The restaurant business is exciting and fulfilling at best, and volatile and stressful at its worse. Juggling menu offerings, maintenance, budgets, and staff is a job for a wizard – and that’s when things go smoothly. When things go awry and a situation gets out of hand, a restaurant owner has to reach deep in his or her bag of tricks to come up with answers. So, for instance, if your busiest day of the week comes around and half of your wait staff (or kitchen staff) calls in sick, what are you to do? The answer is cross-training: the way to save a situation, before disaster strikes.
Cross-Train Your Staff for Success
“Cross-training” is a term that is regularly used in the context of athletics; it is a method of developing skills in a number of areas, which gives a more complete workout. But cross-training can also applied to the workplace, and is particularly beneficial in a restaurant, where staff shortages and turnover are regular parts of the landscape. In the restaurant business cross-training is the practice of training employees to perform tasks and duties outside of their regular roles. With a cross-trained staff, when employees call in sick or just don’t show up for their shift, you can do some staff reshuffling and avoid a catastrophe. Cross-training allows your business to function with a minimal staff, without the fear of being caught desperately understaffed and therefore unable to give your guests the service they deserve.
A Test of Management and Staff
Cross-training your restaurant staff ish a helpful way for you to avoid embarrassment, reduce stress, and lower labor costs. It is not unusual for employees to call in sick, and being left short-handed is a restaurant owner’s nightmare. So, if for instance, your bartender calls in with a last-minute excuse, a crucial area of your restaurant could be left uncovered, leading to disgruntled customers and a negative impact on your bottom line. However, if you cross-train other members of your staff to also act as bartenders in a pinch, a waiter or a line chef can pick up the slack at the bar and the staff shortage will hardly be felt.
When your staff is successfully cross-trained, you can move them from position to position as the need arises, increasing the efficiency of your operation and keeping your customers happy (and unaware of the potential crisis behind the scenes). As the owner (or manager), you too, will have to bolster the staff when no one else is available. You, in effect, are the ultimate cross-trained restaurant staff member, able to fill in wherever help is needed.
Train Your Staff to Handle Multiple Jobs
Cross-training can come in handy on a particularly busy night when even a full staff is over-taxed and needs back-up. Even if all the cooks, servers, and hosts show up, a busy shift gets hectic, and someone is always going to need extra help. The flexibility attained by training your staff to handle multiple jobs means smoother sailing even on rough nights, and no last-minute panic when your restaurant is standing room only.
Effective cross-training makes your staff more efficient and brings better service to your customers. Some examples of cross-training include training hosts to be servers (and servers to be hosts); training grill cooks to become prep cooks; training bussers to wait on tables; training servers to tend bar, etc. In addition, you can cross train your front-of-house and back-of-house staff so that all members of your team are just as comfortable in the kitchen as they are with the customers.
On a particularly busy night, for instance, or a very hectic lunch hour, your kitchen staff can fall behind, even while the situation in the dining area is under control. In a place that does a lively take-out business in addition to sit-down dining, this type of pressure can manifest itself with a long line of customers waiting to order because you have more orders than your kitchen staff can fill. In a situation like this, your cross-trained wait staff (that can spare a server or two since the seating area is well covered) can jump to the kitchen to help out and relieve the bottleneck. The transition is smooth and seamless and the logjam is quickly alleviated.
You Have Adaptable Staff
If you cross-trained your staff correctly, you succeed in creating a flexible, team-oriented staff. Employees feel empowered because you trust them to help out in all areas, and, because they are equipped to handle multiple jobs at your restaurant, they can work together as a team to get the work done.
Another fringe benefit of cross-training is that your staff will start appreciating their co-workers. A line cook who thinks the wait staff have cushy jobs may think otherwise when he or she has to switch positions. By cross training your staff, your team begins to understand that each area has its pros and cons, and that all the jobs in a restaurant are tough and important. You find that both front and back of house begin to appreciate one another more and to understand that all tasks are necessary to get your guests fed in a timely manner.
Cross-training creates team spirit and promotes a culture at your restaurant of shared success. Let everyone know that while they have their main duties, you expect them to take on one or two cross trained duties, so they can step in when needed or on an ongoing basis. Inform your staff that you highly value team work and that it’s important to you that your staff supports one another. Cross training leaves you with a well-prepared team that’s willing to step into another team member’s shoes and be happy to do it.
Benefits of Cross-Training
Cross-training has to be done in such a way so that all employees have, at the minimum, at least one person who can step into their role. To keep the wheels running smoothly, rehearse various scenarios, as this is the only way you’ll know if your employees are cross trained well enough to take on the job.
Employee turnover rates in the restaurant industry are very high in comparison to other sectors. In the last five years the turnover rate has been climbing steadily, with a rate of at least 70% in recent years. As a restaurateur, you want to try and keep the turnover rate as low as possible at your restaurant. If a staff member feels that there is no room to advance in one restaurant, he or she will leave and go somewhere else. However, when you cross-train your employees, you essentially help them advance – in your restaurant and in their careers – by teaching them new skills and helping them find more ways to be useful.
Cross-training your staff helps keep a disruption in staff from becoming a loss in money and in restaurant customer service. When your restaurant is staffed with people who can navigate different tasks effectively, your whole operation will run more smoothly. Increasing profit is a welcome side effect of cross-training. By running your restaurant more efficiently, you can do more with the staff you have, as opposed to hiring more people with limited skills. You’ll spend less time and money on training and more time interacting with diners and make more money!
When each person has been cross-trained to do other tasks at your restaurant, the whole staff becomes more elastic. Instead of being idle during downtime, employees can look around and see what needs doing and who needs help, and jump in where needed. Ideally, this happens without needing to be instructed by a supervisor.
Conclusion: Cross-Training Works
Your restaurant can’t afford negative online reviews because one person called in sick and your whole operation fell to pieces. With cross-training, each person becomes more valuable, and your whole restaurant will benefit. When you cross-train your staff, your restaurant is more resilient and flexible. It is also more efficient, as cross-training makes you fine tune your procedures because it’s the only way your staff can learn about all the positions. Cross training also helps your employees build strong relationships that encourage a team atmosphere. Ultimately, your customers will benefit from cross-training and your bottom line will benefit as well.