Handling difficult customers is an ever-present challenge in restaurants. But, like everything else in our post-COVID world, this too has become more complex. In recent weeks, restaurants have scrambled to reopen by reconfiguring their dining rooms for social distancing and equipping team members with masks, digital thermometers, and disposable menus. Dine-in restaurants are attempting to serve customers with a pent-up need to get out of the house and restart some semblance of normal. Some of these patrons comply with social distancing and mask use, but others are defiantly ignoring these guidelines. This leaves restaurants — specifically, front-of-house employees — tasked with managing customer compliance on top of trying to provide great customer service.
To balance these varied levels of customer cooperation with protecting the health and safety of everyone in the restaurant, team member training is critical. As reopening guidelines and guest attitudes change and evolve, restaurants must continuously monitor what’s happening both inside and outside their four walls so they can train team members to handle guest challenges and update training based on the shifting service environment.
Below is a step-by-step plan for quickly creating and adapting your team member training program in response to COVID-19 guidelines and customer demands:
1.) Training Team Members on scenarios as well as tools. Most team member training programs focus on tools and procedures, how to take temperatures, sanitizing tables and high touch points. Create a list of possible guest challenges and conduct role-playing sessions so team members are equipped to handle touchy situations, especially those that put other guests and team members at risk, and when to involve a manager. It’s also crucial to remind team members why following their training is essential not just for them but to the guest and the larger community.
2.) Review federal, state and local guidelines every week. They are changing fast. Assign one of your managers or your Safety Officer with staying on top of restaurant operating guidelines. By having a dedicated person in charge of monitoring these mandates, it places the responsibility on one manager and eliminates the need for other managers to keep up with all of the information. Everyone has opinions and listens to the news, this can eliminate the extra chatter.
3.) Conduct regular safety and compliance walk-throughs – which we all should be accustomed to with Health Inspection – walk through with your team members. During each shift, the manager on duty must walk the dining room to make sure team members and guests are complying with all service and safety guidelines. This helps take some of the enforcement pressure off hourly team members and demonstrates your restaurant’s commitment to the health and safety of all.
4.) Use pre-shift meetings as key communication tools. Take a few minutes before each shift to gather all team members and discuss how the restaurant is adhering to COVID guideline and Health guidelines. Make it a point to cover a different topic each time, like hand-washing, sanitizing and mask use. If someone on the team has done an exceptional job, recognize and praise them in from of their teammates. Pre-shift meetings are a great opportunity to answer questions and alert team members of any new training requirements and safety changes.
5.) Provide all team members access to the latest information and (SOPs) Standard Operating Procedures and training information readily available through employee bulletin boards or digital with Hotschedules, etc.
6.) Hand-washing – Lather, rinse, repeat. Presenting a training plan, administering the training, and supporting the training with oversight and coaching is the key to making your COVID compliance efforts successful. In fact, this process can be used for any restaurant training program, including the introduction of new menu items, upselling and food safety.
As restaurants continue to feel their way through a complex and consuming path to normalcy, training all team members should be a constant goal. Team member training is not a “set it and forget it” effort. It needs to be the number one component through this pandemic. With the rapid pace of the change in today’s environment, safeguarding the health and safety of your team members and guests will undoubtedly be a key component in keeping sales in the hospitality industry.