Waiter Training - Teach Your Waitstaff Basic Food Knowledge & Preparation Methods

As owner/operator of a restaurant, if you asked one of your waiters: "what is the difference between broiled chicken and roasted chicken?' or "what is a ragout sauce?' Would you be provided with the correct answer? If not, then I highly suggest that you start teaching basic food knowledge and food preparation methods in your waiter training programs. Otherwise, precious revenue and service reputation is being lost unnecessarily everyday in your restaurant's dining room.

Most chefs work extremely hard and long hours to design and implement a food menu. But, if your waiters cannot follow through with proper dining room service that includes being able to explain, in detail, everything on that menu, then a lot of the chef's valuable time and effort work is being wasted.

Restaurant customers always have questions about the menu whether it is a definition of a spring vegetable, a fruit that is not familiar to them or certain method that a dish is cooked such as braised, roasted, grilled etc. If a waiter cannot provide a quick and knowledgeable answer when asked, then customer confidence is lost and so are sales--not to mention dining room service reputation. A waiter's actions and ability are a reflection upon the restaurant as a whole.

For example, if a customer is provided with an excellent answer to a menu question, it is immediately realized that the waiter has skill and experience. Then, there is a much better chance that proper restaurant service will be delivered. Logically, a customer knowing this fact will probably order more items (and more expensive items) from that menu. Nobody wants to risk spending a lot of money in a restaurant when there is the likelihood of poor service.

There is a very simple solution to ensuring that you will always have a knowledgeable waitstaff when it comes to food knowledge and food preparation methods. For proper waiter training, restaurant owners/operators and managers must always have:

#1) menu descriptions typed up and handed out to all waitstaff--keeping extras available for any new hires. (All ingredients for each dish must be explained in detail.)

#2) food knowledge and food preparation methods typed up and handed out to all waitstaff--keeping extras available for any new hires. (Simple definitions of braised, roasted, grilled etc. must be included on this handout.) These 2 information sheets must always be included in every waiter training course.

It is also a great idea to keep a food dictionary handy on this subject as well. Back in the day, I worked in a restaurant that had this type of dictionary available in the office. I would always peruse it in my spare time which helped increase my food knowledge and food preparation methods immensely. This way, I could impress customers in a big way when they asked me any kind of question about the menu. Hence, the upselling would commence quite easily.

The concept explained above is passed upon by so many restaurant owners/operators in waiter training programs for 3 reasons. The first reason is because of the extra time and effort that it takes to print up menu descriptions and basic food knowledge/preparation methods. The second reason is the false assumption that all waiters are highly experienced and know these menu facts to begin with. The third reason is that just because menu tasting meetings are held; it is assumed that all staff gets to sample each item on the menu. Well, this is a big mistake because many times not all of the staff attends these meetings. And, when there is staff turnover (which occurs in almost every restaurant), the newly hired staff has not attended the previous food tasting.

So, please take my advice, after many years of restaurant consulting. You must include menu descriptions and basic food knowledge/preparation methods in your waiter training programs. Get some help from your chef and managers if you must. It will reduce the amount of chef headaches, since there won't be so many pestering waiter questions in the middle of the busiest shift of the week. More importantly, it will immediately improve restaurant dining room service which, in turn, enhances the reputation and the bottom line.




Richard Saporito, keynote speaker and consultant has been upgrading restaurants across the world for over 15 years. He helps owners, managers, and dining room staffs achieve that outstanding service reputation which always sets a restaurant apart from its fierce competition.


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Tags: basic, descriptions, food, knowledge, menu, methods, preparation, training, waiter, waitress


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Comment by James on May 20, 2011 at 6:24pm

Hi Richard,

Great blog!  I could not agree with you more with respect to reputation enhancement, and bottom line.  I was having a conversation with a professional server the other day who was reminiscing about his early days.  He told me that a server will never get their ass kicked harder than if they go back to the executive chef during service and ask something like "Are there peanuts in this? My customer has an allergy."  The points you make in this piece are spot on.  The server is there to represent the vision of the back of the house.  As you suggest, there is a clear distinction from those who do, and those who don't invest the time to get it right. 

Thanks for the read-

James Keil



Comment by Giuseppe De Carlo on May 11, 2011 at 10:10pm

You are absolutaly corect, the problem I have found is, that establishments and waiters do not comunicate, and both have etitude, but most of all they dont have the knowledge and this is the biggest problem, having being in the bussines all my life, and tought 100s of waiters and barmen, it took me two weeks to train a waiter, with the exisisting menu, on how to explain food, but to learn about food comercially in general for restaurants, by themselves or working with the chef and manager, may take years. do I have solution? Yes it will cost you only $1.00 in full, go to training-4-hospitality, you will find all your answers, or I will write for you on how to understand all cooking and how to explain it to diners, I cant teach you intosiasim.





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