What’s the secret to knowledge that sticks with staff?


What’s the secret to knowledge that sticks with staff?

What’s the secret to knowledge that sticks with staff?

Drawing on her own experience of working in the hospitality industry, our Operations and HR Director Lisa Chambers shares her secrets for arming your team with the necessary knowledge to provide a great guest experience.

Hospitality businesses, particularly those in the casual dining sector with a high staff turnover and a large, constantly evolving team working shifts, face a particular challenge when it comes to staff training. It’s hard to strike the right balance between ensuring your team buys into the brand and has the knowledge necessary to deliver a great guest experience, without bombarding them with too much information they’ll struggle to retain.

In restaurants with a large menu, it may be impossible to expect all but the most experienced in your front of house team to know every dish (not to mention unrealistic to expect occasional staff to invest the time required to get anywhere close to this). Instead, the key is to ensure that even new team members have something to say. They need a dish or two to enthuse about. Experiential training is really important here. A team who has tasted the food and watched as the kitchen staff create dishes will have far more of a sense of the ethos, effort and expertise that feeds into the food. Similarly, ensuring there are regular pre-shift meetings before the day starts and debriefs after service has finished fosters not only team spirit, but in a more general sense, it’s a great, organic way to enrich the team’s understanding of your menu, your customers and your brand.

At HGEM, our surveys tell us that members of a front of house team who seem genuine and who display a love of the food, offering personal recommendations, score highly. Any demonstration of the fact that waiting staff have tasted the food and are passionate about it plays well with guests. On the flipside, staff who seem disengaged, and either clueless or careless about the food they are serving, will have a negative impact on the guests they come into contact with. Recommendations or upselling that feels in any way ‘automated’ or scripted has a negative effect, but with a little bit of knowledge, with a pinch of passion thrown in, upselling feels like personal service.

Long before founding HGEM, my career in hospitality included working in a fine dining restaurant in Bath. I was recruited as part of the front of house team, but my induction included a lengthy spell in the kitchen where I got to observe how the chefs worked (I was required to help with buying equipment, chopping parsley for hours, prepping meat, fish and veg and plating up). Although it may be impossible for many large hospitality operators to offer this sort of insight, a diluted version (whether a whole-team workshop on the menu, or half a shift spent assisting in the kitchen) offers an invaluable experience. The experience of watching as dishes are created right there in front of you is more likely to be committed to memory than a verbal explanation of a recipe. With the former, the sights, smells and atmosphere all feed into the memory: it’s a sensory feast, just like the food itself.

Many of the most successful chain restaurants are wise to this fact. Whether it’s staff meals at wagamama’s, where the team can choose a dish from the menu, or Itsu and Pod’s head office policy, where team members across the business regularly work in store to experience front-line customer service, this hands on experience is far more effective than learning by rote. Some operators offer video training, where team members can watch chefs create key dishes online. Although not a substitute for the real deal, this approach is still richer than a straightforward verbal briefing.

In addition to ensuring that training becomes an immersive experience, empowering staff to ask questions is crucial when you’re trying to create a culture of engagement and encourage staff to keep building on their knowledge. Team members who are genuinely interested and want to learn will have questions to ask and will want to share; this should be applauded. I still have my hot chocolate soufflé recipe that I scribbled down over 20 years ago – it was hard to get the chef to tell me quantities to make just 6 rather than 30 at a time but I have never forgotten that smell of chocolate and never tire of the delight on my guests faces when presented with that ramekin of indulgent bliss. There should be an open and supportive atmosphere where every member of the front of house team feels confident enough to say: “Actually, I haven’t tasted the pork, but I know my colleague has, let me ask her to talk you through the dish…” Knowledge should become a collective responsibility, that way, the front of house team can pull together to deliver informed expertise that ensures every guest feels looked after.

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