I ran restaurants successfully for 20 years, and the absolute cornerstone of my guest experience was training — daily training.

I’m talking about the importance of pre-shifts and the training that should happen in every restaurant, every day before the doors open for business.

Most restaurants train their staff only on the basics of each job. A host greets and seats customers, bussers clear tables, and waiters and waitresses take orders.

It’s been done like this for 100 years, but I’ve always wondered why. To me, this approach delivers average service and average dining experiences — no excitement there. Why would anyone go back to a restaurant like that? 

Here’s a paradigm shift: Why not train the entire front-of-house team to not just do their job, but to deliver great dining experiences — serve and sell — because it’s everyone’s job to wow each and every guest and exceed expectations.

Treat them like they’re the most important customer, even when all your other seats are full. Delivering amazing service consistently across all staff is perhaps your restaurant’s most powerful competitive advantage, and this idea is lost on so many other restaurants — hopefully your competitors.

I’m talking about first training on communication and teamwork, which leads to efficiency and extraordinary dining experiences. When the staff knows each other’s jobs and can back each other up in a pinch, the show goes on without a hitch, even when the unexpected happens.

Next, train everyone to sell. Selling in restaurants is easy because you have a captive audience that wants to know what’s great. It all begins with product knowledge. Make sure that your entire front-of-house team knows the menu inside and out, and has favorites in each category that they can recommend. It’s rare for bussers and hosts actually make suggestions that lead to sales, and just as rare that they enter the order into the POS, but why not? This is teamwork and superior service. 

So how do you pull all this together in your restaurant?

First, I strongly recommend having a pre-shift meeting and exercise every single day that focuses on both service and suggestive selling. Once your team is comfortable and confident suggesting every table, every time, and this becomes conditioned behavior, create some fun contests and incentives to move the merchandise. A healthy competitive environment is good for sales and service.

Finally, to reinforce these best practices, hold a more formal interactive session once a month with your service staff. Make it fun and worth their while. 

Start by placing $100 in cash (one $20, two $10s, eight $5s and 10 $1s) randomly shuffled on the table. Next, gather a bottle of wine, a dessert, a table tent, retail merchandise (if your restaurant sells it) and any other sales tools that help the staff bring your products to life for the customer. Take turns calling on team members and asking them service and sales questions. Practice role-playing and have your staff suggest menu items to each other and how they will “bring it to life” for the guest. 

Every time a team member answers correctly or demonstrates solid suggestive selling and service techniques, allow them to take a bill off the stack. Great performances earn cold, hard cash, but more importantly develop a culture of hospitality and professionalism in your restaurant.

It may have cost your restaurant $100 at this training session, but I guarantee you’ll be surprised how this incentive impacts your sales that night and in the days ahead, far in excess of this investment until your next training session.

Go out there and Rock Your Restaurant!

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON RESTAURANT HOSPITALITY:  http://www.restaurant-hospitality.com/staffing/train-your-staff-success-20-minutes-and-100