepare them for real-life difficult customers they will encounter. Be sure to be supportive and tell them what kind of consolations to give to difficult customers and when to let the manager take over for them. Also let them know that while they may run into diners like these, the majority of customers will not be so challenging.
Try "Top This!"
An important skill for a server to have is the ability to describe food in an appealing way that will lure customers into buying extras or specials. Restaurant menu games are a great way to encourage employees to improve on this skill, and "Top This!" is a popular menu game that puts servers against one another to see who has the best skills when it comes to describing your specials.
Start by breaking your team into groups of two and then give each team a menu special that you would like to push that night, week or month. For example, you could choose stuffed mushrooms, shrimp scampi, French onion soup and peach pie. Next, the people in each team will take turns shouting out features and benefits of the item until one person runs out of ideas and loses the game. Using the stuffed mushrooms as an example, employees could say:
Person A: They're loaded with lump crab meat.
Person B: Covered in Swiss cheese.
Person A: With a special blend of spices.
Person B: They're so creamy and rich.
Person A: There's enough for each person at your table to have one.
Person B: They go great with a red wine.
Person A: Only $6.99.
Person B: I like the...uh, uh (Person A wins)
Waiters and bussers need to be great with carrying a lot of things at once without dropping anything. To do this, they need to be good at balancing multiple items and also know how much is too much to carry at once. That is why this plate-balancing contest is one of the best restaurant server incentive games.
To play, lay out a bunch of items that can't be broken, such as silverware, pot lids and piles of sugar packets on Styrofoam or other shatter-proof plates. Place the plates on tables throughout the restaurant. Have your contestants all start by the kitchen and tell them they can take one trip through the floor in order to grab as many or as few things as they want and bring them back to the kitchen without dropping anything.
For each plate they successfully carry back to the kitchen, they get one point, but for every plate they drop, they lose two points. The server with the most points at the end wins.
Blind Taste Tests
Here's one that's great for both your trainees and your chefs. Blindfold the trainees and ask them to name an entree after tasting it. This will not only help your new employees become more familiar with the menu, but it could also provide the chef with feedback and perhaps even some useful critiques. After all, if multiple people think the lobster bisque is tomato soup, then the soup is certainly lacking in flavor.
The Best Recipe
People who work in the restaurant industry often have a fine appreciation for food and drink, and this is a great way to let them show their skills. It can even be a great way to discover that someone working in a completely different part of your restaurant might actually be better suited to a position behind the bar or in the kitchen. This game is also great because the entire staff can participate, both those in the front and back of the house.
Essentially, with these contests, you let each team member compete to make the best cocktail, entree, appetizer or dessert. You can set up rules like a set number of ingredients (the best appetizer made with five ingredients or less) or even specific components (the best cocktail made with some combination of seltzer water, lime, whiskey, rum, grenadine, muddled mint and chocolate liquor), or you can let them go completely wild with their recipes and use anything and everything available in the bar or kitchen.
Because bartenders or head chefs have an unfair advantage in these contests, you might want to exclude them from the competition and ask them to serve as the judges. Alternatively, you can have your bartenders or full kitchen team compete against one another and then have the rest of the team act as judges. Aside from giving the winner a prize, you might even offer to use the winning recipe as a special one night or even add it to the menu.
The "Perfect Check"
This game for the waitstaff isn't so much a training game as it is an employee incentive, but it can be a great way to motivate your servers to boost your sales. In this contest, the first person to present a "perfect check" – meaning one with at least one alcoholic beverage, appetizer, add-on, entree and dessert – wins a prize. To keep things fair, the check has to come from a table with four or fewer guests in order to qualify.
Offer a gift card or bonus to get your servers excited about the contest and don't be worried about the cost because if they're pushing to sell appetizers, cocktails, add-ons and dessert, you're certain to bring in more than you spend.