Lessons in Action, Part III: The 15 Moments of Training Truth

Every day I think of Michael O’Grady and the creative ways he coached and mentored so many to new heights. In this new series, Lessons in Action, I share my insights, breakthroughs, tools, and techniques that honor Michael’s legacy of helping others grow.

The Top 5 Training Mistakes

• Not setting clear expectations from the beginning.

• Relying solely on written materials and shadow training.

• Not evaluating the trainee’s performance.

• Letting under-performers go out on the floor.

• Not having managers go through employee training.

Great training ensures mastery. It builds confidence, instills pride and purpose, boosts morale, and develops valuable life skills. Yet, many restaurants are riddled with re-hashed manual-based training low on guided skills practice. Great training is not a checklist of mundane tasks but a series of well-thought-out steps and strategies.

1. Be clear from the get go. When interviewing candidates, tell them everything they need to know. For example, uniforms must be dry cleaned. No biker goatees. And the trainer gets to keep the tips. Being clear up-front prevents employees from saying, “No one ever told me that.”

2. Schedule flexibly. For hospitality lifers, scheduling is easy. But for college students working for beer money or teachers needing extra cash, offer night and weekend classes.

3. Provide a first-class new-hire packet. Create a well-designed intro kit. List everything applicants need to know from day one: schedule and locations, uniform requirements, training pay, contact number, and email address.

4. Make orientation memorable. With the iPhone and Galaxy III, there’s lots of competition in the attention department. So, no boring lectures. Don’t read your mission, vision, and values from a Power Point. Give examples and tell stories to make your point. Matchbox jazzes things up with a photo storybook of the founding fathers breaking ground at their first restaurant in Chinatown in DC.

5. Set performance milestones. Upon hire, your bartender should know the basic lingo —“up, on the rocks and neat.” She should be able to charm a crowd, be fluent in vodkas from Grey Goose to Belvedere, have command of the POS, and work the smallest station solo. After 30 days, she can work her stage with ease. Within six months, she should have a throng of raving fans and balance her bank to the nearest penny.

6. Make the classroom come alive.

Keep things interesting. Mix ice breakers, storytelling, games, role-play, videos, and tastings. Variety is the spice of learning.

7. Jazz up shadow training. Have trainees shadow a cadre of experts: your super salesperson, side work guru, hospitality charmer, and the kitchen relations whiz kid.

8. Vary tests. After each session, debrief and assess. Use a blended approach of written and “say/do” testing. Written tests take you only part of the way. Make the final exam waiting on a manager from start to finish.

9. Let go when things don’t work out.  If someone isn’t cutting the mustard, set them free. You’ll save thousands and do your trainee a favor. Too many restaurants let underachievers stay, sending the message your standards aren’t important.

10. Explain why. If you want buy-in from Generation X and Y, demonstrate what’s in it for them. If they want to make their cash and bolt, teach them how to prioritize. When you hear, “Why do I have to take my tongue ring out?” explain you’re not out to stifle individuality but to create a professional image that benefits all.

11. Seek feedback. Have employees evaluate your performance. “What was the single worst thing about the class? If there was one takeaway, what would it be?” I delivered two practice sessions for the ThinkFoodGroup of DC and provided such a questionnaire. The brutal feedback forged my updated presentation, which was rated #1 out of 45 presenters at the NRA Show in Chicago.

12. Make sure managers participate.

Mangers must attend the training. As a result, they’ll understand why and when performance slips and how to fix it. And when you bring in an outside trainer, make attendance mandatory. Too many managers lack respect because they haven’t mastered the techniques they aspire to teach.

13. Reward trainers. There’s nothing worse than an instructor who tells employees how much he hates to train. Training is sometimes perceived as a burden or even punishment. Pay trainers more per hour, have them write their own schedules, pick their own stations, and release them from side work.

14. Make training an all-the-time thing.

The pre-shift is the perfect platform for ongoing learning. Create “one-a-day” training vitamins.  Have your chef deliver a mini-class on beef. Give a pop quiz. Great American Restaurant’s GAR State includes curriculum style classroom training, guest speakers, and even field trips to wineries and farmers’ markets.

15. Create a safe environment.

Make certain participants feel free to take chances. Training that’s fun and full of interaction sparks breakthrough thinking while revealing strengths and weaknesses. I always say, “There’s no right or wrong but only effective and ineffective behavior.” Demean a trainee and everyone shuts down, thinking they’re next up.

Training is the critical building block of company culture. It helps people grow, improves performance, and attracts and retains winners.

About the Author

Bob Brown, president of Bob Brown Service Solutions,, pioneered Marriott’s Service Excellence Program. He has worked with clients such as Disney, Hilton, Morton’s of Chicago, Nordstrom, Olive Garden, and Ritz Carlton and works internationally with the prestigious Burj Al Arab in Dubai. He has appeared on the Food Network and is author of the bestselling The Little Brown Book of Restaurant Success, selling over 100,000 copies worldwide. Contact Bob for keynotes, workshops, breakouts, and executive retreats at 571-246-2944 ©Bob Brown Service Solutions 2016.

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