The Importance of Staff Training in Food Service

March 13th 2018

by Michelle O’Connor, Moxie Consulting

If you have ever worked in a Coop or Natural Foods Deli, I am sure you’ve experienced something close to this scenario. You show up for your first day of work in a ridiculously small kitchen filled with people and steam and fire and sweat. Immediately, you are put into a pop quiz scenario where you are introduced to at least 12 different people and expected to remember their names despite the fact that their nametags are partially covered by an apron.

You are then taken to a station and introduced to friendly yet frazzled person that is holding a list with too many tasks on it.  You find out quickly that 3 people called in sick so everyone will need to pitch in extra today. Your trainer quickly asks you if you’ve ever made tuna salad to which you hesitantly nod yes and then you hear “Great! Here is the recipe and all of the ingredients are in the walk-in. I need to go and receive the produce order, let me know if you need anything”. Poof! your trainer vanishes, leaving you with a recipe riddled with barely legible scribbles shoved into a sticky plastic sleeve and a vague memory of seeing a walk-in somewhere in the first 5 minutes of arriving on the job. Being left to navigate a hot and crowded kitchen for even a minute in a new staff scenario is enough to scare even the toughest of us and yet for a million reasons this happens quite often in our Deli kitchens.

When we consider how much money we spend on finding great talent and paying a well-versed member of the team to train our new employee, we quickly realize that we can and should do better when it comes to providing strong and solid training for our new staff members. We need to ensure they are comfortable and clear on the job expectations while also being given all the tools they need to succeed.

Here are a few tips to building a stronger training program for your new staff:

  • General Department and First Day Checklists– The first day on the job is very overwhelming for most new employees. Taking this first day to give a thorough tour and go over all of the general department information is a great way to give an employee an idea of what they are getting into. These items should be documented on a first day checklist and can include going over the schedule, the walk-in, product labeling, merchandising areas, breaks, rush periods, a walk-through and description of all of the stations and, hopefully, a glimpse into the daily huddle so we can introduce our new person to the team. Typically, after going over everything on the First Day Checklist, I recommend putting our new employees with the dish washer for the rest of the day so they can learn how to move throughout the department and begin to learn where all of the equipment goes.
  • Scheduled Station Training– In order to guarantee training occurs, we need to schedule for it and make it the top priority of the day. This means that if we have call outs, the rest of the team makes up for it, but the trainer for our new employee stays put the entire shift. Most stations require at least 3 days of solid one-on-one training in order to guarantee new staff are comfortable in the station and can execute our products properly. The first day should be a shadowing shift where the new employee simply watches the trainer, has the opportunity to ask questions, and takes it all in.
  • Station Training Documents– A common error is we leave it up to our trainers to come up with the best way to train new staff. Each station should have a fully documented training guide covering all of the necessary tasks, SOPs, protocols and skills required to execute the station. Training scripts should be provided to ensure consistent training for each new staff member. These are easily created by capturing an audio recording of your best trainer the next time they train new staff and transcribing it into a succinct and clear script. Training documents are an excellent project for the leadership team to take on during regularly scheduled leadership meetings.
  • Skills Test– After the initial 3-5 days of training, skills tests are given to ensure our new employees are ready to work the station on their own. Skills test are typically given by the trainer and are a documented list of tasks that the new employee will be asked to demonstrate. The skills will vary from station to station but here are some examples: print a sticker for the curried chicken salad with a shelf life of 2 days, make a 12-oz. latte, prepare a bleach bucket, perform the opening/closing duties for this station, answer the phone etc.
  • Train the Trainer– Last but not least, we have to invest in our training program by taking the time to choose the right people to be our trainers and then training them to do so effectively. This should be handled like any other station. Begin with shadowing and move on to a scheduled training period with documented objectives, followed by a skills test. Trainers must exhibit a willingness to provide consistent training for new employees by committing to the script, having a cheerful and positive demeanor, exhibiting the ability to work under pressure, happily answer endless questions, and having a passion for teaching others.

Even though the task of creating and implementing a training program may seem daunting, it is a necessary component in a successfully managed operation and should be given top priority. If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me an email.

Michelle O’Connor is the owner of Moxie Consulting LLC.  Moxie offers Strategic Consulting for the Natural and Organic Food Service Industry. She can be reached at or 541-941-7978