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The restaurant industry can be challenging enough to navigate without a properly-trained staff! Thus, it’s necessary that your employees are adequately trained so that they can carry out their duties effectively and efficiently, in a way that represents your restaurant well.

You may not have considered that training is a two-way street: it’s important to understand your staff’s specific work habits, how they prefer learning, and what they’re ultimately seeking to achieve in their work in order to train them properly. Whether your employees are only part-time, temporary/seasonal, or full-time and looking to further their careers in the restaurant industry, effective job training is essential for a well-run restaurant, and also to show your employees that you care about their success and growth at work.

Taking a genuine interest in your employees and their goals will also serve to reduce turnover at your restaurant, ultimately eliminating the need to constantly hire and train new staff, and drastically improve employee engagement and morale. A satisfied employee will contribute greatly to the overall success of your business!

Let’s take a look at some facts and statistics that may help you get a better feel for your employees and their unique learning style.

A look at restaurant worker statistics

Graph showing restaurant workers by age

*Stats from the U.S. Bureau of Labor https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat18b.htm

An overwhelming majority of workers in the U.S. are hourly employees, with 2019 statistics showing that 82.3 million workers sixteen years of age or older represented roughly 58% of the workforce. Moreover, of all employees paid on an hourly basis, 392,000 earned only a minimum wage salary, and 1.2 million employees took home a salary below minimum wage.

Most wait staff earn well below the minimum wage, but take home the full earnings of their tips, which usually make up for their low hourly rate but can also be detrimental if there aren’t many customers during a standard shift.

To hone in on understanding the average restaurant worker, let’s take a closer look at some statistics and demographics. According to the Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, the overwhelming majority were ages 16-34 years old, which reflects an overall young demographic compared with other industries.

Additionally, females tend to dominate the restaurant industry over their male counterparts — according to Data USA, 52.5% of restaurant workers are female, though their salary is still consistently lower than for males in the industry. Specifically, the numbers show a disparity of over $7,000 in wages for the same work performed in the restaurant business.

This knowledge may enable you to better tailor the way you train your workers, taking into account different factors such as age, background, gender, etc. It would also behoove you to ensure there are plenty of opportunities for advancement in your establishment, taking into account that female workers aren’t always provided with equal pay opportunities within the restaurant industry.

How do hourly workers prefer to learn?

One of the best ways you can encourage and count on good work from your employees is by understanding what’s important to them. Why are they working for your restaurant? What do you notice about their work habits, style, and techniques?

Abstract lightbulb

Generation Z learning preferences

According to a Nielsen report, Generation Z makes up the largest proportion of the workplace, and includes individuals born between the mid-1990s to the mid to late 2000s.

While there is a bit of overlap between Generation Z individuals and Millennials, there is one key difference between the two groups that may impact learning preferences: Generation Z grew up with smart phones, tablets, and all sorts of technology at their fingertips, whereas Millennials may be old enough to remember their early years without smart phones and other popular technology. This could mean that Generation Z employees will prefer technological learning to other training methods.

Additional research shows that Generation Z prefers a work environment where they can look up to and learn from their manager, where they can look forward to advancement opportunities, and where they can receive professional training. As such, a more formal electronic training method might be appropriate for workers of this demographic, such as an online course or webinars.

Millennial learning preferences

Unlike their Generation Z counterpart, Millennials prefer a broader array of learning means and material, and respond best to any type of training that targets their senses (auditory, visual, and even kinesthetic).

This demographic tends to have a shorter attention span than other groups, so actually, the restaurant industry is quite ideal for Millennials, as their position in your restaurant will likely require new changes of pace, adjustments, and challenges to keep them intellectually stimulated.

Generation X learning preferences

Encompassing the group of individuals born between 1965 and 1979, Generation X workers tend to be extremely focused on reality, and on “getting the job done.” They may be more likely to oppose softer methods of training and learning, which tend to be more effective for a younger demographic.

With this in mind, Generation X individuals will appreciate a firm but collaborative managerial style and training process. They are likely to do best with hands-on, on-the-job training, launching right into work as opposed to studying it, or taking a training course beforehand.

Implementing effective training

As previously discussed, training your restaurant staff can be manual or hands-on (and may take up a portion of your time, at first), or it can come in the form of an official course or handbook, or may entail some combination of the two. There are several online training courses and guides available for your employees, but whether you resort to handbook training will depend on the unique goals you have for your restaurant.

