Whether it's the friendly smile greeting guests at the door or the efficient service ensuring a smooth dining experience, the role of servers is pivotal in shaping the customer experience and restaurant reputation. However, restaurant training across multiple store locations can be challenging, from maintaining consistency to coordinating efforts effectively. As you prepare to scale your restaurant business, training new servers and existing restaurant employees will help them be prepared and deliver consistent service. 

The challenges of multi-location server training

Multi-location training can be complex, and that's exacerbated by the dynamic nature of the restaurant industry. Each location may have its unique operational nuances, customer demographics, and service standards, making uniformity in content and delivery a challenge.

Plus, soft skills are essential for server roles, yet they're often seen as subjective and hard to teach. The reality is that they can be nurtured and honed. Emotional intelligence, strong communication, and interpersonal abilities can all be developed with soft skills training. 

To address these challenges, learning and development teams must adopt a strategic approach to restaurant server training. Here's an example that did so effectively:

PLANTA, a full-service restaurant with 15 locations across 8 states in the U.S. and Canada, successfully scaled its training program with Opus to ensure employees across all locations and brands are following the same service standards. ”Opus has become the tool we use to verify that everybody is on the same page,” said Yuting Shen, Director of Training at PLANTA.

The corporate restaurant management oversees the training materials, so the individual locations don't have to think about it. PLANTA overcame training hurdles and achieved a 97% training completion rate with 130 different trainings. 

Tips to train servers across locations

Training servers across multiple restaurant locations can be a challenging task, but with the right strategies in place, it can be effectively managed to ensure consistency and high-quality service across your locations. 

  1. Conduct a thorough assessment of the specific skills and knowledge required for restaurant staff at each location.
  2. Establish standardized training protocols to ensure consistency in the delivery of training manuals and materials. That way every team member receives the same level of training and is equipped with the necessary skills to succeed in their role.
  3. Consider different training methods such as ADDIE or the tell-show-do method, especially as you consider the customer service skills needed. Mixed methods are best.
  4. Leverage technology solutions, such as learning management systems (LMS), to facilitate remote training sessions and track staff training progress across various locations. This allows for a flexible training process that accommodates the needs of a diverse workforce.
  5. Provide managers with ongoing support and guidance to ensure the effective execution of training programs at the local level.
  6. Offer ongoing training refreshers to build a habit of training, rather than thinking of it as a one-and-done activity. This will help ensure that the knowledge and habits acquired during training are maintained over time.

This approach to training servers across locations emphasizes the importance of ongoing development and support to create a strong and consistent team.

Beyond the restaurant training manual: 4 steps for multi-location training 

Let’s assume you already have a server handbook and orientation and now need to adapt it across multiple stores. Here are some steps to prepare your training for waiting staff to thrive across multiple locations.

1. Reassess your requirements and constraints 

Before rolling out training across multiple locations, it's essential to assess whether in-person training at each store is realistic. Factors such as geographical spread, staff availability, and logistical challenges may influence this decision.

Also, take time to review and update the employee handbook to reflect any changes in standards or procedures. Over time, standards may evolve organically, requiring adjustments to ensure alignment across all locations.

2. Set new goals

While your previous training goals may have served you well at one location, it's imperative to establish clear goals for the training program as you scale. Goals should align with training and more importantly, tie to business outcomes. These goals could focus on employee productivity, sales, or guest satisfaction.

For new stores, there may be pressure to onboard and train new hires quickly to meet operational demands. Define the minimum skills required for new employees to start working and identify areas where they can gain practical experience and start getting their hands dirty during training.

3. Break down skills for blended learning 

A blended learning approach combines e-learning modules with hands-on, in-person methods like shadowing and role play. This mixed strategy is one of the best ways to train. Identify topics that can be delivered via e-learning for individualized learning and determine if different multimedia such as videos or photos can improve consistency in content delivery. Use role-playing exercises and shadowing opportunities to focus on specific skills such as taking orders, using the POS system, sidework rotation, understanding restaurant layout, and closing out tables.

4. Build space for ongoing training

Continuous learning and development are essential for servers to continue to grow in their roles at your restaurant. Establish a cadence for ongoing training sessions beyond the initial training and determine when to introduce more advanced topics. Provide employees with dedicated time during work hours to complete training activities and incentivize participation through rewards such as free meals, preferred parking spots, and recognition for achievements.

Adapting your training program to work across multiple locations will result in a prepared waiting staff and consistent service. Successful restaurants invest in ongoing training and development to not only enhance employee skills but also contribute to improved customer satisfaction and overall business success.