Hiring & training

3 ways to better train servers [+ free roundtable chat]

Sara Detrik
Marketing Manager

It’s hard to train servers in the way you need when you’re short-staffed. They either learned bad habits from their last job, can’t pick up what you need fast enough, or just haven’t worked in service before. 

The more server training you provide, the better they’ll be at their job - which means more revenue for you and more tips for them. But how do you implement server training that actually works when you’re strapped for time and resources?

We’ve got three key areas of focus to train your employees for success.

Get answers for your burning hiring questions from expert operators who’ve seen it all. Watch How to overcome the hospitality hiring crisis for a roundtable on quick fixes for staffing.

1. Train your trainers

Having your new hire shadow your most experienced server is a great way to train quickly and fairly standard practice. Have you considered teaching these top performers how to train? After all, school teachers go to school to learn to teach.

Server trainers who are properly equipped to impart their knowledge make trainees more effective. Rather than split their focus between their regular tasks and teaching a new employee ad hoc, they’re able to add training to their workload in an instinctual way and lessen lift. 

Equipping your best servers with training materials and certification is a great way to minimize friction and create an easily repeatable process across all training. Perhaps you can even incentivize trainers with a completion bonus for each new server who they successfully train that sticks around for at least 3 months to aid in retention during the water shortage. 

Employee training checklists

Having a pre-written training checklist equips your designated server with a step-by-step guide for your specific day-to-day needs. Rather than rely on memory alone, your training becomes standardized and reduces the amount of work your server needs to do.

These checklists achieve consistent results, and a study performed by Rice University states that they serve as a translation of knowledge skills for better performance.

A good checklist includes every piece of the server experience from open to close, reaching from day-to-day basics to business-specific policies. Shadow your top performer, write down what you see them doing, and add in any missing pieces, such as complaint etiquette or dress codes.

Great checklists can be found around the internet for different venues and modified for your specific use. Work Place Wizards and Restaurant Owner are two excellent resources for templates.

Clearly defined expectations with an end goal and metric in mind result in better restaurant server training. Formatting your checklist for training helps them walk through each step of the process within their day, know what’s next, and think ahead as to how best to impart their knowledge. 

Trainer workshops

Training workshops help teach your employees how to impart their expertise to others that may not learn in the same way or at the same pace as them.

These sessions are often online and vary depending on what kind of hospitality business you operate. However, industries of all kinds send their employees to trainer workshops to augment their skills and teach them how to be an effective team leader in their larger workspace. 

When you designate one or two employees as heads of server training, they’re not only learning skills that benefit your business - you’re showing them you value their effort and see them as future leaders in your operations. 

Not only does this create better training overall, but it’s also a great way to invest in your employees’ futures and keep them happy. These employees are less likely to resign or be pulled away by a competitor, dropping your turnover rate dramatically.

Various trainer programs are available to you, depending on your budget and time. For example, there are general three-day training programs with certifications or more specific restaurant programs that teach everything from training design to evaluating a trainee’s progress properly. More extended programs also exist, however, anything with an official certification attached will be pricey. As an alternative, some tutorials walk you through how to create your own ‘train-the-trainer’ program for free without accreditation attached.

2. Create a complete orientation

Setting clear expectations for server training is essential to employee success. It reduces confusion by making your new employee aware of cultural rules, norms, and expectations. 

Measurable, controllable results

Orientation generally occurs in a controlled environment where you can choose what to cover, rather than leaving your training up to the random events that happen on the floor.

Weave in disaster scenarios and outline your expectations to prep your server for any kind of encounter. From a customer demanding a refund to a screaming child at a table, run your new hires through different scenarios so they’re prepared to handle whatever’s thrown their way. 

Besides having more control over your training content, orientations pivot experiential results towards goal-oriented results, just like checklists. That means you’re able to set actionable goals through your server training content. You’re able to sign off section by section once you see a proper understanding of the material based on the goals you choose. 

However, the difference between the two is that, with orientation, you’re getting deeper into culture and have more specific step-by-steps rather than a more general checklist. Orientations often cover more company standardized policies instead of just day-to-day tasks that the employee has to learn. 

This layout tracks progress and immediately reveals what your employee excels at and what they might still need to work on during their time with you. 

Scheduled time

Carve out time for paced learning and orientation according to your business needs. Depending on your business, you can take advantage of calmer periods for shadowing rather than throwing your new employee right into the fire during dinner rush and burning them out before they even begin. 

Pair sit-down learning with shadowing to give time to absorb, and then apply the day’s education. This way, you cater to all kinds of learners for well-rounded waiter training. Some servers learn better by doing, while others appreciate a more theoretical approach. By offering both types of learning, you make training more effective across the board. 

SMART goals for server training

The goals you set should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. In other words, these are milestones that you’re capable of measuring to determine whether or not the orientation was successful. Be sure that the goals you set meet all of these requirements:

Specific - Consider breaking up the rather large goal of successfully completing training into smaller steps to reward accomplishments and help get more specific.

Measurable - Set quantifiable goals, like the number of hours of orientation they need to complete, or the number of tables they need to cover with supervision vs. solo. 

Achievable - Consider if the goal is realistically accomplishable within the scope you’ve designated. Are the hours you’ve established for shadowing possible with your employee’s work schedule? 

Relevant - Why are you setting this goal? If you’re filling in a scheduling gap, are you training the server for that role and shift demands? Is that being considered if you’re looking for a cross-trained worker, and will it take longer than just training for traditional service?

Timely - What’s the timeline for each portion of the orientation? When are you aiming for completion? 

Taking each piece into consideration as you set goals for your waiter training will create more effective and measurable training.

3. Use additional online training

Online restaurant server training programs might seem like a waste of time - after all, your business needs are specific. How does some random online course train for that? However, it can pay off to arm your servers with skills beyond day-to-day operations. Remember: you’re not just training “waiters”, you’re creating brand ambassadors.

Official certifications

Rather than focusing on just the specific operational tasks your new servers need to learn, consider that part of the server role is that of a salesperson. With official certification programs, you’re guaranteeing your employee gains skills from trusted trainers and official programs that can be applied in many walks of life. 

This style of training is really taking off. In fact, the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute offers an entire catalog of different certifications for all kinds of businesses beyond restaurants. They’ve created an online restaurant server program that emphasizes sales and attitude for better performance. It’s also a fantastic draw during the waiter shortage when you need to attract talent.

YouTube training series

YouTube provides a cheaper alternative to expensive, certified training courses but still features key insights from experienced servers and managers. This free content might not be as effective or trackable on its own, but woven into a larger training strategy, it could be used as an accessible alternative to shadowing. 

Users like YanickDoesLife and The Waiter’s Academy create excellent resources that dive deeper into server training from those who’ve been there. When watched one after another, they are a homemade restaurant server training program that you can re-use consistently without paying additional fees per person watching.

Will better server training do anything?

Absolutely! By investing more time, effort, and sometimes money into training your staff, you’ll not only create a repeatable process for operational success — you’ll show your new talent that you care about their long-term career growth as well. 

We find that a lot of turnover problems can be avoided by training staff in a more comprehensive way, and collecting their feedback. In these dire times, operators have turned to innovative solutions for better training, like recording themselves making and serving food. So how are you planning to better your staff and training methods?

See how tech helped Cobble & Co’s servers focus on their work for double the tips and 0 employee churn since their opening mid-pandemic.

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