It was 7: 45 am on April 2nd of 2007 when I arrived for my first day of work at my previous job. I hadn’t slept much the night before because of nerves. I had closed my old restaurant the night before and departed that night knowing that I was leaving a great deal of security behind. I was walking away from a job where I was the head trainer and made more than enough to support myself. I was leaving behind a large and growing pool of regulars. I was leaving behind co-workers and managers who respected me. I knew the stories behind the pictures on the wall and the ingredients in every meal. I stepped out of that restaurant knowing that I was taking a leap of faith by starting a new job.
So when I arrived on the morning of my first shift, I had no idea what to expect. I was joining the staff of one of the premier restaurants in my town. I wondered if I would really fit in. I wondered if I would be good enough to make the jump up to that caliber of restaurant. I was met at the front door by the General Manager. He greeted me by name and walked me back to a distant dining room. I joined a couple of servers. I showed up 15 minutes early, but two people still were there before me. Three more joined us shortly.
At each of the seats around this table were training manuals. These were no glorified pamphlets. They were at least an inch thick and spiral bound. There were bagels and coffee waiting for us. The General Manager came in and began our orientation at exactly 8:00. After a few hours we had our first break. We all began talking about where we came from. The other servers were listing places that I had never been to because they were well beyond my price range. I decided at that moment that my goal was simply not to be the first one fired.
As the General Manager wrapped up, servers came into the room one by one to grab us to follow them on the lunch shift. My first day, I was trained by someone with more management experience than I had serving experience and I had been at it for over 10 years. She was a pro. She answered every question thrown at her and some that I swore the guests were making up. I asked her near the end of the shift how long she had been at the restaurant. She informed me that she was the newest employee on the staff and had just started six months prior. I could not believe she had learned all of those answers in six months. She said that I would know them all by the end of training.
Over the next five days, I felt like I was in boot camp. Arrive at 9:00 for a test followed by a classroom. Follow a server from 11:00-1:30. Attend another classroom session while eating lunch between 1:30 and 3:30. Then a short break before returning to follow another server from 5:00-9:00. I went home exhausted and studied until I passed out. I woke back up and did it again. I put in well over 40 hours that week, but they didn’t really seem to mind that six trainees went into overtime.
Two things really were impressed on me by this experience:
1) This was a far more professional organization than I had ever worked for before. They were structured and regimented. They wanted me to succeed and were willing to give me all of the resources to do so.
2) I was going to have to step up my game to keep up with the people I was working with. This was a serious job and I needed to treat it as such.
Four years later, three of those six were still with the restaurant. One only lasted about a year. The other two made it over two and a half. I became one of those trainers. I wish I could say that they still had the same training standards. Unfortunately, training budgets are one of the first things to go in an economic downturn. I also saw the effects of this every day. The new trainees weren’t brought into the same system I was. Some remnants remain, but gone are the massive training manuals, the hours of classroom training, and the overtime. The intimidation factor went away with it. While I was worried daily about if I was good enough to not get fired, the new trainees are constantly questioning if they want to keep the job.
First impressions are vital. The first impression you make on your newest staff members is how you handle their training. An employee, who arrives for their first day only to get lost in the shuffle, will never have the same level of respect for their restaurant as someone who had my training experience. A highly structured and preplanned training program is vital to conveying an impression of professionalism on your newest employees. Failing to take the time to plan out their training is the equivalent of telling them that they do not need to take their job seriously. This is a misstep you cannot afford to make with the future of your staff.
This is the first of a series of posts about training I will be writing in the next few weeks. I wanted to start by introducing the power of a structured and well thought out training system. You can create this same sort of perception in your restaurant, regardless of your market segment. In the next few posts on this topic, I will lay out how to accomplish this. I will also discuss what to avoid and pitfalls that can damage the first impression you make on your newest employees.
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