Preparing and Training Servers for Success

Most of us in the restaurant industry have been a server at one time or another. And if you’ve been there, then you know – it’s not easy! It is a physical (managing large trays/multiple plates/long hours on your feet) and mental (memorizing menu/ingredient/preparation specs) balancing act.

The toughest part though? Undoubtedly, the emotional roller coaster servers find themselves on during each shift, when dealing with guests.

From food expert to friend from assertive to accommodating, the emotions run the gamut and the server has many roles to play. But, in the end: the success of any restaurant starts with great servers, and setting them up for success is the first necessary step any restaurateur should take.

So, to offer some best practices to help servers succeed, we reached out to our VSAG/Farmers Restaurant Group resident Restaurant Training and Service Operations specialist, Alexis Thury. From getting involved in a guest’s issue or concern immediately, to ‘recovering’ a table from poor to good experience, to team building tactics … server success is well within reach, and achieved with a systematic approach.

Get Involved. Servers should be educated on ‘reading’ a table. If their efforts and niceties are not going anywhere and they feel the table fading fast, then it is essential for servers to call-in reinforcements (i.e. get a manager involved) as soon as possible, says Alexis. The manager will want to assess the situation and come up with a quick solution. Being skilled at finding solutions fast, and observing and learning from a manager in action is invaluable training for any server.  And an immediate plus, says Alexis: guests appreciate when servers feel strongly enough about their experience to get a manager involved.

Recovering a Table: Tools of the Trade. Mantra here: the truth shall set you free. Alexis says that when recovering a table and turning a poor situation into a better one, servers should never lie about a mistake, but instead sincerely apologize and take responsibility for their actions.

Alexis’ best advice: don’t insult guests by immediately throwing money at the situation. Better yet, let them know you care, then offer a customized gesture. For example, if guests are a celebratory group, buy them a round of drinks; if others are indulging in desserts, offer a pastry chef sampler; if they are loyal guests who simply had a bad experience, provide them with a gift card to be used at a later date. In the end, a table is only fully recovered when the server/manager has done all they can to ensure a guest’s return.

Team-Building Tactics. As servers are highly motivated to do well since their performance directly affects their pay, Alexis recommends instilling regular team building/training tactics to maintain their growth.

Successful server team building and training needs can be met by integrating the restaurant brand and culture through everything related to their jobs; designating trainers to work closely with them, providing strong written materials outlining your brand best practices, and providing team goals that all servers work towards are good places to start. These tactics (and more) should be aimed at ensuring servers (and all team members) are good brand ambassadors.

Putting the time, money, and energy into team building and training resources, says Alexis, will set up not only the individual server for success, but also create long-term dedication for maintaining a loyal following amongst the staff, and in turn, the business as a whole.