The hospitality industry is a ‘people’ industry – without customers or guests (whichever you wish to call them), operating an establishment would be a pointless venture. This is a two-way street – without staff, an establishment would be a pointless venture furthermore. I can safely suggest that much of the quality of a venue originates from the quality of its staff – regardless of other qualities displayed by the venue. What do you associate with an establishment where staff are unfriendly and rude? Negative emotions. Are you going to return to that venue? Probably not. On the other hand, warm, friendly and educated staff can bring a small low-budget establishment to great success. Are you going to return to that venue? Most probably. It is safe to assume that a venue draws much of its characteristics from the people employed under its roof – and (of course) it’s always hard to find good staff to deliver positive propulsion for a venue.
As a general rule, aim to reduce turnover in your establishment. Try and offer an attractive platform for employment – this will increase your internal staff culture which will have an effect on your venue’s external reputation.
In this chapter, I’m not going to tell you the best qualities to look for in potential employees, as this will differ from venue to venue – only you know the best attributes to look for when hiring. Over the years, I have developed a logical system for training staff, which will hopefully make your role (as a trainer) a whole lot easier.
This system spans from initial training right through to the exit interview. I’m not going to cover the interview or selection process, as this will be unique to your venue and may be influenced by your local laws. However, I’d like to point out important mantra to keep in mind when sourcing staff for your venue.
Hire for Attitude, Train for Knowledge.
Basically, hiring for attitude and training for knowledge suggests that it’s wise to employ an individual with a positive and appropriate attitude, even if they aren’t completely skilled in their selected area of expertise. You can always train a new employee in niche technical skills and customer service techniques (you can train them to your standards), however you can’t (easily) adjust an employee’s undesirable attitude (this includes but is not limited to work ethic, interpersonal skills etc.). That said, an incredibly qualified candidate (a Subject Matter Expert) may apply for a job, however they possess sub-par customer service skills and an unproductive or clashing attitude – as attractive as this may seem (Subject Matter Experts are hard to come by) you may be better off hiring the happy and welcoming staff member, and taking the time to train them accordingly (instead of hiring the Subject Matter Expert and having to handle negative situations which arise from their negative attitude or poor customer service skills).
If we examine this from the perspective of the customer, who is more likely to influence existing customers to return? My experience suggests that the happy and welcoming staff member has the greater ability to influence customers to return. However, you still need experienced and knowledgeable Subject Matter Experts on your team – it is up to your judgement to use this mantra appropriately.
Firstly, keep a record for every one of your staff members. Depending on the legal requirements in your area, you may need to do this anyway. I suggest keeping track of the following statistics (aside from the usual banking and tax details etc., if applicable):
- Full name
- Date of birth
- Telephone number
- Email address
- Name of next of kin
- Telephone number of next of kin
- Employment commencement date
- Other notes
Step One: The Trial Shift
If employment law in your country permits, arrange for the candidate to come in for a trial shift. A trial shift is a no-strings-attached way of:
- Determining if the candidate has the necessary skills (so far, you’ve established they can talk the talk, but can they walk the walk?)
- The applicant determining if the venue suits them.
The best time to conduct a trial shift is during a medium-paced shift, where it’s busy enough for the applicant to demonstrate their skills but not too busy for you to be unable to examine their performance.
Don’t show them your POS and cash system yet, this may be unnecessary training (they might not get the job and you will have wasted your valuable time by showing them). Buddy the applicant up with another staff member (preferably a senior one) to ‘show them the ropes’. I would suggest keeping your distance at this point – leave the initial walkthrough to your senior staff member. The duration of the trial shift is up to you.
Step Two: Induction
So you’ve offered a successful applicant a position, and they’ve accepted – that’s great news as good staff are hard to find! The next step is to begin a formal induction process. This is the time when you communicate essential knowledge and systems to the new staff member. Conduct yourself professionally during this process. Don’t joke around, and remember to carry yourself with an air of authority. This will assist you in managing the staff member further down the line.
Create an ‘induction checklist’ – a system designed to track the essential stages of your induction process. This covers the receipt of any paperwork/bank information you require from them, important topics you need to discuss like fire safety, responsible service of alcohol etc., every system in your operations manual and any other essential customer service, productivity or profitability tips.
Creating an ‘induction checklist’ will remove any chance of omitting or forgetting these essential aspects – and you can operate your bar knowing that your staff are sufficiently trained in the basics. Give the new staff member a copy of the checklist, and keep one for your file. Items you might want to include in the induction process are:
- Bank account/payment information received
- Taxation information received (if applicable)
- Code of conduct agreement
- Basic information about your venue:
- Operating hours
- License information (if applicable)
- The history of your venue (customers often ask about the history of venues)
- The style of your venue
- The phone number and address of your venue
- Your internal mantra (I’ll explain this in part eleven)
- Fire safety procedures and locations of essential equipment
- How to call a cab
- Your policy on removing patrons
- Your house policy
- Your operations manual
- Your FAQs
- Basic customer service training
- An ‘Ace’ form (I’ll explain this in part eighteen)
- Where the facilities are:
- Disabled access
- Dish room
- Entries and exits
- Locations of keys to access staff only areas, or codes to unlock doors
- Benefits of working at your venue (the perks)
- Basic service standards
From the very beginning, tell your new staff member that you are selling an experience, not just a drink in someone’s hand.
