Restaurant waitress talking to customers.
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Training an influx of new associates will create an entirely new set of challenges.

How Restaurants Can Make New Employees their Best Brand Ambassadors

Although turnover in the restaurant industry has always been high, some establishments will be onboarding an unprecedented number of new employees.

As states roll back many of the restrictions enacted to stop the spread of COVID-19, restaurant owners are banking on a full recovery after a devastating year. But new challenges have emerged. Although brands may be focused on re-engaging existing customers and attracting new ones, labor shortages have impacted their ability to quickly find and hire new team members. In turn, customer experience needs to be monitored closely. Brands need to pay close attention, as many new employees and inadequate staff sizes could translate into operational inconsistencies and an overall degradation in service delivery.

A June report from the National Restaurant Association puts the issue in perspective: while restaurant employment rose for the fifth consecutive month in May, staffing levels remain well below pre-pandemic levels, with eating and drinking establishments currently short staffed by 1.5 million jobs (12 percent).

Restaurant owners and operators must acknowledge that the employees they were forced to layoff during the height of the pandemic may not be coming back. This means brands must level up their strategies for hiring new staff, and fast. At the same time, although turnover in the restaurant industry has always been high, some establishments will be onboarding an unprecedented number of new employees—some of which may be new to the hospitality business or joining the workforce for the very first time.

Training this influx of new associates will create an entirely new set of challenges. But it should be made a top priority, especially for front of house restaurant employees, who serve as today’s most important “brand ambassadors.” They are the face of the restaurant every time they greet a customer or deliver an order. And now, more than ever, restaurant managers are being put to the test because poorly trained and/or inexperienced staff can jeopardize the establishment’s reputation and discourage repeat business. Therefore, the process of employee onboarding and training—from menu items and dress codes, to “rules of engagement” with customers, how to deal with complaints, and more—becomes mission critical to the restaurant’s performance.

Driving success through customer service quality

Every brand has their own set of operating standards. Delivering a consistent quality of service and customer experience, regardless of whether the location is in Georgia or New York City, provides guests a sense of comfort and gives them confidence that their favorite food item will be the same no matter what—or where.

While the quality and safety of the food served is obviously the most important aspect of a restaurant’s performance, quality of service comes a close second. So, when two competing restaurants have relatively similar menus, the customer experience will likely be the determining factor on whether a guest decides to return for a second or third time.

The question is, how can restaurant brands, some with hundreds or even thousands of locations nationwide, scale onboarding in such a way that they effectively educate new hires on restaurant policies, and ultimately, establish uniform levels of service, drive quality assurance, and set expectations for new employees? Assuming these larger brands have well-thought-out Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in place, the process of maintaining and enforcing SOPs is the most important step.

Digitizing SOPs, including creating digital checklists for hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly operational routines offers a scalable way to ensure each location is adhering to your brand standards and quickly addressing issues that could impact the guest experience. These digitized programs also allow brands to monitor and manage how each location is performing and evaluate whether changes are needed in how they are training their employees. In addition, brands can obtain a more holistic view of site-by-site performance, and a balanced snapshot of KPIs across locations by type and geography.

  • Taking a more holistic, digitized approach allows brands to:
  • Ensure SOPs are being carried out uniformly and consistently
  • Pinpoint areas where locations meet or fail to meet various brand or regulatory standards
  • Measure manager and employee performance 
  • Highlight areas of non-conformance and risk
  • Analyze overall effectiveness of the location
  • Identify locations that are off-track in meeting their operational objectives

Why measuring performance matters

Measuring and monitoring restaurant location performance is imperative. Just like third-party food safety audits and health department inspections provide important checkpoints, operational audits allow restaurant management to assess each location, its staff, and its processes regularly, making a big impact on not just operational performance but also on the level of consistent customer service the restaurant is delivering. In addition, operational performance measurement creates an environment where team members are more engaged and know what is expected of them. It builds accountability and transparency between employees and management.

Additionally, measuring location performance can lead to better engagement with above-restaurant field leaders including:

  • For coaching—both in real time and as part of ongoing programs
  • For identifying operational issues, deficiencies in food safety practices, or inconsistencies in procedures before they become major issues
  • For enabling team-driven collaboration and problem solving between above restaurant leaders and restaurant management and staff
  • As an additional set of eyes for an objective “on the ground” look at how a location and the team are performing in between the next third-party audit

Until technology advances allowed for the digitization of checklists and self-assessments, many brands used paper and Excel spreadsheets to track performance. Aggregating the information across locations was a slow process, or in many cases, it didn’t happen at all. With the emergence of technology-driven tools organizations can now scale up the way they measure location performance. And they can make use of the data to identify trends (good and bad) and make corrections where necessary.

Without collective data insights, it is difficult to quickly determine where problems exist and to sustain improvements over time. Capturing all of this information electronically can provide restaurant management with real-time actionable insights that can be used to create a new generation of brand ambassadors, while also driving continuous improvement, a superior customer experience, and ultimately, fueling business success and growth. 

Jim Hardeman is Chief Product Officer and Director of Marketing at CMX. In his role, he directs and oversees strategy for all software products. His responsibilities include driving product direction, positioning, and marketing. Jim's 20+ years of experience in working with and solving the business needs of many of the world's leading food, consumer, retail, and financial services organizations, allows him to bring valuable insight in the user-centric design, architecture, construction, and delivery of CMX's solutions.