Restaurant owners in the Middle East couldn’t care less about the background and experience of their frontline staff. The common misconception about low-wage food service jobs, and a reckless one, is that staff such as waiters need not necessarily have F&B education or experience, and that anyone can be hired as a waiter, and in time, they will develop the required job skills. Unlike management roles, waiters in the Middle East region come from different backgrounds unrelated to food service, such as manual labour, domestic help, sales, IT, healthcare and so on. They take up these jobs for various financial reasons, but the common detrimental factor for career development is that they are not fully aware of the impact of their roles on customers and are rarely trained to recognize and improve their skills.
The scenario often plays out in the following manner. After a few months on their jobs, the initial excitement wears off and the realities of the hospitality industry sink in, which lead to frustration, poor performance, and job dissatisfaction. The restaurant owner or manager observes this and decides it’s the right time to motivate and train their staff.
In other cases, when a restaurant is not doing well in terms of sales, the owner feels the solution lies in hiring better talent. It’s easy to let experienced employees go and replace them with fresh talent. However, it’s just a matter of time before new employees realise why the restaurant is not performing, and then they too become dissatisfied and frustrated with their jobs.
When demotivated restaurant staff is sent for training by their managers, they are already looking for a way out of the F&B industry. It becomes difficult to motivate them and help them find purpose in their work. Such situations can be avoided easily if skill gaps are identified easily and a culture of learning is promoted among all employees.
Present the big picture
Your frontline staff represents your brand and they can make or break your brand promise to your customers. A waiter or receptionist needs to be proactive in attending to customer requirements, backed by the knowledge of the cuisine, ambience, and customer tastes. Because this is one of the most important and demanding jobs in your restaurant, explain to your frontline staff in detail why people make or break the hospitality experience, why it is essential to have a pleasant and welcoming approach toward customers, and why they should go out of their way to engage with customers, and how that can have an impact on your business. Once they are aware of their importance, they’ll appreciate their jobs and strive for excellence.
In the F&B industry, self-motivation is a must for career advancement. The mistake most restaurants make is telling their staff only what they should do. It’s crucial to tell them why they do it. If they can understand the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of their job responsibilities, then it’s relatively easy to train them on how to do it.
Look for inherent people skills
Frontline staff need not come from a reputed hospitality institute to understand customer engagement. While hiring, look for people who smile, share a joke, and exude warmth. You’d want somebody who believes in delighting people and who doesn’t feels that it is a responsibility that is imposed upon them. Those who have these inherent abilities can be educated about the cuisine and brand to entrust them with the responsibility of customer service. If they are unable to demonstrate basic people skills, inform them that they are not suited for the job.
Train staff to listen to the customer
In my younger years working as a waiter, I attended daily briefings where I received instructions on how to delight our customers. However, all that preparation was not enough because I was interacting with different kinds of customers. I ran out of options to delight up until I began asking customers how I could delight them. It was their feedback that helped me hone my customer service skills. If you do not know how to delight your customer, don’t be ashamed to ask the customer.
Encourage transparency and promote continuous learning
Training can be provided once we’ve identified a shortage or lack of skills. As an employer, if you’re not able to identify these shortages in skills, then encourage your staff to be open about their incompetency. Make it comfortable for them to inform you that they’re not able to perform their jobs well or handle bigger responsibilities without further training. Employees, generally, know what they lack, but they may be afraid about accepting their weaknesses to the employer for fear of losing their jobs. An environment build around transparency will help rectify mistakes and solve problems for both employees and customers.