I read an interesting article on Freaknomics recently. It was titled, “Obedience on the Job.” The writer relates a story where he questioned a bus driver on a policy change and the driver responds, “I just do what my boss tells me to do. I don’t question.”


If you’re like me, you have been in this situation before — and it can be aggravating.


Maybe you’ve called a customer service line that couldn’t answer your questions, or the cable guy didn’t know why your system needed certain cords. Perhaps your server couldn’t explain why there are no substitutions. Regardless of the details, it is frustrating to realize that people interacting with customers may not know why they do what they do, but simply act on instruction.


It’s the curse of the zombie employee. What we assume are reasonable, intelligent people outside of work, sometimes walk into the job and decide to go into blasé autopilot.


Situations like these bring to light the fine line between basic training and comprehensive training.

If your staff receives minimal information when they come to work, they are unlikely to build on that knowledge because they have just enough to get through their shift. A waiter who is trained can easily share the specials and knows if certain changes to the dishes are possible and why. And a well-trained server always has favorite dishes to recommend.


Most importantly, an attentive staff member provides excellent service and is enabled to think for him or herself.


Let’s go back to the bus driver. Our frustrated writer was displeased with a new policy, when he complained he received apathy from the driver. Had the driver explained the policy, the customer would still have disliked the change, but he would have felt he received better service. Even if the driver agreed that the policy was aggravating, the patron would have felt like he was heard and understood.


In foodservice, you can’t please everyone all the time. Owners, managers, servers and chefs know this. You can try, but no one hits it out of the park every single time because people’s preferences change.


Providing excellent service requires adjusting to the customers’ needs and wants. Which is why you need a staff that can think on their feet. If you have a policy that doesn’t make sense in every situation, your staff needs to feel empowered to be lenient, as needed — or how to explain it appropriately.


Part of providing this level of service is hiring the right people and engaging your staff so they want to be vigilant. But training your team and providing continuous communication on policy, updates and expectations is the key to avoiding service faux pas.


One of the benefits of eLearning is that you are able to provide training in multiple formats. Video instruction for visual learners, PDFs for the readers and SCORM courses for employees who thrive with more interactive training. Additionally, the material is always accessible. If you have an employee who draws a blank when asked about the difference between rare and medium rare, or why you can’t make certain changes to the menu, they can always go back and review the material. With eLearning, it is online all the time so it is impossible to lose.


With online training programs, you are also able to take training to the next step. It’s not just about having employees do a quick review of materials. eLearning enables restaurants to track course completion and review test scores.


How can you make this work for you? Ensure your staff is absorbing the content by creating tests that ask if they understand why you operate the way you do.


When there is a policy change, send it out through the system and make sure every employee in the company is well informed. And if the policy doesn’t fit for some reason, you’ll know that your high performing team will question it.


Go from a trained team to a well-trained team.


Then, when your customer asks why you no longer accept checks, are out of tomatoes or don’t allow dogs, your employee won’t say, “I just do what my boss tells me to do. I don’t question.”

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