Training restaurant staff doesn’t have to eat up a lot of time, but shortchanging the process will come back to bite you, affecting food quality, customer service and staff morale. Train to build competence and confidence. Train to create a positive working environment and a pleasurable experience for guests. Train to retain. Most new hires need two to three months to thoroughly learn the ropes. For this reason, a 90-day probationary period is standard.

Provide a Guide


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Supply a training manual and policy handbook at, or prior to, the first shift that starts the orientation process. Every new hire, from dishwashers to managers, should also be provided with a written job description that establishes duties and expectations. It will take several hours to several days to initially pull together this material, but well-written and organized guides save training time in the long run.

Briefly review the orientation info with new hires. Always ask if there are any questions and take the time to answer them.

Mirror, Model, Shadow

Pair the new hire with a veteran team member for a week’s worth of shifts. Allow at least two full shifts for learning the lay of the land, with the newbie following the experienced employee, observing and assisting in tasks. Then switch it up, with the veteran shadowing the trainee.

Schedule training shifts close together. If more than four days go by, trainees might forget what they learned the last time. Don’t schedule a new hire's first shift on Friday or Saturday night or other busy times. It’s never a good idea to simply throw a newbie -- even one with previous restaurant experience -- into the mix to see if he’ll sink or swim. He could take your reputation down with him. If possible, have new hires come in during the slowest part of the day or night for their first few shifts so trainers can focus on trainees.

Learning Gauge

Pop quizzes on menu items, where things are stored, telephone etiquette, the proper mix for dishwashing solution, and similar information specific to each area of operations can happen organically, requiring just a few minutes of time during the course of a normal shift.

Some restaurants supplement verbal exams with a formal written test, no more than an hour long, after the new hire has completed a full week of shifts. Take 10 to 15 minutes to review with the trainee, discussing needed corrections. Repeat as needed.

Trial Runs

Ask a regular patron to evaluate food and beverage preparation and presentation. Role-playing with other staff members -- or preparing and serving dinner to the boss -- is also helpful. These training exercises take place during a regular shift without requiring additional time.

Evaluation Communication

For the first few weeks, back- and front-of-the-house supervisors and trusted staff should keep close tabs on trainees, talking privately about how it went as soon as possible after each shift. Cross-feedback is the fastest way to stop wasting time on training people who aren’t going to work out due to poor attitude or other fatal flaws. It also helps the team pinpoint star performers and struggling trainees who need more coaching to reach full potential.

Short phone calls or email work when you can’t meet in person.

On Their Own

Experienced new hires might be ready sooner, but in general step back after five shifts and allow the trainee to perform tasks independently. Continue monitoring from a distance, with immediate help nearby if questions arise or the employee becomes overwhelmed.

Provide positive feedback as well as constructive criticism.

Specialized Training Timetables

Training related to legally mandated state or local compliance with safe food handling regulations can take up to a month. Time requirements vary by level. A kitchen manager, for example, may be required to pass an in-depth certification test; training for servers is less time-consuming. Other training in areas such as alcohol serving techniques and safe equipment operation can take one to three hours or longer, depending on the scope of material covered. Many restaurants with non-English-speaking staff incorporate multilingual training into the schedule.

Successful restaurants offer ongoing in-house training to keep staff motivated and informed. They always compensate employees for mandatory training. Setting an agenda and sticking to it curbs time and payroll costs. It doesn’t take more than an hour to go over new menu items, wine and food pairings, or other innovations that staff can put into profitable action.