As the first point of contact between the customer and business, on-trade staff are ambassadors for their place of work – and the wider industry – so it’s in the interest of licensees to ensure staff are equipped with the necessary training and skills to create the right first impression.
Training firms contacted by SLTN said operators can get everything right – from the kitchen to the cellar and the menu to the wine list – but if they have poorly trained staff their business can suffer.
Ensuring staff have the skills to meet and exceed customer expectations is vital, the firms said.
Robin Morton of Robin Morton Licensing said problems arising through poor customer service are avoidable if the right training is implemented.
“Customer frustration builds into conflict/confrontation,” he said.
“All this can be pretty much eliminated by training.”
A spokesperson for training provider ServeWise echoed Morton, highlighting the importance of customer service as “an essential part of any training for managers and staff”.
Customer service also takes on an extra dynamic in the licensed trade, according to ServeWise, as staff “need to know the law they have a responsibility to uphold” to ensure they have the confidence to exercise their right to refuse service.
Simon Frost of the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association, which provides resources and support for apprenticeships in the hospitality industry, agreed that training is crucial for success.
“If the people joining our industry don’t have the required skills, then we need to provide a way for them to acquire them,” said Frost.
Skills training shouldn’t be limited to those just joining the trade, he said, as raising professional standards throughout the industry on an ongoing basis is necessary to meet the challenges facing the trade.
“It’s not just the youngsters who need training,” said Frost.
“We need to take a good hard look at ourselves – I believe that in order to meet the challenges facing the catering market, including issues as diverse as sustainability, food safety, waste management and economic uncertainty, we have to raise the levels of knowledge and professionalism throughout the industry, amongst both operators and suppliers.”
Tom Clarkson of Inverarity Morton agreed that operators need to consider doing more than the minimum training required by law if they wish to see staff members develop as professionals in the trade.
“Mandatory training only equips staff with the information they need from a regulatory perspective about working in the licensed trade, it doesn’t actually give them the skills they need to go about their job, nor does it have a meaningful impact on their professional development,” he said.
Clarkson highlighted the changing attitudes towards customer service in the on-trade, suggesting that more exacting customer service standards are a must for any outlet.
“Good customer service was once the sole preserve of the five-star hotels and restaurants but now it’s expected by consumers across the board so operators really need to be on the ball when it comes to staff training,” he said.
In addition to service with a smile, Clarkson said customers in the on-trade are looking for a higher level of product knowledge from staff than in the past – a trend which he reckons has been driven by changes to the drinks market in recent years.
“The explosion of craft beer and boutique spirits has meant that consumers are now becoming more and more educated and curious about the story of what they’re drinking; they won’t necessarily go for the house pour but ask about other products in the range, and this is where product knowledge is key,” added Clarkson.
Jo Worrall of Twist Training agreed with Clarkson, adding that staff knowledge is “the difference between someone having a drink and an experience”.
Worrall acknowledged that it may not be realistic for every member of staff to have a depth of knowledge on every product behind the bar, but she said training should at least cover “the basics around choices on offer and the differences between them”.
“There are always going to be different passions within teams and this is a great way to utilise these differences and provide exceptional knowledge across different areas,” said Worrall.
Customer expectations aren’t the only thing that has changed in the on-trade in recent years.
The emergence of social media sites has added to the duties on-trade operators must perform to maintain their venue’s image.
Worrall suggested that online platforms can provide an opportunity for venues to gain exposure, and that training in this area should help operators get their social media presence right.
“Social media is an excellent tool but it also has to be respected,” she added.
“Whilst a post can go viral and bring in a huge amount of business and increase awareness of a brand/ premises it can equally work the opposite way too.
“Training helps to harness the correct social media etiquette and embrace the right culture to suit the requirements.”