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Reimagining Restaurant Employee Training in the Time of COVID-19

Most restaurant owners are feeling the whiplash of seemingly never-ending industry changes, regulation updates, and government mandates regarding COVID-19. On top of that, restaurants are rarely given adequate notice of changes on the horizon.

With little notice and no time to prepare, restaurant owners have been racing to meet new expectations and working tirelessly to stay informed of their state’s or county’s current regulations.

And of course, owners are not the only industry workers who must adjust to the impact of this global pandemic: all restaurant employees — both FOH and BOH — will need the guidance of owners and managers to move forward and ensure the health and safety of guests and staff alike.

As we all collectively wonder when — or if — the industry will ever return to pre-COVID-19 operation practices, it’s time to make some adjustments to how we train employees given our current reality. By prioritizing employee training, your restaurant will be empowered to navigate this new landscape.

Provide Employees with Thorough & Up-To-Date Health & Safety Information

By this point, most of us are aware of the seriousness of COVID-19, but it has been difficult to keep up with constantly changing guidance from public health officials regarding preventative practices.

As an owner, your job is to ensure that every employee receives accurate information about the symptoms of the virus, how to prevent it, and the existing health conditions that may put someone at heightened risk.

Remind employees not to come to work if they exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Frequent cough
  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Persistent headaches
  • Recent loss of taste or smell

Employees should also be told to stay home if they live with someone or were recently in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Create, Share & Implement a Worksite-Specific Plan

Increasing employee awareness of COVID-19 safety practices is only the first step — you’ll also have to ensure that every employee takes actionable measures to prevent the virus from spreading. To accomplish this, write up a worksite-specific prevention plan for each of your concepts or locations and set aside time to review it with all employees. If possible, designate one person at each establishment to oversee the implementation of your plan and to document any identified deficiencies.

Consider implementing policies such as:

  • Symptom screenings and temperature checks at the start of each shift
  • Mandatory hand-washing policies that address frequency and technique
  • Sanitation and disinfection procedures to ensure that all facilities — from the kitchen to the bathroom to the dining tables — meet cleanliness standards
  • Face mask usage, including details on how to properly clean reusable masks after each shift
  • Glove usage, ensuring that gloves are switched out or disinfected frequently
  • Physical distancing between tables and among staff members whenever possible
  • Contactless menus — place a QR code on tables for guests to scan with a smartphone and access your menu digitally
  • Only providing table settings — including napkins, cutlery, glassware, condiments, etc. — when a party has been seated
  • Encouraging or mandating reservations to limit and space out dine-in customers

Customers visiting your restaurant — whether for dine-in or take-out — will also play a role in your worksite safety plan. Whether you are requiring temperature checks or enforcing physical distancing for customers, make sure FOH employees know how to politely explain safety protocol to guests and effectively enforce their adherence to your restaurant’s policies. Prepare them for potential push-back from disgruntled guests.

Follow suit of restaurants — like Foothill in Pasadena, CA and The Dock in Newport Beach, CA — that are creating worksite safety plans and displaying them digitally for customers to read.

Show Employees How to Protect & Improve Your Restaurant’s Reputation

Whether you are operating a take-out-only business or have opened for dine-in service, customers will undoubtedly be watching and taking note of the safety measures your business has implemented. Failing to meet sanitation standards can affect both your sales and your restaurant’s reputation.

Explain to employees that sanitation protocol must be taken seriously. Further, make sure you are leading by example. Employees will take note of your rigorous efforts and will be more likely to mimic them.

View Training as a Way to Cut Unnecessary Costs & Increase Sales

Restaurant employee training creates a domino effect that can make or break your business — especially at a time when restaurants are subject to unprecedented standards and unfamiliar operational requirements. In a world marred by pandemic, employees who lack proper training threaten not only to harm your restaurant’s reputation but to jeopardize the health of guests and fellow employees.

Training your employees properly can:

  • Improve order accuracy and reduce refunds. Make sure your staff understand your refund and cancellation policy. Dash makes it easy to keep third-party orders organized to avoid missing orders and making mistakes.
  • Ensure a positive customer experience. Thanks to social media and news coverage, customers are acutely aware of COVID-19’s impact on the restaurant industry. Guests will appreciate your well-trained employees’ ability to maintain a safe environment while providing excellent service under such challenging circumstances.
  • Increase sales. Train your employees on upselling and cross-selling techniques to boost sales. Set them up for success by re-engineering your menu to include suggested pairings for dishes, sides, and alcohol. Restaurant owners have also found success selling groceries to customers who are fed up with the grocery store shopping experience. Los Sombreros in Scottsdale and Phoenix Arizona is just one of many restaurants that has taken advantage of this opportunity to boost sales. If you offer groceries, teach employees how to effectively promote them.

Train Employees to Ensure Your Take-Out Operations Run Smoothly

Even as restaurants around the country reopen their doors for dine-in service, many Americans are still hesitant to reintegrate themselves into the restaurant dining experience. As such, take-out and delivery service will likely remain crucial to your business indefinitely.

Set your restaurant apart from the competition by turning your take-out service into a well-oiled machine. Seamless operations will ensure a positive guest experience and encourage repeat customers.

Take-out and delivery involve many moving parts and potential points of failure. Consider delegating a manager to oversee this specific arm of your operations.

Recognize the Importance of Ongoing Behavioral Changes

Safe service training for both FOH and HOH staff involves behavior change that will develop and improve over time. Training will become an ongoing process, so be patient with your staff.

Remain sympathetic to the challenges they are now facing both at work and in their personal lives due to COVID-19. Present yourself as a supportive resource for employees and communicate to them that you are available to talk when they need you. Change can be difficult, but employees will be open to it if you are encouraging and patient.

Focus on Feedback & Positive Reinforcement

In these unprecedented times, listening to your customers can earn you their trust and repeat business. Many customers are understandably concerned about their health and safety when dining out or ordering to-go, so it is more important than ever to give them a positive experience.

Customer feedback is a valuable asset to your employee training program. Take the time to review feedback — both positive and negative — and incorporate it into training sessions. This can quell recurring problems and highlight positive behaviors that your employees should maintain.

Whether you are bringing back furloughed staff, hiring brand-new employees as your operations ramp up, or working with employees who stuck with you through the initial throes of COVID-19, thoughtful and ongoing training will remain vital to your restaurant’s success.