Training, how much is too much?

After working in the restaurant industry for over eight years I have worked at several different restaurants and therefore been through several different training programs. My first experience at Macaroni Grill was a short tour, and hour of studying the menu, a short 15 question test, and thenI was on the floor. My second restaurant job at BJ's brewery was a little morein depth. About 3 days of classroom study then some food sampling, beersampling, and of course a test, then on the floor.

It wasn't until my third restaurant job at Claim Jumper that I started toponder the question, how much is too much training? The restaurant requiredfour days of 2-6pm classroom training where we viewed slides, took severaltests, and did some roll play. After those four days we did follow shifts withcurrent employees. Then, a 16 page test. And if we were still around, westarted on the floor, in a two table station. After my training class, Inoticed only about half of the people actually made it through the program andbecame servers. At first I thought, well maybe it’s just their way of weedingout the bad seeds early. Then I got the opportunity to be lead trainer andclassroom facilitator. I found myself frustrated. Why am I spending my timeinvesting knowledge into these new employees when only 50% (if I am lucky) areactually going to make it through? And If I was frustrated about one trainingclass in one store I started to wonder how much money is wasted on these bigcorporate restaurants in their training programs? Turnover in restaurants areso high that I find it hard to validate the need for a two-three week trainingprogram. How much is too much?

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  • Oh, and tests: I'm all for it, and lots of them. How else can you find out where anyone is? Tests, though, are not for "weeding" people out. They're for you to identify the areas people need work on so that no one is wasting anyone's time on things they already know. In other words, a matter of efficiency.

    "Testing" is also not just something done on paper. It is also needs to be performance -- observing a server or SA at the table, and watching over a cook while he prepares a sauce or dish. Long training periods are indeed ridiculous if people aren't learning anything, but the only way to shorten it or make it efficient is through constant testing .
  • Sarah, this is an old post, but I thought some of the old responses did not give a complete picture. So if you will:

    First, I'm not a "corporate weenie," although I have worked for a multi-unit restaurant group as well as a prestigous 5 Star/5 Diamond hotel, while opening restaurants (some 30 of them) as a key trainer. How much is "too much" training? My opinion: there is never enough.

    I think the worse thing a company can do is put people on the line or on the floor to "learn on the job." Generally speaking, restaurant guests dishing out $20 to over $200 at a time are not into servers or cooks getting good "practice" on them.

    Oh, a company can get away with two, three days training, but only under special circumstances: if the restaurant concept is extremely simple, and if the trainee is highly experienced and competent.

    But for complex, fine dining in high cover restaurants: fahgetaboutit. This is what I've primarily done, and my training and testing periods for new employees last a minimum of two weeks (in actuality, 10 working days). For new restaurant openings, it's closer to three weeks (12 to 15 days of training). No apologies. On my floor, you don't get to go out and play until you're ready. And this has nothing to do with being "corporate" -- I've done it for independent, single location restaurants (re Mark Slater's words of wisdom) -- it has everything to do with competency, plain and simple.

    Ascanio talked about the "soul" of a restaurant being important. I totally agree, but it takes more than a day or two of training for new employees to thoroughly learn that aspect of a restaurant. Adam mentioned the value of "following," and I actually agree with him: although manuals and such are important, most training should involve actual "doing" under tight supervision. If there is no tight supervision, God help the customer.

    I like Surfer Girl, but I can't go with her on her opinion that a good server can "fake" her/his way until they know it. In every situation I've personally seen that done it's come back and bitten me in the butt: namely, upset or downright outraged guests. People do not like to be "lied" to, or told they're getting something that they're not. Most certainly, they hate dishes coming out with the wrong sauces or lacking the sides that are promised on the menu. That's what you get when you put employees in the position of having to "learn" on the job because you're too cheap or lazy to give them the time to train them properly.

    So if you want your restaurant to perform up to its own standards -- and reap the sales and profits towards success -- the message is simple: hire the right people, and then give them the opportunity to do the job they're capable of doing by implementing correct training procedure.
  • a sixteen page test is crazy. So is the reality that so many people don't make it through. Needs to be a better way of calibrating hiring methods with performance expectations. my $.02
  • Train train train. Yeah, it's a good thing. But if the person is not picking it up, or your doing too much re-education instead of tweaking little things, then the person is just not getting and should think outside the bun! Either your born to wait or your not. It's the style and customer service that people are after. Sounds like some corporate weenie who does not get outside the cublical and loves to write manuals is at the heart of this type of training. Love your articles. They are great. Cool that your #3 on the list.
  • Sara, what you are describing is too much. I think those big corporate chains go a bit far in training their employees. Where i work you just have to follow a current employee around for a couple of shifts, until you get the hang of it, then you are given a small handful of tables for a few shifts. Once you've gotten the hang of things, you are given a proper section. Seems effective enough, although it is a small family run joint, and not a big cookie-cutter chain.
  • You are fantastic with a good sense of humar and for sure you don't need more then a day or two (of showing around the restaurant and collegue) .
    Unfortunately here in Europe, is still some kind of service like, Gerington, France, Silver service or Italian, wich need a bit more knowllege for it.
  • After a few years on the job as a FOH employee (they still will not let me near the kitchen, maybe it's because I eat everything in sight) I feel that I'm pretty well trained. Other than the unique characteristics of a menu, a hamburger is still a hamburger, potato skins are skins and Mahi Mahi, is well, with sauce, grilled, baked, poached, or steamed in banana leaves. The bar is obvious other than some specialty drinks. Since I have tried most of the exhotic ones, I am rarely surprised. The fall back is always "when in doubt, blend it and make it pink".

    All I need is a menu, some additional information on spices and how the items are prepared, a seating plan, a few sound bites on the restaurant and what it stands for and it's signature items, allow me to follow a server for a shift, maybe two and let me go. The rest I can either fake until I know it, or ask. A professional server does not need weeks of training. If they do, then maybe the manager needs to have weeks of training on how to recruit "good" employees. Cheers and happy new year to FohBoh-land.
  • Happy New Year to you Sara.
    It is never to much to learn somthing new but the problem you have risen about the big corporate restaurants and their training programs, is a big issue.The thing that is missing in the big corporate restaurants, is the soul.
    The restaurant is the most cosmopolitan ambient and human interelation. you don't need very much of these cold tools to be a good server, but what you need is a good mannar and worm attitude foword the custumer and food you serve. If you work in a 5 star Hotel or 3 star Michelin restaurant, then in this case you will need the catering school, not just training.
    The floor staff have to be well organised with maisenplass (sorry i don't know how to spell it) and have good skill in comunication and understending between the floor manager and the rest of the staff. you can only achieve this if you dine together. with all the staff and during the dinner you should talk about the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. like a big family at the dinner table.
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