Below are some pros and cons of the many training methods you might consider for a new employee.

1. Pros & Cons: On-the-Job Training

The most obvious type of training to which many of your employees will respond best is on-the-job training, which basically means they’ll be thrown right into their work with perhaps only a bit of background.

While on-the-job training is arguably the most effective way for a person to learn and adjust to a new role, the downside is that they may lack the insight, perspective, and proper training when it comes to the industry, or your particular establishment, to set them up for the best possible success. With on-the-job training, do be sure that new employees at least study the menu, understand the phone and reservation systems (if a host or hostess), and know where essential items are stored to increase efficiency.

2. Pros & Cons: Video and Virtual Training

If a staff member is just starting out in the restaurant industry, it may behoove you to invest in an online training course or manual for them, so that they can familiarize themselves with the industry as a whole. If your employee is simply new to your restaurant, it can be particularly helpful for them to simply get used to the POS system, which they’ll frequently use to enter orders.

As with any type of “supportive” learning style (or learning style other than a “hands-on” approach), the drawback of video or online learning — which encompasses tablet and smart phone apps, online courses and training videos, and more — is that your employees are still going to ultimately learn the ins and outs of their job primarily by doing rather than studying. As such, it may take a bit of extra time for them to adjust to the new position after taking any online courses, or undergoing online training.

3. Pros & Cons: Gamification

Gamification is one of the more unique ways to train your employees, and essentially means that you’ll add game-like mechanics (i.e. points, stars, kudos, badges, and more) to nongame environments, such as your business, to increase engagement.

In a restaurant environment, this method of learning is probably pretty rare; however, it is an option for people who respond best to the rewards that a game presents. You could potentially implement a “points” system in your restaurant — something that resembles an employee-of-the-month challenge — where new and long-term employees alike will be rewarded for executing outstanding work, thereby increasing motivation.

Always encourage your restaurant staff to approach you with any questions they might have while they’re training — if your employees are afraid to come to you or seek out your advice, they may end up making major mistakes to the detriment of your business. Ensuring an atmosphere of open communication and dialogue between you and your employees is one of the most effective training methods you can employ!

Choosing the right training for your staff

Remember that no two people learn exactly alike, even among demographics, so invest in the time or equipment needed to train your employees in a way that will be most effective for their success (and for the success of your business). Training manuals, rule books, and other arduous guides are usually too dense or dry for successful on-boarding. Instead, computer-based or POS (point of sale) system training might be most effective, as your waiters and waitresses will need to learn how to enter orders in the system you use.

If you hire an employee who is brand new to the restaurant industry, you’ll also need to invest some time going over best processes with them, such as proper greeting of customers, most effective way to take orders, how to enter orders properly into your system, and more.

If you spend the necessary time ensuring that your employees will be successful in their roles, they’re likely to stay longer and experience increased job satisfaction, both of which are highly beneficial for your restaurant.

Improving employee engagement

According to a research conducted by Harvard Business Review, most restaurant workers perform better and feel more engaged at work if their managers treat them well. That’s good news for you, since you have complete control over this area — you can ensure that your staff experiences an atmosphere of positivity, fairness, and support, making turnover less likely and less frequent over time.

In addition, restaurant employees are interested in growth opportunities at work, similarly to most other industries. The Harvard Business Review stats showed that young people were more than twice as likely to continue working at their current place of employment for longer than one year if they could strive for career growth. This is perfectly reasonable and logical — many dedicated workers enjoy challenges, and need something to strive for in the future! Otherwise, work may become too dull for employees who seek personal improvement.

As you’re training your employees, demonstrate a genuine interest in their goals and careers, so that they’ll feel valued, respected, and good about their new position at your restaurant.

Lastly, it’s been proven that young workers value a work atmosphere of inclusivity, even moreso than diversity. For example, research shows that minority demographics are less likely to look at their current roles as a stepping stone toward career advancement than their white male counterparts.

In light of this information, remember to hire broadly and hire fairly, based on factors such as skill set, experience, determination, and work ethic. Your staff should represent all types of people from different backgrounds who are willing to put in the work to improve your restaurant, in addition to advance in their careers and personal growth.

For a great training experience for your employees, keep all of these things in mind as you go through the on-boarding process with them. The result will be a stronger and more efficiently-run establishment!

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