SERVICE: Cheaters never prosper, especially in restaurants

 
June 26, 2003

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 Waitersworld.com.

It would be hard, I bet, to go to your high school class reunion and find someone who didn't cheat at some time during those four years. And among those who peered over the shoulders of their classmates to steal an answer on a test, it might be even harder to find someone who doesn't feel at least a little guilty about it. They know what they did was wrong, even if it was just once.

Sadly, people who frown on cheating

Paul Paz

"at any level are harder than ever to find in the workplace, and restaurants are no exception. We've all seen it before: Friends help other friends get hired, and then, during training, when they're required to learn company standards for written tests, they lean on long-term employees for 'a little help' with the answers.

Sometimes it's blatant assistance, and other times it's a largely innocent hint given in passing. Though the new hire may score better on his test, in the end, he's less knowledgeable about the job he's been hired to do, and that benefits no one, least of all customers.

Useful, not useless

I've always viewed written tests as a challenge, a sort of dress rehearsal with a restaurant's systems, products and procedures. They're a good way to gauge what an employee knows, and what she needs to learn.

Tests show whether an employee is able to understand and comprehend the material she's asked to master. Ultimately, she needs to convert that knowledge into service that meets the standards of the boss and the expectations of customers. A failing grade, in other words, is at least one source of proof the new hire isn't ready to represent that business, as a driver or customer service rep or server.

For the hire-and-train system to work effectively, people must be honest. But it doesn't always work that way. Employees who want to give their friends (especially if they get a financial reward for recommending them) sometimes help trainees cheat on training exams. It's not a big deal, some say, because, over time, they know the new person will learn all the answers by doing it.

Mistakes made by poorly trained employees don't go unnoticed for long. Today's customers are much more sophisticated about foodservice than ever before because -- get this -- as a National Restaurant Association fact points out: One-third of all adults in the United States have restaurant industry experience.

Over the years many of my service peers over the years have asked, "Why be such a hard-head about training and testing?"

My answer has always been that to allow cheating, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant, weakens the new hire's ability to effectively apply the systems and procedures necessary to deliver even adequate service, much less a desired high standard.

In my opinion, the complications of placing an unprepared employee on the schedule are obvious. For one, under-trained employees place a huge burden upon their peers, because those who are trained are now forced to carry the weight of the under-trained. These same people who didn't view helping their friend cheat on a written exam now find themselves providing unexpected on-the-job-training for the friend. Ultimately that makes them less able to do their own jobs.

Cheating also can result in the guilty not being punished. For example, if a supervisor continually finds a new table server is regularly running behind, not ringing in orders correctly and generally giving poor service, she could assume that server was trained poorly and blame the trainer. Do any of these lines sound familiar: "Who trained this guy?" and "Who signed off on this person?"

The trainer may have given the best hands-on instruction possible, but because the independent study required of the new hire wasn't done, the trainer gets the blame for the poor performance.

Customers will figure it out

Mistakes made by poorly trained employees don't go unnoticed for long. Today's customers are much more sophisticated about foodservice than ever before because -- get this -- as a National Restaurant Association fact points out: One-third of all adults in the United States have restaurant industry experience.

That means at least one-third of your customers are know the basics of your business automatically have higher than the other two-thirds. They know what it takes to provide good service, and if they have pizza experience, they know especially well that selling and serving it goes beyond just taking orders and delivering food.

They know that staffs at even the most basic pizzeria must be intimately familiar with multiple menu items in order to serve customers well. And at pizza-centered restaurants, the stakes are even higher as servers must know about larger menus, about wines, beers and dessert items.

So when it comes to training, ensure new hires learn the right way, the honest way. If they don't pass the written test the first time, let them take it again until they do. The repetition itself is a learning exercise.

And don't lower your test score standards to accelerate a hire's approval for a position. The consequences surely will be dissatisfied customers who may not give your operation a second chance. With all the choices available today, the dining public knows well that it's easier for them to take their business to your competitors than to endure another bad service experience.

More commentaries from Paul Paz ...

* SERVICE: Say hello or they'll say goodbye
* What's there to smile about?
* Treat coworkers as courteously as customers


Topics: Service


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