Training the newbie employee

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How do I train employees when they have never really worked at a restaurant before? I have one employee that is making lots of mistakes but I really want to keep him and love his attitude.

– Fredy Rodriguez, Owner, Fredy’s Pizza, Scottsdale, Ariz.


When I first started working in culinary and hospitality education, I convened a group of employers to give us feedback on what they were looking for in our graduates. I expected to leave the meeting with a list of practical skills—say, fish fabrication—that I could then use to inform a curriculum revision. There was some of that for sure: Nearly everyone wanted students to have food safety certification training, for example. But I was surprised to learn that most of the demand was simply for good hardworking people who would show up on time, work with enthusiasm and a sense of urgency, worked well with others, and would communicate problems and/or solve them. The idea, the employers assumed, was that if I gave them good people, they could train them on the technical work. Without good workplace skills, no amount of technical expertise will compensate.

It seems your thinking is consistent with that philosophy—someone with a great attitude will go far and now you need to teach the restaurant skills. I think it’s a good approach. Many job seekers are frustrated that even seemingly entry-level positions require years of experience; everyone has to start somewhere. You also have the benefit of not having to “unteach” bad habits that were developed under a previous employer.

To think through this, I would group your training needs into three categories: those items that must be learned before starting work with you, those that can be realistically learned on the job, and those where a focused outside experience would probably be most efficient. For example, for this employee with no restaurant experience, there are certain things that should be required before the employee starts: hand washing, uniform, equipment use and maintenance, food safety and cash-handling procedures, for example. Then many of the technical skills could be taught through on-the-job training. I recommend doing this in a structured way through working alongside a manager or seasoned employee. Too many on-the-job trainings are not formalized but rather consist of shadowing a high-performing employee and constantly being corrected when making mistakes. That’s not training; it’s babysitting. Rather, list the skills you want the employee to learn for each position, put them on a schedule so they are not delivered in an overwhelming barrage, and explicitly teach new skills each day, reinforcing those previously taught. Third, not every skill can be taught on the job. Partner with a hospitality or culinary school to arrange for you staff to sit in on classes or build customized training at your place or theirs. With a busy restaurant to run, there is only so much you can teach while working.

Overall, I think you need more patience and a longer learning curve with this approach but it will hopefully pay off in a loyal and hardworking employee who learns your system.  Some municipalities have grants to defray the costs of on-the-job training, especially for low-income employees, returning citizens, those entering high-demand jobs or those with disabilities. Your restaurant association can probably guide you to those opportunities.

More on on-the-job training here and here

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