Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Does your staff know the menu?

My first entry for 2014 starts with a confession: I’ve been off work since early December 2013 to get a hip replacement. Six weeks of recovery and rehabilitation has given me plenty of time to reflect, plan, observe and generally recharge the batteries (however, a hip replacement is something I recommend everyone try once, and only once, if possible).

Normally I’m a bit time-poor, so being in recovery has given me the chance to experience a few of my local cafés and restaurants. I’m happy to report that I’ve had some great experiences as a result (and just a few I wish I hadn’t walked into).

First observation: we really are so spoilt for choice in my backyard (Eastern suburbs, Sydney). Food styles are a-plenty; and you only need to read Good Food in the SMH or any food magazine to know that. What we lack is the time to enjoy all that’s available to us.

So to my second observation (and sorry, it’s a bit of a gripe): why is it that floor staff are stumped by simple customer questions? For example,  “can you do the eggs poached; what sort of bread do you use?”

I’m sorry to be blunt, but answers to these questions are really basic customer expectations. It all gets down to secure menu knowledge and the confidence to use that knowledge.  If staff don’t have the benefit of thorough menu knowledge, they’re liable to feel embarrassed when quizzed and may spend valuable time finding out the answers.

So I have a question for chefs and owners: do your floor staff know your menu? Can they explain to guests how a dish tastes, its size, what the ingredients are, where they come from and what beverage would be a suitable match for each dish? Please be honest now, is the answer NO?

So here’s how I see it: there are a lot of great venues that make a point of training staff in food, wine and menu knowledge. And that approach often has its rewards, like hats, stars and social media buzz. But there are so many restaurants and cafés that fall behind badly, simply through a lack of commitment to staff training – today this blog is aimed at them.

Floor staff are your sales team! Give them all the information they need to sell your menu and they’ll have the pride, confidence and determination to recommend and sell your menu.
Lets face it, the aim is for each customer to feel that they have made the best choice possible and it is our responsibility to help them make that choice.

Sometimes the only person in the place that knows the menu is the chef, an amusing photo I took just the other day.

I see it time and time again: undertrained staff don’t know a single thing about the menu. It’s like they’ve been given the job, handed a waiter’s pad and pen and told to ‘go and serve that table over there’. I honestly feel sorry for them, and sometimes I want to get up and tell the chef, owner or manager my feelings.

Well that’s my rant out of the way. Now for some solutions:
  •        When you employ staff, give them a menu to study that includes tasting notes. Let them go home and study it. On their first shift, bring them in early and go through the menu with them, answering any questions they may have. The same process can apply to current staff when a new menu is introduced.
  •         Regularly question your staff about the menu (at the beginning of the shift is always good).
  •       Let your staff taste the food: when a new menu is launched, when a special is created or when a new ingredient is introduced

The same rules apply with beverage and wine knowledge.
It’s not hard to do, it’s just a question of awareness. If you want your menu to sell, if you want the sales performance of specific products to lift…your staff can do it for you. Just give them the right training and encouragement.