Ahead of the Curve: How to Build a Learning Culture in Your Restaurant

Four simple ways to teach restaurant staff on the job

Not only does ongoing education make for a happier staff, it also has a direct impact on the quality of service and customer satisfaction. Once induction training is over and your new staff settles into your restaurant’s hustle and bustle, it can be challenging to provide ongoing training. Establishments that institute an active learning culture have a one-up on their competition.

In a restaurant culture that cultivates learning, your staff are encouraged to pursue knowledge – both on their own or on the job, which is of upmost importance because, staff who are fostered to learn on the job will be far more likely to ask for help, avoiding mistakes that can cost your business. Even if you’re lacking the time or resources to make big changes to your training methods, you can implement small learning opportunities during your day-to-day operations.

Create a Reading List for Your Team

It’s been proven that reading helps keep your memory sharp. Reading forces us to concentrate fully, so we absorb and retain information better. Therefore, if you can encourage your staff to read industry related material on a regular basis, then you can be assured that their knowledge will constantly be reinforced and refreshed.

One really easy way to promote and encourage your staff to read is by creating a Twitter reading list. In order to do this, you will need to have a Twitter account, but it doesn’t have to be a business one – you could set up a special account just for learning purposes (for example, if your restaurant is called Tony’s, your handle could be @TonysLearning). Once you have an account, select ‘lists’ and ‘create new list’ from the sidebar options. Make the list public so that members of your staff can view it at any time, and then populate it with the handles of your favorite restaurant experts, magazines, websites and news sources (here’s some useful information about setting up and populating your Twitter lists if you need some extra help). Encourage them to visit this page regularly (perhaps once a week) so they can catch up on a digest of the latest industry news.

If you don’t have the time to create a reading list, we’ve got you covered! Here’s a list on general restaurant knowledge that we’ve already set up.

Integrate Blended Learning Into Your Restaurant

Did you know that there are seven different learning styles? That means not all of your staff will pick up new skills in the same way. While some will learn best by watching a demonstration, others will learn best by reading their notes, and others will learn by physically completing the task.

Blended learning can help you cater to everyone.

Blended learning combines traditional in-person teaching with online learning, which covers some of the styles you can’t cover during group training. Online learning is a really effective option for ongoing staff training, because it empowers team members to go away and seek out their own answers to problems. The more trust and autonomy you give your staff, the more motivated they will be to contribute to your business’s success.

If you can find a way to give your staff access to online learning tools – like the above Twitter list, or even an eLearning platform where they can view courses geared towards their occupation – you’ll be well on your way to building a stronger learning culture. There are plenty of options out there, including Skillshare and Typsy. It’s just a matter of exploring and finding out what suits your venue.

Hold Regular Q&A Sessions

 Your staff should feel comfortable coming to you with their concerns, and that’s only going to happen if you show them how much you value open communication. So once a week, hold a no holds barred Q&A session during your pre-shift meeting.

Let your staff ask you anything they like about their jobs or the industry. If you think they might be uncomfortable asking these questions in front of their peers, have them write their questions down on a piece of paper, scrunch them up and put them in a bowl, and pick one to answer every week.

If you’d like to take this a step further, you could even bring in an expert and let your staff assail them with questions. You probably know some top chefs, sommeliers, or food superstars, so take advantage of your networks – and let your staff feel like they’re benefiting from your connections as well! These Q&As could end up becoming a highlight on their calendars. People love to feel like they’re part of an exclusive club, and they will be so excited to learn if they know they’re privy to secret wisdom.

Host Tastings Just for Your Staff

You can ask wait staff to memorize ingredients and have a quick nibble here and there to understand the dishes on your menu, but there’s an even better way to familiarize them with your food. Hold regular tastings just for them. Not only will this allow them to broaden their knowledge of your food and wine, but it’s also a prime opportunity to test out new menu items on a willing audience.

Choose a slow night, like a Monday or a Wednesday, so you’re not stressing them out before a busy shift. Get your chef in on the action so he or she can explain the intricacies of each dish. Or ask a brand rep to come in and do a demonstration on a particular beverage. Talk about what goes into cocktails so wait staff know how to think more carefully about food and drink pairings. This will help them make more informed and enthusiastic recommendations to customers. And they will feel more loyal to your venue for taking the time to invest in their development.

* featured photo: Creative Commons photo courtesy of Hsing Wei

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