How (and Why) to Develop Restaurant Employees

Recently, we talked about careers in food service management and how most managers (and owners!) started their careers in entry-level positions.

We touched on the importance of development from a restaurant employee's perspective. Now we want to examine the benefits of investing in employee development for owners and managers.

Training and Development: You Need Both

When you train your employees, you teach them how to follow specific procedures.  When you develop your employees, you grow their capacity to accomplish more. 

Both are important. Training and development can be the keys to higher staff retention, higher customer satisfaction, and better food safety. 

Onboarding and orientation training, in particular, is critical, and you probably need to do more of it.

But ongoing development is how you cultivate loyal, committed employees who become productivity engines and future leaders.

Ideally, you start employee development early with entry-level staff. However, your development initiatives need to begin at the top.

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Why It's Critical to Develop Your Managers

When it comes to your development dollars, managers are your best investment.

And yet 87% of them wish they'd had more training when they first took on the role. 

As a group, new restaurant managers just aren't adequately prepared.  It's no wonder that 35% of them leave within their first year. And since management turnover costs to the tune of $15,271, anything you invest in their development short of that will save you money.

But the real danger of management turnover isn't just that you have to replace your manager.  It's what the loss does to the rest of the staff.

Losing a manager wreaks havoc all over. Good managers tend to take employees with them when they go.  Either way, organization and productivity suffer while a replacement is hired and brought up to speed. 

And if you're not training your replacement managers properly, you can end up in a whole-restaurant churn.  Unprepared and untrained managers quit fast.  Then you promote someone equally unready, who also quits.  In the absence of leadership, morale tanks throughout the restaurant and turnover increases there, as well.

It's an expensive and difficult cycle to break.

Training Reduces Management Turnover

Luckily, we know that training reduces management turnover:

  • When managers get supervisory skills training, it cuts management turnover by 19%.
  • When managers get substantial HR training on topics like harassment and diversity, it cuts their turnover by 12.7%.
  • When 20% or more of their training is online, managers have 12.9% less turnover.

It would be a mistake to focus all training there, however.  You need a comprehensive training program for new managers. They need to learn topics like:

  • Conflict management among staff
  • Conflict de-escalation with guests
  • Food safety and employee hygiene
  • Labor law and other legal concerns
  • How to run and analyze reports
  • Procurement and restaurant finances
  • How to hire and onboard new employees

Better yet, they need a mentor to coach them through their decisions.  Training can give them an important base of facts and methods, but coaching will teach them how to solve new problems.

For a really smooth transition, you should start developing supervisory skills before they even have the job.

Why You Should Cultivate Leadership Skills Early

The overwhelming majority of restaurant managers start at entry level—90%, according to National Restaurant Association.  That means your next manager may very well be on your staff. 

There's an advantage to homegrown managers: their entire job so far has been one long interview.  They're a known quantity.  And they know your business, your policies, your preferences.

It can be tempting to bring in "new blood," but hiring and onboarding new talent is more expensive, especially for managers.

Plus, it's a gamble.  Some people interview well but just don't have the goods.

Even putting aside future management needs, there are great reasons to nurture leadership skills that will directly benefit your business right now:

  • You'll lower staff turnover.  People want to feel like they're working towards something in their lives. And pitifully few jobs offer these opportunities. You may be afraid you're training them to leave you, but the truth is, investment breeds loyalty.  The hospitality businesses with the lowest turnover among hourly staff provide more orientation and more ongoing training than their competitors.
  • You'll reduce your managers' stress. Managers have a lot on their plate, and it's easy for them to burn out.  That's not just a turnover dilemma. Gallup studies show that managers are directly responsible for their team's engagement levels, and engagement is key to productivity. It literally pays to keep your managers energized, rested, and motivated. When strong team or shift leads can be trusted to keep things running smooth, managers carry less stress.  They can have a work-life balance.  Industry leaders recommend that managers work 45-50 hours a week, max.  And that only happens when they have trustworthy lieutenants.
  • You'll empower your managers to think bigger. If your managers are directly responsible for every single detail, you're in trouble. They'll easily lose sight of the big picture. The distribution of responsibility should look more like a pyramid than a flat plain.  When shift or team leaders manage the minutiae, managers can focus on efficient processes, customer satisfaction, and staff development.


Leadership Isn't the Only Development

Not everyone is cut out for (or interested in) leadership development.

But those statistics about training and development lowering turnover?  Still true. Luckily, restaurants require a variety of skills.  You have plenty of ways to train and coach employees.

Here are a few strategies that will benefit both your business and your staff:

  • Cross-training.  Strategically training your staff in other skill areas is a solution to many of your staffing and scheduling woes. It adds flexibility to your scheduling options. It gives you more possibilities for last-minute coverage. It provides a solution for temporary bottlenecks during a shift – like when table turnover's too slow.  And for staff, it provides variety, additional shift options, and professional development.
  • Skills Advancement. Some of your employees may be interested in promotions or lateral moves that have nothing to do with leading others. Maybe a kitchen assistant wants to become a line cook.  Maybe your dishwasher has bartending aspirations. The beauty of the industry has always been talent recognition and advancement. Plus it keeps employees loyal and engaged.
  • Communication. Conflict resolution training improves customer service, reduces inter-staff tension, and lowers burnout-inducing stress. So can training in active listening, customer service protocol, and body language. Plus, if anyone on your staff has a language barrier, offering English-language courses can improve staff communication. One regional chain used this tactic to broaden their pool of potential leaders, and found that some of their dishwashers ended up being dream managers.

Bottom Line

Successful businesses think long-term.  Developing your employees takes commitment but pays dividends over time. 

Meanwhile, you can't neglect the basics.  Online training can provide an affordable and effective solution for food safety and alcohol compliance at all levels.  That frees up your managers to focus on the kind of development computers just can't provide.

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