Service separates good from great

Staff training can help improve customer experience and revenues

SERVICE is what separates the on-trade from the supermarkets.
From the perfect pint to a piping hot pub lunch, the people behind the products make a difference.
And it seems operators are increasingly recognising the benefits well-trained staff can bring to their business. Amid what remains a tough trading environment, 95% of operators have either maintained or increased the training they offer, according to a recent survey by the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA).
Training providers and suppliers to the Scottish on-trade agree that the benefits of regular staff training – beyond the minimum legal requirement – cannot be underestimated.

• Product knowledge can help staff communicate more effectively with customers, and ultimately lead to increased sales for outlets, say firms.
• Product knowledge can help staff communicate more effectively with customers, and ultimately lead to increased sales for outlets, say firms.

“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,” said Mike Cottam, WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) tutor at Inverarity Morton.
“Simply, this is a people business.
“Without knowledgeable, motivated staff, investment in décor, products and marketing will ultimately be wasted.”
Steph Wade, director of Tennent’s Training Academy (TTA), agreed, saying that investing in properly trained staff is “crucial” for any business in the Scottish licensed trade.
“Knowledgeable staff improve the customer’s overall experience and can make a real difference to sales and profitability,” she said.
“Ongoing training beyond the basics also shows staff that they are valued and worthy of investment. A well-trained workforce is more competent, confident and, as a result, happier.”
This can make a real difference to takings – with confident, knowledgable bar staff said to find it easier to make recommendations and up-sell.
However, according to Wade at TTA, not everyone is taking advantage of this opportunity; quoting figures from CGA Strategy, she said that while 80% of consumers are influenced by bartender recommendations, “fewer than 50% have actually done this – a sales opportunity which is being overlooked”.
Jo Graham of The Whisky Ambassador said product and category training is vital if operators are to maximise sales opportunities.
“As managing director of The Whisky Ambassador, I would say that whisky training is a must for any bar which sells whisky,” she said.
“However, the reason the programme came about is the reason I would advocate product training. As an operator, and at the time a novice in whisky, we were able to change what would have been a £20 sale to a sale of over £200, simply by engaging a group of tourists and reading the back of our whisky bottles. Any effective training in product knowledge will give your staff the confidence to engage your customers, make recommendations, and, in turn, increase profitability.”
Having a comprehensive training structure in place, which spans legislation, customer service and product knowledge, is vital, according to training firms and suppliers.
Joanne Worrall, director of Twist Training, said a growing number of operators are investing in training beyond the basic legal requirement.
“Take personal licence holder training, for example; whilst there is no legal requirement to train every shift supervisor, doing so shows due diligence, increases staff confidence, ensuring the knowledge is there to cope with different situations and it also gives the business added flexibility,” she said.
“The due diligence defence means many of my clients are training their staff regularly too, with reminder bulletins or meetings on top of the two-hour mandatory [training]; after all, it’s hard to show due diligence if they last trained over three years ago.
“It’s not just licensing law, either.
“Customer service and investing in the staff that are the face of your company sets one operator apart from another.
“If a business is serious about its service standards then formal training at induction is key to [outline the] ethos and values of the business from the start, and continued service training is great to maintain standards and effectiveness.”
The importance of having a robust training structure in place was highlighted by Clara Rubin, training manager at Veraison – the educational arm of Berkmann Wine Cellars.
“Most businesses want the same thing – to have motivated, creative, happy staff that deliver key brand messages through their demeanour, knowledge and service style – and training encourages this team ethos,” she said.
“Varied ad-hoc training, however, does little to achieve this and can be a waste of resources, particularly time and money. By approaching any training with structure, clear learning objectives, engaging material and an entertaining teaching style, you deliver on the business’s bespoke goals.”
Operators can benefit further by offering specific training in line with staff members’ strengths or interests.
“For instance, if one of your team members is social media savvy, why not ask if they’d like to be responsible for the pub’s social media pages?” said Helen Willis, learning and development manager at Punch Taverns.
“If you offer them sufficient support and training, you will have improved your pub’s offering and team member’s skill-set in one hit.”