First impressions matter in any relationship – including work relationships.

Good restaurant onboarding should acclimate a server to their position, give them the tools and resources they need to survive those tenuous first couple of weeks, and introduce them to the restaurant’s core principles, values and expectations.

The benefits of thorough and thoughtful onboarding are numerous. When you – as a manager, owner or supervisor – take the time to set your employees up for success, it demonstrates that you care.

Moreover, proper onboarding reduces employee turnover, potentially saving thousands of dollars in disruption.

And it ensures that every server follows similar protocols to deliver a consistent, cohesive customer experience.

In this post, let’s explore the basic tenets of an effective onboarding regimen for restaurant servers.


The Basic Requirements: Alcohol Service Certification and Hr Paperwork

Let’s begin with the basics: the paperwork and certification your employee needs to work the job.

This might start with an employee agreement, government/tax forms like the W-4 and I-9 eligibility form, and payment details.

It’s best practice to have these organized and collated before your new hire walks through the door.

If your new hire already has alcohol service certification, you will need to inspect it to verify.

In California, as of July 1st, this means checking to see that your new hire has undergone RBS alcohol training and passed the ABC exam.

If your new hire doesn’t have RBS certification, they have 60 days to complete their training.

In this case, refer them to an RBS training and certification program, like Userve’s.

New hires can quickly and conveniently complete their training courses between shifts, learning best practices surrounding overserving, refusing service to minors, and the physical and social impacts of alcohol.

The Heart of the Operation: Learning the POS Systems

The POS (point-of-sale) system is the beating heart of your restaurant operation.

It facilitates communication between FOH (Front of House) and BOH (Back of House), tracks your food inventory, tallies bills, takes payment, and more.

If a new hire can master the POS, they’re well on their way to learning your restaurant.

Unfortunately, POS systems aren’t universally standardized; there are a handful of common POS systems, each with its own interface, UX design and user procedures.

One of your first orders of business in server onboarding should be slowly, deliberately walking through the ins and outs of your POS.

The Goods: Tasting, Understanding and Communicating the Menu

“I haven’t tried that one yet” is not something patrons want to hear from a server.

Many restauranteurs forgo the menu-tasting step, settling instead for explaining the menu to new hires.

But explanations and descriptions only get you so far; if you want your server to get behind the food they recommend, it’s best to let them experience the dishes. Plus, it helps them upsell dishes.

As you taste menu items, walk through the various components of each dish. Teach your new hire the standard way to communicate each dish (“on a bed of micro-greens,” instead of “on a tiny salad,” for example!), but give them a little wiggle room for creative license.

It’s important to note that you don’t have to complete this process in a single shift.

(Who can eat an entire menu of food on their first day?) Rather, establish a schedule to introduce your new servers to the menu on a rolling basis, over their first couple of weeks.

The Background: Company History, Values and Notable Clientele

As a final step in onboarding, you can cover the particulars: the history (if any) of the restaurant, its core values, and its clientele.

As you cover the clientele, be sure to give a bird’s eye view of the restaurant’s key demographics, as well as any “regulars” that come by, especially if those regulars have particular orders/service requirements.

Hand out a small “fact sheet” as part of your onboarding package with bullet-point details about the history of the restaurant, and give the new hire a few minutes (or longer) to read and retain the material.

Finally, take time in person to discuss the values and philosophy of the restaurant. Remember, your servers are ambassadors for the restaurant; they are your patrons’ point-of-contact with the business.

Thoroughly and thoughtfully onboarding servers is the first step toward building an all-star serving team.

To recap, ensure that your new hires have proper paperwork and certification (like RBS certification) and detail the POS system, menu, and company specifics.

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