SERVICE: ''Bad-apple' trainers will never bear good fruit

Feb. 23, 2004

Paul Paz is a "career waiter" turned hospitality consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the author of "Service At Its Best: Waiter Waitress Training—A Guide to Becoming a Successful Server" (Prentice-Hall), and operates the hospitality information Web site

According to the National Restaurant Association's (NRA) 2004 Restaurant Industry Forecast, the restaurant industry will grow 4.4 percent in 2004 to a record $440.1 billion in annual sales. The number of restaurant locations in the United States will grow to 878,000 and the industry will employ 12 million people, making it the country's largest private-sector job provider.

Good trainers will be pressed into service to meet these NRA 2004 growth projections.

How do your trainers rate?


Paul C. Paz

can be taught, but attitude can't. In fact, training gurus say leaders are effective when they work on changing people's behavior, but not their attitudes--perhaps because those attitudes can't be changed.

Many new servers enter our industry with good enthusiasm and the right attitudes; they come to work for your operation because they see it as a place to succeed. But often their good attitudes get damaged by skilled employees who, though able to do the job, care little about you, your operation or the customer. You know the type: able to follow the basics, proficient enough in getting food and drink to the table, but really not a big asset to the restaurant.

While speaking to an audience at the SYSCO Los Angeles 2004 food show, I asked those gathered if they had members of their staff who constantly complained about their job, employer, peers and customers. Many rolled their eyes in private recognition of the person(s) I described.

I then asked if these same staff members were consistently resistant to the implementation of changes, new products and procedures ... and how many of these folks were their trainers. More eye-rolling accented with whispering. Too often in this industry this condition is overlooked, maybe because an operator is short of help, or it seems harder to fire them than let them stay on.

Worse, when made trainers, these folks can lead an enthusiastic new hire to adopt their bad habits and attitudes. Ever seen the seasoned veteran server protect his "territory" (shifts, schedules, stations, etc.) by pulling back the reins on a new trainee's willingness to learn and excel? Think about how many times you've seen a new hire in training not being trained--but being used as the trainer's "go-for" so she can cover a larger station.

On the other hand, some of these employees often are good servers and salespersons, but not necessarily the best trainers. Here the problem isn't one of attitude but aptitude: there's a lack of ability to teach others the tricks of the trade.

Only takes one

The old truism that one bad apple can spoil a whole barrel is just that ... TRUE! And no matter how tough it might seem to operate your business shorthanded, operators can't afford to hang on to "bad apple" trainers because they're just that: BAD! In the long run, they will break you by hindering your chances for success.

My hospitality associate, Goeff Lieberman of SYSCO Seattle, told me once that insanity is duplicating the same behavior repeatedly and expecting a different result. Is your business suffering from that insanity, using trainers who are only perpetuating bad habits by teaching them to new hires?

The key to training new hires effectively is to use trainers who are loyal to your organization, its specifications and most importantly ... your customers. That example, by the way, comes from the top.

Melissa Robison, one of the many great managers I've worked with, always says, "What you permit, you promote"!

So ask yourself: Are your trainers producing the results you expect?

Is it time to raise the bar on your training standards?

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Topics: Service

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