Some thoughts and ideas on in house staff training.
Many years ago I used to visit Monkey Island at Bray on the River Thames.
It was a delightful crazy Victorian pub/restaurant, with amazing murals of monkeys all over the walls, superb food and a terrific atmosphere.
The place was run by a very strange guy and his mother, but they had a never ending stream of very attractive, intelligent, well connected girls working there.
As a shy retiring bachelor with a fancy sports car, I got to know them all and took some of them out occasionally.
I also used to take clients there for lunch.
I was fascinated by the way the place operated, they had one chef and the girls seemed to be involved in everything, from the bar to waiting, food preparation and cooking, there was no job demarcation and it worked.
In due course I asked the girls how it worked, they had all had some form of catering training, in those days well connected young ladies did a Cordon Bleu cooking course as part of their finishing school education.
They had one excellent chef who did the speciality dishes and ensured that the kitchen ran like clockwork, the girls prepared, cooked, washed up, served behind the bar and did everything and all of them were interchangeable.
They would all take turns in every aspect of the business, including filling in when the chef was off.
They all did every job in the pub from cleaning to cooking, they all knew how to cook every dish, recipes were recorded for all to see, who ever was acting as chef ran the kitchen and did, what I call precision cooking.
I thought what a fantastic system, nobody got bored everyone knew the standard that was required and ensured that it was maintained all the time and the main point was that everyone was interested in the quality of the products from beer to the restaurant food.
I thought that if I ever bought a pub or restaurant I would do just that.
Ironically I did and we tried to implement this system so that we were never held to ransom at a chef leaving or not being available.
We had only been in the first pub for six months and found people walking in with Egon Ronay’s book in hand, in the early 70’s you had a mystery visit and the entry cost you nothing.
Our catering in those days, compared to our later pubs seemed incredibly basic, but it worked.
On a busy day at lunch time in a small pub on Exmoor we would do up to two hundred people, when I look at rural pubs these days most would be grateful for thirty people at lunch times.
We bought a pub some years later with minimal business, which in a very short time became hugely successful, at the time certain newspapers referred to us as one of the top pub/restaurants in Devon, certainly we never ever paid for advertising.
We initially struggled for staff and then we developed a nucleus of around twenty plus staff, my wife and I did the cheffing until we found a reliable chef.
We gradually trained all the staff from the cleaner upwards to do pretty well everything within their capabilities.
I asked the chef after a fortnight what he would do to improve the place and he made various comments, after six weeks he said that I didn’t need him since the staff were capable of doing everything, I said that I needed him for the speciality dishes and to co-ordinate everything.
He had been used to doing everything and now the pressure was off and he could ensure that everything worked like clockwork, in stead of having almost a spare pair of hands at the bottom of the staff list, I had a very unstressed chef and a pair of very experienced hands fine tuning at the top of the list.
He also said forget his previous suggestions, he would do what we were doing.
We had some power failures and the chef came into his own in cooking the dishes on alternative power sources and that was one aspect that he was invaluable.
The staff loved it they all became interested in quality food and would come in with ideas which we would develop, when the customers asked about a dish, they could tell them all about it and the big thing was that they all ensured that the quality of every dish that went out was right, which is essential.
We always stressed that service was included and it never ceased to amaze me some of the tips the staff got.
We were regularly booked six weeks in advance, with seating for forty eight and if they couldn’t get in for dinner they would have three course bar snacks, which could be a pain.
Sadly we went back to have dinner in our old pub, which was sold to a Pub Co, not by me.
The service was pathetically slow, the chef was trying to do everything, the waitresses could not even be called trolly dollies, had no idea about food, thought white pepper was the same as black pepper and we haven’t been back.
Staff training is vital, if you can develop a total commitment and on going interest, it makes it easy.
One of our girls that we trained as a chef, she started as a waitress, was approached for ten different restaurant cheffing jobs, much to her amusement.
If you have some good ideas to do with making a pub or restaurant work please send it to us and we will be delighted to publish it with details of your pub or restaurant, also any recipes, we have hundreds, but it is nice to promote someone else’s business in return for information which may help another licensee.