Create a ‘unique venue qualities and standards’ checklist (see template pack) which outlines exactly what you expect when customers are served. By outlining these basic service standards in the induction process, you can safely assume you are promoting consistency in your establishment. It’s much easier to iron this out in the induction process – changing an employee’s customer service procedure six months into their employment is more difficult than at the very beginning.
I mentioned a ‘code of conduct’ earlier. It is also wise to create a ‘code of conduct’ and have every inductee confirm that they have read and understand the code – this way there is no transparency in your expectations of their behaviour. The induction process is also the time to explain benefits of employment in your establishment (personal discounts, family & friend discounts etc.).
On a negative note, it’s also easier to dismiss an offending employee when they have signed the house policy and code of conduct. By signing these documents it shows that they knew what not to do and that you may have grounds for potential dismissal.
Step Three: Initial Training
Initial training is ‘hands on’ and covers the basic systems of your bar-machine. This is training where you physically demonstrate your establishment’s uniqueness in its product and customer service – i.e. how you make certain cocktails, how you serve a beer to a customer, how you set a table etc., and how you are different to your competitors.
Initial training is the time where you show your new employee how your venue is unique to your competitors. Physically tell them this is the case. Say, “This is how we do X over our competitors” and because you have defined this difference, they’ll (most probably) remember to do this every time (everyone wants their bar to be the best on the block, yeah?).
Initial training can cover the following areas:
- POS operation (how to operate your till system)
- Cash handling
- Where certain items are kept
- Specific product training (e.g. cocktail training)
- Specific customer service processes (i.e. how you meet & greet customers, the service process)
I recommend creating a checklist (similar to induction training) where you list each topic covered at this stage and ‘sign off’ when you have covered this with the employee. This way you’ll know the progress of their training and can resume easily if your training is interrupted. Add this completed checklist to your human resources file for each staff member.
Step Four: Professional Development and Tiers of Employment
The next step involves ongoing regular long-term professional development for each staff member. The benefit of regularly training staff is a double edged sword – it keeps your team’s enthusiasm fresh, and they are subsequently loaded with powerful information to assist in selling (and upselling) more of your products.
There are a number of ways you can organise training. Firstly, you can conduct training yourself, provided you have the technical expertise to support your teachings (if you don’t have the expertise and are going to ‘wing it’, don’t bother – it may have a negative effect). Secondly, and most effectively, you can arrange training with a representative from a supply company – nine times out of ten they will jump at the chance to demonstrate ‘how wonderful their products are’ and ‘how your customers will benefit from their products’.
Provide customer service and upselling training for your team. Providing specialised training in this area could boost your profits greatly – satisfied customers return (because your staff have great customer service skills), and when they do return, your staff will have the confidence to upsell premium products (as your staff know how to sell). And there you have it: your customers are happy and your venue is selling more products. Everyone wins.
I can’t stress the importance of organising customer service and upselling training for your staff. In my experience, this is overlooked in many bars – but when you think about it, a bartender or a waitperson are customer service representatives, and salespeople, aren’t they?
Another useful training system is to utilize a tiered in-house qualification system which offers officially trained (and properly tested) staff higher rates of pay, dependant on the examinations they have passed. For example: a useful system is a ‘star’ rating, where staff pass an exam to reach a ‘One-star’ level (which increases their pay by a certain amount). ‘One-star’ staff must then pass the ‘Two-star’ examinations to reach the ‘Two-star’ employment category. You can have as many ‘star’ levels as you like, as long as employment benefits are increased with each increment. A tiered training system possesses the following benefits:
- It gives new staff an incentive to learn product knowledge and customer service skills
- It lowers turnover in your establishment (staff want to stay longer because they realise they can earn more)
- It attracts excellent potential staff who want to work in your venue (good staff are hard to find – why not offer something attractive to make them come to you)
- You can operate your bar-machine knowing that your staff are trained effectively
Step Five: Cross-Training
‘Cross-training’ is the process of training your staff in more than one area of expertise. Examples of this include training bar staff to wait tables, and vice versa (your bartenders become waitstaff, your waitstaff become bartenders). Do this is beneficial in a number of ways:
- A change is as good as a holiday: cross-training allows staff to ‘do something different’ and will keep their attitudes positive – they will not get bored as quickly (therefore reducing turnover in your establishment)
- Cross-trained staff are useful in situations where regular staff are ill or absent and you need a qualified staff member to temporarily cover a particular role
- Cross-training assists in customer service and profitability: for example, waitstaff who have bar knowledge can easily upsell certain products
‘Cross-trained’ (staff who are trained in multiple areas of your venue, such as the bar and the restaurant floor) staff are more likely to have a greater emotional connection to your establishment. This is beneficial for customer service, productivity and therefore profitability.
Step Six: Dismissing An Employee – Exit Interview
Conducting an exit interview as part of an official dismissal process can be moulded into a positive experience, depending on the situation. If an employee is asked to leave, chances are it won’t be appropriate for you to conduct an exit interview. However, if the employee is leaving on their own accord, you have an excellent window of opportunity to conduct a no-holds-barred conversation about your establishment.
An exit interview (when a staff member is concluding employment) is a great time to ask for honest feedback about your venue. An exit interview may uncover key issues or problems not normally seen or discussed.
- An evaluation of the staff member’s overall experience in your establishment
- The good points
- The bad points
- Things that could be improved
- An evaluation of your venue’s systems and procedures
Keep notes of this exit interview, as you will most probably need to rectify any problems you have found. Try and keep your discussion positive, and be prepared for an attack on your bar-machine – try to use this information constructively (and don’t take it personally).