Roger Beaudoin is a restaurant veteran. He has spent more than 25 years in the industry owning and operating his own restaurants, including Matterhorn Ski Bar in Maine, which was named Best Ski Bar in the US for two years running.
Through his current company Restaurant Rockstars, he provides systems and training programs that help restaurants become more profitable. His Sales Stars Server Training Program, for example, conditions staff to recognize sales opportunities at every table and helps servers make better menu suggestions to increase sales.
We thought we could learn a thing or two from this successful restaurateur, so we turned to Roger for some advice on staff training and management.
What areas are commonly overlooked in restaurant training?
I have always believed that great service is about taking the guests on a magical journey of everything the restaurant is about. Because let’s face it, guests are often first time visitors to restaurants and they don’t know what they’re going to enjoy or what’s exiting about the restaurant.
It’s really up to the entire service team – not just the wait staff, but also the host, the busser and the bartender. Every part of the service experience should be delivered by a choreographed team.
"I’ve always believed the restaurant business is all about entertainment, so every front of house person is really an actor or an actress on stage."
For those four positions it’s all about elevating the guest experience and telling guests about everything that’s great about the restaurant and the things we know they will enjoy.
I think that’s missing in the majority of restaurants. And I think that staff training is neglected, which leads to high turnover. We are constantly replacing staff. If you train your staff well, they will have more fun, the guests will have more fun, the servers will make more tips, and the turnover is going to go down, because people are having a good time.
What can restaurants do to improve the orientation process for a new staff member?
We have to let people know what our expectations are before letting them loose on the restaurant floor. Often times, restaurants hire the first person that comes along and training gets neglected from the get-go.
It’s all about having a solid employee manual that outlines all the policies and procedures a new person can expect to follow when they work in that restaurant. Having a new person shadow a veteran can show them the ropes as well. Another one is quizzing them on what the key elements of service are all about for the guests.
How should a manager handle bullying within the team?
That’s an interesting one, because it’s something that can impact the guest experience. If it’s visible for the guest, it may move them to never come back or tell other people.
So you have to train people. People don’t always have to get along, but they have to work together as a team and work out their own differences.
Through training, you’ll find that staff do develop chemistry. The restaurant becomes more of a family in a short amount of time. In the last few years of running my restaurant, I never had to spy anymore. The staff pretty much policed the restaurant. It's all about maintaining that culture of team work. Those problems kind of go away when everyone’s part of that family.
What’s a common mistake you see when it comes to scheduling staff?
A lot of restaurants are not efficient in their scheduling. They may put on a whole team at 5:30pm even though the restaurant doesn’t get busy until 7pm and it only takes a couple of people to open the restaurant. If your staff are cross-trained and know how to handle opening the restaurant, you can save a lot on payroll costs.
Some managers neglect their labor cost in general. A lot of employees will come in 10 minutes early and punch in when they do. I had 52 employees at my restaurant, and every week when I did payroll I would find at least 15 or 20 early punch-ins. All that costs you a lot of money. Those are inefficiencies that a lot of restaurants can pay attention to, to save money.
How would you suggest managers handle complaints from guests?
Well I guess you start with the expression that ‘the customer is always right’. You want to treat every customer as if they were your best or only customer. Some guests have legitimate complaints, and then there are guests who try to push to get something for free, and it’s a balancing act.
"You want to treat every customer as if they were your best or only customer."
We’ve trained our servers to take care of problems so they were empowered to handle it on the floor well before a manager was called in.
But depending on the situation, we would make it right for the customer with a gift card, taking things off the bill, free drinks or dessert or whatever will make the customer happy, provided their problem was legitimate and caused by our fault.
How should managers train their staff to give menu recommendations?
It all starts with the menu. Every restaurant that’s done their homework and costed their menu knows what their most profitable items are. It starts with the menu, and you really want to highlight those items and then train the service staff to call out attention to them by making suggestions and recommendations.
We have always trained our staff to give the guest choices, not just suggest one item. Giving the guest two choices is one way managers can train their staff to bring attention to things we want to sell, and bring it to life.
I’ve always believed the restaurant business is all about entertainment, so every front of house person is really an actor or an actress on stage. We are bringing a show to life and what we are presenting is the food and drinks.
Also, using terminology like ‘my favorites are…’ or ‘the raspberry dream cheesecake is homemade and it’s amazing’ and really bringing it to life with descriptive adjectives. We call it rhapsodizing over the menu. Making something sound so good that the guest can actually see it, smell it and taste it before it comes out of the kitchen.