Front and back of house employees are a restaurant’s heartbeat, each contributing to a smooth service and customer experience.
But for your staff to perform at the highest level, they need to be properly onboarded and trained for their role. Onboarding is crucial for integrating new staff into your team, getting them up to speed on your restaurant’s processes for food prep, service, storage, and everything in between.
A standardized employee onboarding process is comprehensive and organized: When employees complete their onboarding, they should understand your restaurant’s policies, procedures and processes, which they can perfect through shadowing, learning from their peers and practicing each shift.
This is your chance to set them up for success and avoid costly turnover related to on-the-job performance. “If you don’t give someone the information and tools to succeed, it’s really you to blame if they don’t work out,” says Ian Duke, owner/operator of Southampton Social Club, Union Burger Bar, and Prohibition, all in New York State.
That’s why we reached out to successful restaurant owners and operators to learn their tips for creating a comprehensive restaurant employee onboarding process.
In this post, you’ll learn:
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5 employee onboarding essentials
There are some things that your restaurant onboarding can’t afford to neglect. The goal is for your staff to clearly understand your procedures and workflows, company policies, guidelines and how to use various restaurant tools.
- Clearly communicate guidelines and policies
- Create a standardized employee handbook
- Hands-on menu training and testing
- Shadowing current employees
- Give constructive feedback
1. Clearly communicate guidelines and policies
During your onboarding process, new hires should get “an understanding of what your practices are, both from legal policies to house policies on uniforms, conduct, demeanor and what’s considered appropriate behavior when interacting with guests,” Duke says. “Having clear, thorough guidelines is paramount. When people know the rules, they’re in the best position to meet those expectations.”
Even those with prior restaurant experience need to understand expectations at your restaurant. “How you greet someone can change from place to place, even if every place wants employees to greet someone,” says Susannah (“Chef Suzi”) Gerber, a chef, restaurant consultant and author of Plant-Based Gourmet.
“It sets a tone.” Clearly articulating how front of house staff should greet customers or arrange garnishes on a plate ensures that every employee receives the same instructions so they can provide a consistent experience.
2. Create a standardized employee handbook
Training manuals are helpful to restaurants of all sizes, but especially brands with multiple locations.
“One of the biggest labor management issues I see is that service lacks consistency from one employee to another. The restaurant lacks cohesion,” Gerber says. “Depending on the staff working a particular service, there are different cultural markers in play. An employee handbook is one way to standardize service and set a quality assurance level.”
Gerber says the manual should include instructions on how to open and close the restaurant, how to properly clean dishes, where to put them away, how to recommend products and what the chain of command is.
Every new hire should get a copy of your employee handbook. “An employee handbook is a resource for employees to have standard operating procedures, company policies and other communications and standards developed in one place,” Gerber says.
“Everything from opening and closing days and holidays to dress code go in a handbook.” Some restaurants update their handbooks multiple times a year but she says it’s wise to review the information and update as needed at least once a year. “Make sure you’re following through on any trends of customer feedback and updating the manual to be reflective of that,” she adds.
3. Hands-on menu training and tasting
Front of house staff, especially servers, need in-depth knowledge of menu items, ingredients, potential allergens and possibly appetizer and beverage pairings.
For example, Prime Steak Concepts does menu training in a classroom setting, broken down by sections of the menu. “When we’re talking about server training, it’s 11 days’ worth of classroom materials,” Jennifer Evertsen, Chief People and Development Officer explains. “That includes the menu, beverages and service topics. A server’s assistant, who doesn’t deal directly with menu items, may have a more service-related focus.”
Those preparing the food need to be able to demonstrate competency at preparing menu items. Duke takes back of house trainees into the kitchen and asks them to walk him through preparing a dish and explain why they do things a certain way. Same thing with people learning how to be a bartender. “I have a very hands-on management style,” he says.
4. Shadowing current employees
After the classroom portion of training, shadowing current employees can help new hires get up to speed on workflows, learn how to use various restaurant management tools
Gerber typically has new employees shadow for two days. They’ll mainly observe but also accomplish some tasks under supervision. “If a shift normally has two to three people, they would be the fourth,” she says. “By the third or fourth day they’re being placed into a schedule as they would normally.”
