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Food service employees need customer service training more than ever

More people have been dining out recently because the Pandemic is easing. They are returning to luncheon spots and food concessions near their offices and places of work. They are also traveling more and eating in airports, at the hotels where they are staying and in nearby eateries. Other people simply enjoy the renewed freedom to return to restaurants near their home. There is a general “feel good” atmosphere about this new freedom. Yet their food service experiences might be lacking certain customer service elements people want as they dine out more.

Group of smiling friends ordering food from a food service serverRecently, I bought coffee and a few quick breakfast items at a food concession in a hotel where I was staying. And things were not running smoothly. There was a long ordering line. Some of the people were wearing masks, others not. Customers seemed impatient. After placing their orders, they couldn’t find a distanced place to stand to wait for their orders. And then after receiving their coffee and breakfast items, they couldn’t find a place to sit to consume what they bought. It was a crunch.

I managed to sit at a corner of a table alongside other customers. But when I went to discard my empty paper coffee cup and garbage, the garbage receptacle was overflowing. To make matters worse, this bin was in a small counter located under stainless steel milk containers, again raising sanitary concerns.

And none of the workers behind the counter could take the time to tidy up that area, because they were too busy serving customers. The workers looked flustered and seemed impatient with the patrons they were serving.

There is wisdom in the old saying, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” Unfortunately, the opposite is also true, you never get a second chance to correct a bad first impression. Customers who have negative experiences will not come back. They will say negative things about you to potential customers. And, they will post negative reviews online. The damage can be hard to undo.

It takes exceptional food service workers to make a great impression on your clients and customers. And because few people are born with great natural customer-service skills, your hospitality training program should cover these essentials.


Essential customer-service skills to cover in food service training

Specific skills to greet customers.

All your food service workers should be trained to make eye contact with arriving customers and to welcome them enthusiastically with the right words. Whether that be “good morning,” “good afternoon,” “good evening,” or just an energetic “hello!” They might also need to learn to deliver standardized company-specific greetings, like “Good evening and welcome to John’s Pub,” in an assured and polished way.

A positive and energetic attitude.

Some individuals naturally possess great personalities, but such people are rare. And even if you are lucky enough to be training people who do, their skills can still be improved through training. Your trainers should be energetic presenters who model the kind of attitude that you want your establishment to embody. And your training materials – no matter if they are delivered in a classroom, in a computerized training room, or on tablets or smartphones – should be engaging, positive, and upbeat. Bright graphics, interactive quizzes and embedded videos can go a long way toward cultivating the right attitude in your trainees.

An appropriate appearance.

Your requirements will vary according to the nature of your food service or restaurant and of the job. If you operate:

  • an upscale restaurant, the hosts and hostesses who greet patrons need to dress fashionably – and possibly elegantly.
  • a food concession in a health club or spa, they can dress in a way that is similar to your patrons, or in branded apparel.
  • a restaurant that has a bar on its premises, your bar staff should understand exactly what you consider appropriate to wear and what you do not.

Training is the place to spell out all the specifics.


All people who work with or around food need to hit this target. Clean hair, hands and clothing are essential, and your training should reinforce your specific expectations and required cleanliness routines.

Multitasking skills.

Food service workers often face the challenge of serving multiple clients and, at the same time, making each of them feel that they are experiencing excellent personal service. This is true in a restaurant where waitstaffers serve three, four, five tables or more at the same time, but equally true in more food service settings than you might expect. If you are training baristas for a coffee bar, for example, they should understand how to make multiple patrons feel well served while they are placing orders, waiting for their orders to be delivered, and while other patrons’ orders are being taken and filled. Dealing with customers in such settings requires specific people skills that can be taught in training.

Stress management.

Let’s face it – virtually all restaurant and food service jobs are stressful. You need workers who know how to stay composed when they are multitasking, managing the complex tasks of preparing and serving food and sometimes dealing with displeased customers. That is why your training programs should teach specific skills for coping with stress on the job.

Complaint management.

Some customers are difficult to please. Others are not but can complain when they have not received the level of service they expect. Your training should teach them the specific skills they need to remain pleasant and composed. One effective training approach is to incorporate some role-playing in your sessions – some trainees can assume the roles of complaining customers while others practice the specific skills they need to say composed and solve problems.