How to make restaurant training fast, affordable and manageable


Do you feel a bit guilty when ‘training’ is mentioned? Everyone believes in it, and no-one does enough. You can’t close your business while a training session is on, and it’s rare to have all the staff present at one time. In fact, there may never be a time for a training session when ‘everyone is together at the same time’.

This is where twenty minute sessions work so well – don’t wait for everyone but repeat short sessions with the small group that’s on hand. No-one misses out, they just do it next time.

Training for Kitchen Staff

Product knowledge, speed and techniques will be prime issues. Use picture books of ingredients (often found on the sale table at bookshops). If you don’t have celeriac, ochra or honeycomb on hand, this is how you can show what it is. Another useful book will be one that shows the meat cuts of different animals come from - the scotch fillet, sirloin and rump on a cow. Meat marketing organisations like Meat & Livestock Australia and Australian Pork have useful resources for this.

In twenty minutes, you can only look at one particular skill eg filleting and boning, dicing and chiffonade. Use the timer to see how long it takes to fillet or prepare a certain amount of product, with cheering and prizes when the goal is reached.

Calculations and number skills may be weak, so short sessions with calculators will be useful – how much yield do you get from trimming a fish or strip of meat, how to cost a recipe, working out menu profits or multiplying quantities. Everyone has a calculator on their phone, but have they ever used it? Now’s the time to practise!

Bar, Wine and Cocktail Training

Sessions could cover the origins of different spirits, using an atlas. Work on flavour knowledge eg juniper flavours gin, but what is it? Frangelico is flavoured with hazelnuts, but what are they? Beer origins and the traditions in those countries will be useful for imported stock, and the details of different styles eg pilsener, lager etc.

For wine knowledge, start with origins – where is Margaret River, Napa Valley and Bordeaux? Look at grape varieties and their European origins. An atlas and a picture book will be useful - there are gorgeous picture wine books to use and second-hand book shops have plenty at reasonable prices. You can print your own country maps from Google Maps.

Speed is also an issue for bar and coffee service, so training that involves a stop-watch and speed targets will be useful – how many coffees should be produced in five minutes? How long should it take to make a daiquiri? Use the stopwatch on your phone’s Clock app to measure the speed.

Waiter and Service Training

All service staff should be good amateur psychologists, so training them to recognise customer types or ‘personas’ will be useful. Give customer types fun (and respectful) names, then have staff work out the particular needs of ‘first daters’, ‘young business dudes, ‘ladies who lunch’ and ‘grey nomads’. It sharpens their observation skills and makes them more understanding of people different to themselves.

Product knowledge is essential. What do they know about types of seafood, vegetables, herbs and spices, meat and game? Tastings will be important (a spoonful is plenty) plus information about origins. Sessions could be as simple as a ‘lettuce tasting’, a ‘chocolate testing’, a ‘chilli trial’ or a comparison of gelato flavours. How would you describe the difference between lemon, strawberry and kiwi if someone had never tried them? Ask them to rank herbs in order from those they like the most to those they like the least? What do they think of the flavour of coriander (cilantro)? The kitchen can help: when the chef is making a cake or a sauce, it’s the perfect time to have two staff watching how it’s done. Wikipedia and product marketing websites are a great reference for this information.

Short quizzes are another good coaching tool, but not like school. 100% correct is expected, so they may have to ask others! Quiz examples could be 20 facts about Italian food eg ‘Parmesan comes from which city in Italy’, ‘Riso is the Italian word for what ingredient?’, What does ‘al dente’ mean and why is it important?’. Quizzes on national cuisines, vegetables, meats, eating styles etc – you have staff who would love to invent them and run the session. Another good quiz for front and back of house is ’20 difficult situations’. You know what they are ‘a customer returns the fish because she is upset it has a head on it – what would you do?’. ‘A customer’s only credit card is declined, and they have no cash – what do you do?’ Wikipedia and hospitality sites are good resources for this.

Feel like spending a little more than twenty minutes on some activities?

This is where your suppliers can help - they owe you a few favours! If you have a friendly butcher, they’re always willing to have an audience when they cut up the carcasses. Cleaning companies usually have excellent training material on chemical use and safety, and the coffee supplier should be ready to train barista skills. The wine representatives are happy to help with product tastings, but don’t allow it to be just a tour of their latest or a booze-up. A more effective way is to run a tasting of say Rieslings or shirazes where you sample a range of the one variety side by side, with food matching done with small samples in spoons.

Your own Training University?

Now record and glorify what you do. At Cafe Troppo we had ‘Troppo University’ – it was basically an interesting list of training events, short and long, that we ran or recommended, and listed on a fancy certificate. No fees involved! Don’t fear the T-word, and remember when you promote any sort of training, you stand head and shoulders above your competitors. Positive word-of-mouth doesn’t just come from customers – let’s give staff something to rave about too!