There’s a certain sense of pride you should have if your boss has assigned you to train a new waiter or new waitress. It means that you’re doing your job well and are capable of showing someone else the ropes. So take a moment to congratulate yourself: you are a great server! But what happens when you’re unsure of how exactly to train someone? You may have been doing the job for so long that you know everything as if second nature, so teaching someone else without forgetting something can be a little nerve wracking. Some restaurants have a strict training policy, but others kind of just throw you into it, so be prepared no matter which category your job falls into.
Of course, there are a few things to keep in mind when training: does the person you’re training have experience…or not? At first, I would suggest treating each new employee as if they’re learning for the first time and work from there. The more experience you see, the less you’ll be teaching about how to be an actual server and the more you’ll be teaching about the working system of your particular restaurant. Either way, here are a few 8 tips on how to train a new waiter or new waitress:
TIP #1: Get Organized
There are so many things that need to be taught that some of us don’t even know where to begin. If you have enough notice from your boss on when the first day of training is, take some time before then to make a list of everything that needs to be shown to the newcomer. What’s the first thing you want to show them? What are the most important things that the trainee should memorize? What do they need to learn first in order to learn the way the restaurant is run?
Here’s an example of a list of priorities, starting with the first day of training:
- Menu Knowledge
- Wine List Knowledge (if applicable)
- Floor Plan Knowledge (table numbers, bar area, sections, etc.)
- Tour of the restaurant (so the trainee knows where everything is: bathrooms, stock rooms, fridges, stations, etc)
- How to clock in and clock out
- Cleaning tasks and side works
- Tables (presentation, cleaning, preparations, etc)
- The “running” system of the restaurants (how to run drinks from the bar, salads, soups, hot food, etc)
- How to greet customers
- How to take orders
- How to ring up the orders (POS System)
- Any steps of service (check backs, recooks, how to handle any complaints, etc)
- Serving coffee and dessert
- Presenting the check
- Closing duties
- Closing cleaning tasks and restocking
- Sales report at the end of the shift
- Rules of the restaurant
Make sure you follow a certain schedule so that their training makes sense. You don’t want to start showing them how to take orders if they haven’t even begun to memorize the menu (although, in my opinion, the trainee should have at least 85% of the menu memorized by their first day of training. Tip of the Day: Learn Your Menu.) Following your list of priorities will help you make sure you didn’t skip a step.
TIP #2: Shadowing
A very important step. Have your trainee “shadow” your every move. Before they even take an order, have them watch every step you take. Tell them to note how you speak with the customers, your tone of voice, your facial features, your posture, etc. Every little thing is important and if your restaurant has a way of presenting specials, up-selling promotions, or even describing the catch of the day make sure that your trainee knows the proper way to do these things. Consistency is very important in the restaurant business.
Also, when it comes time to picking up the speed and running drinks and food, it’s important that your trainee recognizes the pace of your particular restaurant and learns how to keep up with it. At a quickly paced restaurant, the last thing you want is for your trainee to get stuck in 2nd gear when they should be shifting it up a few notches. Tell them to keep up with you and that you want them 2 steps behind at all times.
TIP #3: Answer their questions
No matter how naive the question may seem, just answer it in a polite way. It may seem like common sense to you, but remember that every restaurant is different and they just want to know how things run at their new place of work. The more questions they ask, the better. Take note, however, if they are asking the same questions over and over. They are there to learn and soak up as much knowledge as they can, but if they can’t retain any of the things you are teaching them, it may be a red flag.
TIP #4: Ask questions
This is the best way for new servers to learn, especially when it comes to learning the menu. Ask them to describe certain dishes for you. If they stumble or come out with a wishy-washy description, show them the correct way of describing the restaurants’ meals and tell them to practice. Ask them to name all the beers the restaurant offers on tap.
They may respond, for example, like this “Uh…Heineken…um, Guinness….” so be prepared to show off a little and show them how you list off all the beers. Asking questions before customers get a chance to ask them is the best way for them to be prepared when it comes time for them to take orders. Feel free to ask questions out of the blue and don’t be afraid to put them on the spot. During a rush, they’ll need to be prepared so catch them off guard so when the time comes they aren’t flailing for answers.
TIP #5: Role play
Pretend you are a customer and go through a dry run of taking a table’s order. Have them come up to you (pretending to be a customer) and act out a service. If you think it’s silly…well it is a little. But it’s the best way for you to get an idea of how they will be once faced with real customers. Remember, they will be practicing on your tables, so you want them to make as little mistakes as possible. A dry run will help you to correct any bad habits, mistakes, and allow you to make suggestions. Also, it will give the trainee a chance to get out their nerves before heading over to their first table.
TIP #6: Shadow them
Once the training has been done and you are ready to see them in action, let them take the reigns for a while. Inform them that they will be handling everything from A to Z and you’ll be following them to make sure that they are serving the guests properly. Be ready to jump in when they aren’t sure and take mental notes on anything that they are doing that doesn’t meet your restaurant’s standards.
At the end of the day, go over what they need to work on, point out any strong points or things that they did perfectly, and ask if they have any questions or comments about how they believe their service was.
TIP #7: Give them space
If your trainee is catching on quickly and is starting to really get a feel for the job, give them a bit of space. Back off and let them take the wheel for a bit. See how they do on their own. Let them make a few minor mistakes so that they will learn (while making sure it doesn’t affect your customer’s dining experience of course). Make a few comments here and there such as “Hurry it up a bit” or “You forgot to order their drinks” and ask a few questions to help guide them such as “What are you forgetting on that table?” or “What’s your priority right now?” But other than that, pretend that they are working alone. It’s the best way for you to see if they are capable of handling the job and the best way for them to get a real sense of what is expected of them.
TIP #8: Teach them how to Spoil Their Customers
Every restaurant has a different way of spoiling their customers. Whether it be offering a drink on the house for a regular customer or going above and beyond the steps of service, there are always ways that you can teach someone how the restaurants’ customers prefer to be served. Your trainee may have worked at a previous restaurant that wasn’t as keen about giving good service as you, so make sure they live up to the standards of the restaurant.
Now you’re all set for the basics of training a new waiter or new waitress. Of course, there are so many other little details, but this will help give you an overview of what to do and tricks on how to get the best out of your trainee.
The Waitress has been working in the food and service industry for over 8 years having experienced the restaurant business from several different angles. Her experience is anything from hostess to waitress and expeditor to floor manager which has inspired her to share her personal advice for servers everywhere and her thoughts on the restaurant business. She uses her everyday experiences to gather ideas for her blog, ‘The Waitress Confessions.’