Ken Burgin

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

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