Duke has new hires train with three different people so they learn to be adaptable. “When you shadow three different people, you benefit by learning their strengths. Moreover, you’re getting to know your colleagues and how you can work together,” he says. “You’re going to be very strong at the things those three are very strong at. By training with three different people, trainees get a pretty firm grasp on how to do their job at a high level.”
Here are a few things new hires should get out of their time shadowing current employees:
- Read the mood of a table: If you see guests looking around the restaurant, they probably want something. If a table is avoiding eye contact, they probably don’t want to be bothered. Your servers need to learn to pick up on non-verbal queues and read the energy of the tables they’re serving.
- How to talk about the menu: A lot of restaurant customers rely on their server for menu suggestions, so train them on how to talk about your menu and which items pair well together.
- How to multitask: Your staff should all learn how to do more than one thing at a time. For instance, if you’re going back to the kitchen, are there dishes they could take to the dish pit at the same time? If they’re coming back from the kitchen, are there dishes that are ready to get run to a table? Staff should never be walking around empty-handed.
- How to use your restaurant systems: Your restaurant’s point of sale system and kitchen display system is at the heart of your operations. Front of house staff needs to learn how to check-in reservations, take orders, make adjustments to orders and accept payments. Back of house staff need to learn how to use the kitchen display system (KDS) to effectively manage incoming orders from the moment they’re received to when they’re ready to get run to a table.
5. Give constructive feedback
Throughout the employee onboarding process—especially during the shadowing stage—new hires need constructive feedback on what they’re doing right and where they need improvement.
“In a formal corporate establishment, some sort of assistant manager would do an official employment evaluation to make sure that employee was accomplishing all of their responsibilities,” Gerber says. “In a less formal environment, it’d be a conversation with an employee. Demonstrate that you’re going to hold everybody accountable, that you recognize their strong points and that you’re invested in their growth.”
Duke gets feedback from other employees and relays that to the new hire. “How’d they do?” he asks. “Where were the mistakes? What things did they continue to do wrong after you told them?”
Providing ongoing feedback is crucial. To prevent bad habits from developing, sit down with your staff periodically and be open with them on what they’re doing right and how they can improve in the future.
The 4 C’s of employee onboarding
According to Dr. Tayla N. Bauer, Ph.D., effectively onboarding needs to fulfill the four C’s: compliance, clarification, culture and connection.
- Compliance: This is the most basic level of onboarding where employees fill out new hire paperwork and learn a restaurant’s key rules and operating procedures.
- Clarification: This is the time to clarify expectations and any procedures that may not have been thoroughly understood when they were first presented.
- Culture: Beyond operating procedures and menu items, new staff members need an understanding of your brand’s approach and how they fit within the organization.
- Connection: New hires also need to establish rapport with team members, which can happen through working together. “By the end of a full weekend, you’re a part of the team,” Duke says. “You experience all the highs and lows.”
According to Bauer, developing connections is the most difficult, but most important of the four C’s. It starts by spotting candidates that you think are strong cultural fit during the interview process.
By having them shadow current employees for a few shifts, you’re giving your new hire a chance to build relationships as well. You can’t force people to connect, but you can certainly create opportunities for that to happen and prevent new hires from feeling isolated from the get-go.
Restaurant onboarding checklist
- New hire paperwork (W4, I9, contact information)
- Employee handbook
- Overview of company policies (meal policies, tip policies, scheduling, etc.) and structure
- Menu tasting and training
- Job shadowing
- Follow-up. “Every few months, a reminder of the rules works very efficiently,” says Duke. “When you’re in a position where you have low turnover, enforcement of rules is a lot easier.”
The importance of employee onboarding
Giving clear instructions and expectations during onboarding helps set employees up for success, which can translate to fewer mistakes and lower turnover.
“There are a lot of people placed into positions prematurely and without enough resources,” Gerber says. “That perpetuates the cycle of high turnover and low job satisfaction. Taking time to work with job candidates directly is crucial.”
Prime Steak Concepts has reaped the benefits of thorough training and onboarding. “We are at our point now in positions where typically you’re turning over employees every three to six months, we have employees who’ve been there five years,” Evertsen says. “Take the opportunity to promote employees into management or sous chef positions. Make good on the promises made during that onboarding time.”
A thorough onboarding process can result in lower turnover and contribute to more consistent service regardless of whose working that day, both of which essential to running a successful restaurant operation, whether you have one or many locations.