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'Horizontal' menu training helps in problem solving

My last blog talked about the importance of needs analysis and asking open-ended questions to help build better relationships with guests and lead to more revenue per table. To maximize the revenue opportunity, however, your employees need to do their homework. Planning and preparation are the keys to success in any sales situation.

Typically, restaurant training programs focus on process knowledge and product knowledge. Process knowledge means knowing how to enter food orders through the register so they reach the kitchen and the staff can complete the order.  Product knowledge means knowing what’s on the menu. In order for your restaurant to see a bigger increase in revenue, you should work with your employees to develop a wider base of product knowledge. Most servers know the restaurant’s menu vertically. In other words, they might be able to memorize the entire column of appetizers on the menu, or every kind of steak that your restaurant serves. The problem is that they are not learning the menu horizontally.  They need to learn what foods go with what drinks, and they need to be able to classify the menu items into specific groups for easy recall. If a guest asks the server, “I’m in the mood for something spicy, but a little bit sweet,” would your waitstaff know what to recommend?
There is a specific technique that can help your staff develop these skills and knowledge base. When I work with sales teams in the business world, I encourage the salespeople to track everything that they do so that they can learn from history and optimize. I tell them to work along a specific path: Learn, Implement, Analyze, and then Adjust. I ask them to start with the company-approved base of knowledge for their product or service. Then, make the pitch to potential customers. Next, take a step back and evaluate their performance. In other words, were they successful with their pitch? Did they make the sale? Lastly, they are tasked with making the adjustment to increase their chances for success in the future.

In the restaurant world, you can easily implement those same steps to help each team member improve their product knowledge and be better prepared for any situation or question. First, each server needs to learn your menu thoroughly. Then, when a guest asks them for something spicy, but a little bit sweet (as in the example above), they could suggest, for example, the blackened chicken with maple glaze, or another appropriate menu item.  Next, analyze the results. Was the guest happy with this selection? Was the server able to deliver what they were looking for? If so, great; log that information for future reference. If not, try to think of other menu suggestions that would fit that specific need so servers will be better prepared the next time the same question comes up.

When I have worked with restaurants in the past, the training becomes an interactive experience. You can look to build the team dynamic through hosting special events. For example, gather the waitstaff together for an after-hours or before-hours menu tasting. Then, challenge the servers to find menu items that fit specific needs. Encourage the team to work together so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Let the opinions from different people in the group help suggest ideas that people might not have thought of on their own. By holding these kinds of meetings once a month, you allow servers to share their success stories as well as troubleshoot ideas that might not have worked as well in the past.

By teaching your team the culture of collaboration and also the importance of being prepared at the start of each shift, you will find that you will increase both customer satisfaction and your workers’ job satisfaction as they will start to get more and more compliments from the guests.

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