Maintaining consistent customer service across multiple restaurant locations can be a challenge for restaurant owners and managers. With each new establishment, there's a risk of varying service standards, which can negatively affect the overall brand reputation and customer loyalty. Effective customer service restaurant training plays a crucial role in overcoming this challenge.

The vast majority (80%) of L&D leaders plan to focus on developing soft skills, with customer service being the second highest priority for training, behind management and leadership, according to the Hospitality Training 360 Report by Opus and CHART. This underscores the importance of investing in comprehensive training programs to equip staff with soft skills and knowledge.

Good customer service goes beyond merely satisfying customers—it fosters loyalty and advocacy. When customers receive attentive, friendly, and efficient service, they're more likely to return to the restaurant and recommend it to others. Prioritizing customer service training is essential for ensuring sustained success and growth when expanding to new locations.

Importance of consistency in customer experience

Customer service today isn't the same as yesterday. Customers now want quick and effortless service. For instance, when customers pick up a takeout order in the restaurant, employees may have a mere 5 seconds to leave a lasting impression. That’s a lot of pressure on those 5 seconds.

To adapt to these changing expectations, restaurant leaders must update training protocols to align with customer desires. This means revisiting and refining training programs to enhance communication skills, streamline service processes, or incorporate new technology to meet customers where they are.

Challenges of opening new locations

As operations scale, maintaining the same level of customer service becomes increasingly challenging. If customers expect a certain level of service and don't receive that, the brand's reputation can quickly be damaged, deterring customers from coming back. When customers receive consistent service across locations, they're more likely to trust the brand and return for repeat visits. Inconsistent service can erode customer satisfaction and drive them to seek alternatives.

How to train as your restaurant grows

As your business grows and scales, one of the biggest challenges you may face is training your staff in customer service. Traditionally, this training has been done in person, but as your company expands, this method becomes less scalable. Hiring for a "culture fit" can also be limiting as it narrows down your applicant pool. To address this issue, here are three recommended steps as you scale:

1. Offload some customer service training to online learning 

Online training can be a more efficient solution and allows for scalability and flexibility. Employees can learn at their own pace and convenience, which can help with comprehension and retention of information. Video, augmented reality, and virtual reality technology can make online learning more practical when training for soft skills. Online training also builds consistency in learning experiences across different locations, so all staff members receive uniform training regardless of their geographical location.

2. Combine in-person and online training

Online learning alone may not be as effective as in-person training for certain skills. To ensure your training is effective, it's important to blend in-person training with online learning. This hybrid approach can provide the best of both worlds: personalized attention and hands-on coaching, as well as the convenience of online resources.

3. Reinforce the importance of service in every role

Excellent customer service is not just a task to complete. It's a habit and practice that should be ingrained in every restaurant employee. By training what service looks like for staff at different levels and in different roles, you can ensure that each member of your team provides exceptional customer experiences as your business grows.

💡Opus partners with Uplifting Leadership to provide comprehensive customer service training for team members and managers. Learn more here.

Role of training in ensuring consistency

Investing in comprehensive training programs can help create consistency across locations and benefits both new hires and existing staff. New employees receive thorough onboarding, so they're well-equipped to represent the brand from day one. Existing staff benefit from reinforcement training to sharpen their skills and stay updated on evolving customer service practices.

Staff may have different skill levels, and training programs should be tailored to cater to individual needs. Ongoing reinforcement training ensures that all employees, regardless of tenure, remain proficient in delivering great customer service.

The first step in any restaurant customer service training program is identifying the training objectives. This includes honing communication skills, problem-solving techniques, and de-escalation strategies. Let's explore those in more detail:  

Communication skills

Effective communication is fundamental to positive customer interactions. Training focuses on teaching employees how to engage with customers courteously, actively listen to their needs, and convey information clearly and accurately.

Problem-solving techniques

Customer complaints and issues are inevitable in the restaurant industry. Training empowers staff with problem-solving skills to deal with difficult customers and address customer concerns promptly and effectively, turning potentially negative experiences into positive ones.

De-escalation strategies

Difficult situations can arise unexpectedly, requiring employees to remain calm and diffuse tensions. Staff training provides de-escalation strategies to handle challenging scenarios with professionalism and empathy.

8 Tips for customer service training 

When new locations are opening, it's helpful to have a plan for your restaurant management team to turn to to train new and existing staff members. Here are a few tips to set up a scalable and consistent training plan:

  1. Standardize training materials by role: Develop consistent training materials covering service protocols, brand values, and customer interaction techniques to ensure that all employees receive consistent training regardless of location.

  2. Create structured onboarding programs: When new hires familiarize themselves with company policies and service standards, it should be the same regardless of location, setting clear expectations from the start.

  3. Scenario playing: Simulate different customer scenarios, such as greeting guests at the door or taking phone orders, to prepare employees for real-world situations and ensure consistency in the dining experience.

  4. Walk through different touch points: Identify and walk through various touch points where employees interact with customers, including small moments like pick-up orders, to address all aspects of the customer experience.

  5. Offer ongoing training and support: Provide continuous training and support to employees including refresher courses to reinforce skills, address challenges, and adapt to changing customer needs.

  6. Customize training for the local market: Tailor training programs to the local market and talent pool to meet the unique needs and preferences of customers in each location.

  7. Implement quality assurance (QA) measures: Establish quality assurance processes to monitor and evaluate service delivery at each location, providing feedback for improvement and maintaining consistent service standards.

Leverage technology: Find technology that helps you deliver training content, track progress, and facilitate communication among staff members across different locations.

How two restaurant brands excel with customer service training

Online and in-person training pair well together, and often with customer service training, the scenario playing is most effective after independent online training. PLANTA, a restaurant group with plant-powered dining, does precisely this with a hybrid approach to customer service training. For front-of-house new hires, the online course on Opus covers proper verbiage and body language. Then, they practice in person with scenario playing to complement the online training and put it into action. 

Customer service doesn't only come through during the dining experience. It also is part of every guest service with the brand. Salt & Straw, a small-batch ice cream shop with more than two dozen locations, takes a holistic approach to training by having their staff study "guest archetypes" and put themselves in the customer's shoes during every interaction. They train to pivot their hospitality to every guest since everyone coming through their doors is there for a different reason.

Hear from Angela Gintz, director of talent development at Salt & Straw, about how she designed their customer service training. Watch now!

Consistent customer service not only builds trust and loyalty but also helps your brand in a competitive market. Training plays a pivotal role in achieving and maintaining this consistency, particularly during periods of growth and expansion. By investing in comprehensive training programs and prioritizing ongoing development, restaurants can ensure that every interaction reflects the brand's commitment to a strong customer experience.

Opus helps teams build training tools that are made for frontline staff. With mobile-first training, you can train your teams across locations and empower them to learn when and how it works for them.