One of the first questions we receive of our Menu Modules™ program is whether or not we have online testing. Our clients wonder how they can make sure their staff retains the crucial information. And while there is certainly value in quantifying training success, online testing often inefficiently achieves our clients’ ultimate objective: ensure the staff understands the menu so they can create exceptional guest experiences.
For sure, new-hires need preliminary testing to prove competency before transitioning to the floor. Quizzing, when paired with formal and organized training programs, highlights the knowledge necessary for effective service in your restaurant. Memorizing every menu intricacy and service nuance is a daunting task for any new employee; testing guides them through what is immediately important, allowing in-depth learning to happen as they integrate into the your operation.
That said, training on the floor is a different challenge entirely that we believe online assessment fails to overcome. First, quizzes take time to create. Every minute spent formulating that week’s assessment is another minute kept from restaurant management. Once the quiz is written it must be disseminated and completed by the targeted staff. For smaller restaurants this may be fine, but collecting questionnaires from twenty or more service member can take days. It would then be management’s responsibility to correct, analyze, and educate staff on the most common areas lacking understanding. By the time training is organized to correct any misinformation, it’s already time to prepare the next week’s materials! Fortunately, there’s a more effective way:
The 3 Big E's of Pre-Shift Meetings
Sometimes called a “line-up” or pre-meal, pre-shift meetings are the most effective way to assess servers for menu competency, remediate insufficiencies, and prepare staff for exceptional service that shift. The concept is simple. Set aside time at the beginning of every shift to meet with and educate your staff. Unlike online testing, pre-shift meetings take far less time to execute with stronger outcomes and immediate feedback.
There are three crucial traits effective pre-shift meetings share. We call them the 3 Big E’s: Engaging, Efficient, and Educational. Focusing on these three ideas will assure staff proficiency, but also a smoother shift.
Engagement sets the stage for an effective pre-shift meeting. This concept is really simple, but it takes time to cultivate the mood. As a manager, an owner, a leader of the business, you have a clear idea of what you want from your staff. It would be very easy to stand up in front of your staff and spend 15 minutes talking AT them, but you will accomplish very little.
Instead, make your point by engaging with the staff and having them engage with each other. Think about who is in the audience that did something really well, then ask them to share what it was and how they did it. Sharing success stories will inspire and educate their coworkers, and because they are engaging with each other it is also a wonderful team-building exercise. Let's look at this example:
Your menu changed two days ago, but some of your staff working today haven't seen the new items because they haven't worked since the change. You certainly could tell those people about the new dishes, but what if you said, "John, you were here a couple days ago when we changed the menu and you really sold a lot of the new chicken dish. Can you tell Sally about the new chicken and how you sell it at the table?"
Calling on people at random will make sure that your staff is aware and engaged, because they could be next! As well, guest interactions demand quick-thinking and information recall. Prepare your staff for the kind of interactions by mimicking them in pre-meal. It’s not enough to quiz staff on each ingredient in your signature Bolognese sauce. Ask them how to sell it. Encourage staff to comment on their coworker’s up-sell strategies and adapt their method to fit their own personality and style. Whereas online testing features straight-forward questions and answers, the questions asked during pre-shift should make your staff think.
Efficiency is key in any restaurant, regardless of concept. We are always racing against the clock. It is crucial, then, to keep meetings to the point. Ideally, they should be no more than 20-30 minutes — most restaurants won’t find this to be a problem.
Pre-shift meetings offer a captive audience ready to soak in any information thrown their way. Use their attention to your advantage and remain on task. If a server can’t answer a question, don’t waste time reprimanding. Call on another staffer that knows the answer so you are able to get the information into the open. It is important to move quickly if this happens because the pre-shifts should be positive and encouraging; they are about learning information, not feeling bad for not knowing it. As an aside, reprimand has its place, but it’s not during pre-shift. Remember: punish in private, praise in public.
Focusing on education will not only make your pre-shift meetings more effective, but it will foster a comfortable learning environment within the restaurant. This is the perfect time to taste and learn specials or featured dishes, review 86’d items, focus on particular beverage sales, and check uniform appearance. There probably will not be another time where your entire staff is in one place for the rest of the shift. Make sure they have the tools to work it successfully.
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Implement a consistent, daily pre-shift meeting that focuses on the 3 Big E’s and everyone wins: No more quiz making and grading for managers; your staff will enter each shift motivated, educated, and comfortable, which will translate to great guest experiences. The more positive the experience, the more likely for guest return and the more your restaurant profits — those are the real tests. You’d be confident your staff knows the material inside and out… because you teach it every day!