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How do you train staff when you have little, or no budget?

04-Jul-2011
Last updated on 04-Jul-2011 at 15:23 GMT

Fred Sirieix, general manager of Galvin at Windows and creator of a new board game for training called 'The Art of Service', offers one reader a solution to their problem on staff training.

Problem: “Everyone talks about how important it is to have well-trained service staff, but my company is asking us to make cutbacks in every area, so how can I ensure my front-of-house staff keep standards high when I have no budget to pay for training?"

Solution: Commitment and leadership is where the answer lies. However too many people do not understand the true meaning of these words and go on talking about them as if they were empty of meaning. All too often they are used to fill gaps and make people feel important.

Indeed if you are really committed you will make sure things happen in an urgent manner to deliver the results. As for leadership it is simply made of the actual actions of the people on the ground (whether in a top job or not).

Staff need training, but so do owners and managers, and they may not understand the benefits of it or are too short sighted or focused on the short term. However, if you are truly a leader and are committed to high standards, then it is an opportunity for you to test and demonstrate your skills by managing up and influencing your boss to see the light.

It is important to be ‘a man’ (or a woman) and be counted for the values you believe in. If your company wants to make cuts in the wrong place, simply tell them it’s wrong and that you disagree. Stand your ground and do not give in until you get what you want.

Alternatively I would consider my future in such a company. I, for one, do not believe in businesses that do not believe in training and staff development, because that demonstrates they do not believe in quality, excellence or being better, nor do they value their employees, guests and ultimately the long term prospects of the company.

However, I will give you my top five training essentials – some will cost money, others won’t, but the principle remains that training is a priority.

Train staff daily: Training should be part of the working day for every employee in the team. Only practice makes perfect and I like to think that honing service skills is like keeping up with sport, or a musical instrument. If you want to be the best, you have to put in some effort every day. A 30-minute briefing before lunchtime service works well for me at Galvin at Windows. This also means that each team member is developing their skills in an on-going way rather than fire-fighting when problems occur. During the briefing, you can educate the team about new ingredients and incorporate role-play. Training daily means that new starters or people working in new areas will have the chance to gather knowledge gradually and can prevent people feeling overwhelmed. It also gives a chance for experienced staff to develop their own leadership skills.

Promote skill sharing: Each week build in a couple of hours specific training e.g. ingredients, cocktails, wines and beers. Include working on IT skills for a couple of hours every week and ensure that everyone is familiar with the systems used and how to troubleshoot in the event of technical breakdown. Many teams suffer because one member ends up stronger in this area, the others become dependent on them and when they are not present, standards can suffer.

Focus on training the individual: Each employee should feel valued from the moment they join the team – having their own annual training programme will contribute to that feeling of value. Training should not be used as a reward – it is part of growing the success of your business and it is as important to find management and leadership learning opportunities for your senior staff, as for the younger, junior roles.

Take staff on field trips: I take my team to markets in Paris and to Covent Garden to learn more about the ingredients we use, and to Italy and Spain to visit vineyards, but trips need to be relevant to the core of your own business. If you have hotel guests who want to play golf then take the team to learn more about local courses so they can make good recommendations. If your pub specialises in beer from small breweries, take the bar team along to learn more about the brewing process and they will be able to talk with much more enthusiasm to your clients.

Take inspiration from successful people: One of the ways I believe we create value and self-respect in the team is to encourage Making Excellence a Habit. We need to draw on tools and skills honed by top sportsmen to overcome failure and be the best – one of the most useful is visualisation. This is a skill and doesn’t come easily to everyone but if you can work on this yourself and lead your team to have a clear picture of the service ahead– just as sportsmen visualise themselves winning a match or a race - you can work together to visualise and achieve perfect service.

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