We work in a very competitive field, where new concepts open and old concepts revamp menus every day. It is important that we, as managers, keep abreast of changing trends in the industry. What is often overlooked is that it is also important to both encourage and assist our staffs to do the same.
How do we go about educating the staff?
First of all, hiring a staff that is passionate about what they do every day is the key. We can recite facts at them all day, and some of them will memorize them, some of them will forget them almost immediately. On the other hand, if the information we give them is something they truly care about and love, they’ll likely remember it.
Second, keeping education and training on the front of our minds should always be important. While sometimes “all staff meetings” where we cover every menu change, every misunderstood or undersold item on the food and drink menu, every service point that needs improvement, etc. are sometimes necessary, they’re also an easy formula for information overload.
If instead of throwing too much information at servers once a quarter, constantly (on a weekly or even daily basis) feed them small bits of information, they are more likely to retain it. A technique I’ve used before is to establish a bulletin board and have a “beer of the week,” “wine of the week,” and “spirit of the week.” For the first few days of each week, we taste the product in pre shift and discuss it. I find or create tasting notes (focused on being useful and interesting, rather than just a list of facts to memorize), and post it on the board. I also kept binders where staff could access them with all of the old tasting sheets in them.
Finally, allowing staff to feel engaged can go a long way. Ask for their honest feedback about new products you bring in, as well as feedback they receive from guests. Ask what questions they are getting asked that they can’t answer. Share those answers with the whole staff during pre shift meetings. Chances are, the “negative” or “outspoken” servers are the ones who will take this opportunity, but realistically, your quieter staff are probably getting the same questions, but don’t want to look stupid by answering them.
Go one step further and make sure that all of your staff feel like you are open to ideas of new products to carry. Are guests asking for something? Did they have a new beer or cocktail that they loved somewhere? Encourage them to tell you about it. If it fits the concept, bring it in and try it out. Give the employee credit for the suggestion (with the staff, or maybe even a note on the menu).
This serves a dual purpose. Not only does it encourage your staff to go out and learn about new, fun products. It also helps us do our jobs better. Realistically, as much as we, as salaried managers, would love to be out and about exploring other bars and bottle shops for new cocktail, beer, wine, and spirit ideas, we’re working 40-70 hours a week, often during prime drinking hours. Encourage your servers to go out and learn about new products, while simultaneously doing the legwork to keep abreast of any new trends you may have missed because you were busy running the restaurant.