How to Run an Effective Trial Shift at a Cafe or Restaurant

For a waiter, server or bar position, a trial shift can give a snapshot of the applicant’s abilities and suitability for the job. You want to check their speed, skills, attention to detail and personality, all in the space of a few hours and when they’re going to be nervous.

What you don’t want is to have them doing too much ‘real work’ with customers that could go wrong – taking orders, making drinks your special way, or answering questions about the menu.

Here’s how to check Speed, Skills, Attention to Detail and Personality:

  • Delivering orders and clearing – how they carry plates, cups and trays. Can they clear a table of two or even four in one pass? Do they collect dirty items as they return from delivering to a table? Good tests for speed and aptitude.
  • Watch for bad habits that need fixing e.g. collecting dirty glassware by the rim, or stacking dirty plates?
  • Resetting tables – they should watch how it’s done and follow the format precisely. A good test for observation.
  • Greet and seat a customer – a simple task that doesn’t require menu knowledge. A test for warmth and friendliness.
  • Handle a mistake (e.g. food to the wrong person), how do they correct it and receive your feedback?
  • Food & beverage awareness – this is not the time for menu training, but you do want someone familiar with flavours, food types and possibly wine. Don’t make this a make-or-break issue – it’s trainable.
  • Strength – can they carry 3 heavy plates, a tray of beers, or bulky items needed in the setup?
  • Clean up a mess – we all have to do it, quickly and graciously. Are they OK with checking the toilets or mopping up a spill?
  • Observe the customers. At the end of the shift, ask them what they notice about the people. A good indication of how ‘wide eyed’ they are, and their understanding of personality types.
  • Do a mystery shop – if you have a regular customer in the house, ask for their feedback. They know the place and who will fit in.

If the applicant is¬†good, and you’ve done the reference checks, make your decision quickly. Good people are in demand, and you don’t want them snapped up by a competitor.

Don’t forget to pay them for their time – it sets you apart from most other places. It’s the law, and a strong signal that this is a business with integrity. Once they start, give them a Welcome Pack,¬†organise Induction, and set up their Training Program