The most important sell: your staff

The most important sell: your staff

By David Faro, WRA contributing editor

I can remember the first time that I was really well trained in a restaurant. I was still fairly young, and I had already held positions in number restaurants in major cities across North America. As long as I could walk and take orders, I felt that I had all the necessary skills needed to perform well for any employer. My training at that point had mostly been defined by memorizing menus, along with quick reads through employee handbooks. I was a pleasant enough young man, always bringing a smile to the table. This, combined with my farm-bred work ethic, generally enabled me to find and hold on to a job for as long as I wanted to be there. I was really only an order taker at that point though; and it wasn’t until I moved to Washington state that I experienced a training regimen that took me to the next level—a program that provided me with an ethic that my career in hospitality has been built on for close to 20 years. What was special about this program? What did this restaurant do that others had not? This restaurant made me a believer.

There are number of ways that a restaurant can try to impart its concept and mission to its employees. Some are more effective than others. The way a restaurant goes about communicating its reason for existing can vary, but one important aspect must invariably be built into any effective training process. Restaurants must create a situation where, at the end of a new hire’s training, the employee is imbued with a sense of purpose. Your sense of purpose. The most effective employees are the ones who are sold on your concept, and it is up to you to sell it to them. Employees who believe in what you are doing, along with your personal ability to do it, are a key ingredient in making your restaurant the powerfully effective enterprise you hope it to be.

This was certainly the case with the restaurant in question. How did they make me a believer? They let me experience directly, before anything else, what it felt like to be a guest at the restaurant. It was wonderful, and I have never forgotten that experience. As luck would have it, when I was hired, the company was opening a new state of the art store. The company was experiencing rapid growth, and this fresh venture was a foray into a new market. The stakes were certainly high, and the quality and expertise of their staff was soon to be under the close scrutiny of the surrounding community and the industry alike.

After being hired, I expected to be shuffled into a

crowded break room, handed a pile of photocopied policies and then fill out tests for about a week. Instead, on my first day, I walked into the store with the rest of the new staff and I was ushered to a long table that spanned the whole dining room. We were asked to sit down and for the next few hours, the managers and executive chefs served the whole staff every single item on the menu. They brought down servers from other stores, and the only thing that the trainers asked us to do that day was to eat their food and enjoy ourselves.

Hours later, when I left, I was already believer. I had not only watched my new general manager roll up her sleeves and clear plate after dirty plate of food from my table, but I had also been treated exactly like she hoped I would treat my new guests when I was on her floor. She demonstrated exquisite knowledge of the concept and food we would be serving. She led by example, and the experience made such a significant impression on me that it has informed how I have trained employees ever since. I look for ways to create believers, and then I go for it.

Ironically, years later, after expanding my career into global hospitality projects, I came back to Washington and worked as a manager for the very same company. Every time I hired a new server, I attempted to follow the same regime they had taught me decades earlier. The nervous new employee would come to their first day of work, and I would invite them into private dining room and ask them to sit down. After that I would hand them a menu and ask them to order what looked best to them. I would usually pour a few glasses of wine for us to taste, making sure I asked them first what varietals they liked best. I always viewed these experiences as an opportunity to show a new employee my idea of what the best service on the planet looks and feels like. I made every effort to make them feel special. Because truly, that is how I wanted my guests to feel. I wanted them to know intimately what it felt like to be the receiving end of terrific service. Usually the experience took a few hours, and when it was all over, I would say, “That was fun! See you tomorrow!” and leave. New employees often told me later that the experience seemed too good to be true, just as I had felt years earlier. Many of them said that it was that first meal that set the bar for them and explained clearly what our concept was about. As well as having fun, I was able to clearly define my expectations by example. I was able to create an immediate benchmark which I could reference if service standards became something we needed to talk about later on.

I have always believed that the first people to whom I needed to sell my concept to were the front line employees who were helping me to make it materialize every day. The best way I have ever found to accomplish this, is to let them experience directly what makes my service special. I do this before I do anything else. Any managers who have ever worked with me have heard me say it over and over again, “The best way for us to make money, is to sell our employees first!”

(Source: Washington Restaurant Magazine)

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