Teaching An Experienced Server New Skills

new trick

This dog is 87. She learned this trick yesterday.

Recently, I received a comment on a past post from a manager asking for advice on how to handle an experienced server who was resistant to implementing the new skills he was trying to teach his staff.  This is an incredibly common dilemma and one that deserved more focus than a reply to his comment would have provided.  Nearly every manager will face this issue multiple times during his or her career.  There are very effective techniques to handle this situation, but no simple solution.

I have been on both sides of this equation.  Neither is an enviable position to be in.  A new manager who wants to see their staff improve and may interpret this resistance to their ideas as a direct threat to their power.  An experienced server may have been using the same methods through the last 5 new managers and feel as if they are far more invested in the restaurant than the new manager.  This creates a situation that is ripe for conflict.  Ultimately, it often comes down to a clash of egos that ends up wasting the energy of both parties.

As a manager you must check your motives before attempting to help this person change.  Begin by making sure that you are not trying to enforce the change based on any of the management mentality mistakes.  Then re-familiarize yourself with the power of autonomy.  This is more important to the veterans on your staff than anyone else.  Autonomy is often the primary reason they have stayed at a job.  You must focus on measuring outcomes rather than process in order to maintain autonomy.  If their way produces the same results without harming the guest’s experience, then there may be no need to force change.

Once certain you are acting in the best interest of the restaurant and the server you are trying to convince to change, then here are the steps you can follow to make it happen:

Show Your Motives:  The fourth rule of serving also applies to management.  Your servers will not care how much you know until they know how much you care about the restaurant.  Make it clear that this is not about you trying to get them to change as a way to demonstrate your authority.  Once you demonstrate your motives are rooted in helping them, they will be more open to ideas.  People rarely change their minds, but they will make new decisions based on new information.  Presenting the change again in this way may cause them to look at the change in a different light.

Quid Pro Quo:  This is a Latin phrase that means “Something for something” and should be written on the wall of every manager’s office in America.  Anytime you prepare to make a change that will benefit your staff, it should be paired with a request from them in turn.  A major renovation should come with a request to the staff for a commitment to help maintain it.  A new menu rollout should come with training on how to sell the new items.  Likewise, if you are asking them to implement a new skill, make sure you are pairing it with action on a problem that may be plaguing them.  This is not a sign of weakness, but rather acknowledging the benefits of leading rather than managing.

The 80/20 Rule:  this rule simply states that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your efforts.  Spending a great deal of time trying to force an experienced server to make a change might not be your most efficient use of energy.  Focusing on the staff members who want to learn and recognizing their accomplishments may go much further.  As your more experienced staff sees them earning more and increasing their sales, they will take notice.  Seeing others have success will be effective in getting them to change when none of the other methods have worked.

There is no simple solution to this problem.  Short of micro managing a single employee for your whole shift, there is no way to force them to change.  These techniques may give them the incentive to want to change.  Creating the desire on their part is leadership in action.  Demonstrating your concern, showing that you want to change the big picture, and helping those that want to excel are your best tools for creating that desire.

Tips²: Tips For Improving Your Tips, the new book from the author of The Manager’s Office, teaches the skills of exceptional servers that will increase customer satisfaction and dramatically improve restaurant sales.  This book is more than a server training manual.  It is the secret to teaching your staff to enjoy selling and give your guests the experience that will create raving fans.  To learn more about the book, visit www.tips2book.com.  Use the coupon code “MANAGER” to save 20% at the checkout.

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About David Hayden

David Hayden is a restaurant marketing and training consultant based in Kansas City, MO. He writes a series of 9 blogs collectively known as The Hospitality Formula Network and is the author of "Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips" and "Building Your Brand With Facebook"

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