Turning Staff Into Pros

Competition for competent foodservice staff gets tougher all the time. Training for professionalism may be the answer.

FoodService Director- Rolf Baumann - sportserviceWhen you hire off of the street, you are, in effect, rolling the dice on worker attitude, work habits and turnover rates of employees for the immediate future. You would be better off hiring trained chefs or people schooled in culinary arts—but who has the money for that?

Maybe you hire off of the street because you don’t have a lot to work with in the way of options. You may also wonder if hiring formally trained people is good business, is efficient, or, in the long term, is worth the money.

You may agree that your employees aren’t as professional as they could be because they haven’t been professionally trained, but you want to scale up from unskilled to skilled labor.

You may have found that your employees don’t know the first thing about good customer service, let alone the excellence you want to project to the community. You may not be able to employ new graduates from culinary schools because they aren’t really interested in working in a non-commercial setting; or you may find that those with a diploma aren’t that much better than the ones who have no training or experience.

Get an attitude: Whether you are the district manager for a rural institutional facility or the manager of a corporate cafe in a metropolitan area, it is always a good idea to invest your employees with professionalism. In any event, all the training in the world will not help your employees become professionals until you address the dreaded ‘A’ word—attitude.

Arguably, the first thing you must work on with respect to new employees is attitude. Attitude adjustments, attitude corrections and corrections in body language, facial expressions, careless words and actions, and emotional outbreaks are all things that come with any job that requires professionalism. Becoming aware of these things requires constant vigilance and practice.

Many people go through life unaware of the effect they have on others. For example: I work as an evening cook in a long-term care facility—Northwood Deaconess Health Care Center and Nursing Home, located in Northwood, ND. One recent evening, I watched a dietary aide as she took a resident’s order. The resident was confused and didn’t know what to tell her when confronted with a choice of entrees. The aide became frustrated with the resident’s indecision and immediately showed her frustration by asking again in a higher pitched voice (denoting impatience) and putting a fist on her hip (denoting irritation). The aide was oblivious to her body language, but the other residents at the table were not.

What ‘pro’ means: Many people in service work do not understand the meaning of professionalism. They may be unaware of the effect they have on others. You can easily address these issues directly. At a regular meeting with your employees tell them what you expect of them. Have a list ready to distribute. Here’s an example:

  • Smile—and speak clearly.
  • Practice good manners: Be helpful, go out of your way to make customers comfortable, make appropriate suggestions, and be patient.
  • Avoid negative body language: Hand on hip when speaking to someone, rolling of eyes when turning from customer, pursing of lips, whispering to colleagues while looking at customers, sighing (a sign of impatience and frustration), or negative facial expressions.

Sometimes people need to be shown what to do. They can’t learn as well from reading and hearing as they can from hands-on experience. If you have an employee that exemplifies professional behavior, then have them teach those who seem to be confused or not quite as enthusiastic. This will help them become the best at their jobs. Be ready to use gentle correction and encouragement to turn things around.

Where to begin: The first thing to do is decide whether training will be efficient and, in the end, productive. If you decide to train your people yourself, you will need to assemble a consistent training program that is to be used to train everyone, but administered by one trainer. You can begin right where you are with the tools you have at hand.

For example: You may have departmental policies. Do your employees know these policies? If you have not broken out the policies for your department in a while, and have not given copies to your staff, then they probably don’t know what they are. Begin with your departmental policies.

There are Web sites you can visit to order videos that train in procedures, food preparation, utensil use, safety, even how to prepare as a trainer. Or you can solicit an outside training source.

Your business, customers and community will benefit from the professional training you give your staff. Your employees will consider themselves a cut above others in the field. And your facility can only benefit.


Training Resources on the Web

  • The USDA’s National Agricultural Library maintains a Web site (lincoln.nal.usda.gov) where one can find a host of materials for use in professional and vocational training activities. Its links will take you to educational materials for agricultural, food, or nutrition professionals. The resources collected can be used in a formal setting, or they can serve as the basis for self-guided instruction. Foreign language materials are noted where appropriate.
  • For articles on training, visit www.workforce.com. The site has a weekly e-newsletter that will ‘deliver the latest news, trends and tools for managing your workforce.’
  • Outside training sources:
     www.vppi.com, www.findaseminar.com or www.futuretechconsulting.com.