Sous chefs and expeditors, resos and high tops.
The safe internal temperature of chicken.
Squirrel (the POS system).
Restaurants are a world of their own, with a language and safety standards you just won’t find anywhere else. Given all that, it’s hard enough for people born here to find their place in the kitchen or front of house, never mind for those who speak English as a second language.
With some estimating that more than a third of kitchen and fast food workers are non-natives, the restaurant industry enjoys incredible diversity, but also challenges when it comes to training.
How can your restaurant break through language barriers to successfully train and develop team members who aren’t native English speakers?
To answer that question, we’ve put together a list of do’s and don’t’s with insight from industry experts.
1. DON’T learn their language
The first instinct of some managers might be to learn their language. Even the basics. But it turns this thoughtful gesture could actually do your staff a disservice.
“The manager has just doomed the employee to stay at the bottom most job. Because the manager has learned the second language, the employee doesn’t have to. The employee will never be able to leave the dishwasher station…” says John T. Self, in a Restaurant Voice article about language training for employees.
Self is a lecturer at The Collins School of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University.
He says a better approach is to foster their English learning and professional development.
“Every employee must be able to fully communicate with fellow employees and their managers to be promotable.”
Self suggests sponsoring or hosting ESL classes to take place before a shift begins, though for many restaurants, with varying numbers of part-timers on different schedules, the logistics could be tricky. Fortunately, there are a number of other options that are both effective and budget-friendly.
For the basics in restaurant lingo, The Balance has created a Back of House Glossary.
2. DO consider e-learning
In addition to being able to communicate with other staff and customers, one of the reasons why it’s so important to train non-native English speakers well is food safety.
“Employees whose native language isn’t English have more risky safety behaviors at work, and that’s likely due to the simple fact that they don’t fully understand all training materials,” says a restaurant food safety training article by eLeap Software, citing Center for Disease Control research that suggests the 3,000 deaths caused by foodborne illness in the US are “the result of poor handling practices, with the biggest issues being time-temperature problems, cross-contamination, and sub-par personal hygiene.”
Only hands-on learning will do for so many tasks, like closing the dishwasher just right two hours into dinner rush, or handling the cherished grease trap, but knowledge learning about areas such as food safety, presented electronically, certainly has a place in diverse restaurants.
E-learning is practical for the restaurant industry for several reasons:
- Short lessons/lessons that can stop and start at the user’s fingertips suits the fast and unpredictable pace of restaurants.
- Employees can ‘e-learn’ individually on the device that works for them and/or your restaurant (verses holding set group classes in several languages). If you’re already using mobile-friendly restaurant scheduling software, this approach will feel natural to your team.
- Lessons can easily be tailored to employees’ language needs.
If you do consider the e-learning route, eLeap offers these tips:
1. Keep content brief and to the point
2. Train not only ‘what,’ but also ‘how’ and ‘why.’
“It’s important to make restaurant and food safety training resonate with employees, and one way to do this is to include not only the general “what” concepts, such as the fact that hands should be washed after X, Y and Z, but also how that should be done and why.”
3. DON’T forgo hard copies of training manuals & do print copies in other languages if you can
Important food safety information—like the appropriate temperature and serve time of an average chicken breast—needs to be accessible.
4. DO use YouTube
Creating your own training videos and hosting them on your own YouTube channel offers several benefits:
- User is watching how things are done in your restaurant’s kitchen, making the learning feel relevant and closer to home without having to actually take over your kitchen, again and again, every time there’s a new hire (and we know how many challenges there are with recruiting and retaining back of house staff).
- Demonstrations are presented in short bites (excuse the pun), versus a multi-hour session where energy depletes and info gets lost at the end.
- It’s accessible to all your team members at any location, any time—on a slow Sunday morning or before pre-shift.
- It helps ensure consistency among locations and team members, where training provided one-on-one by different managers might generate different habits.
- It’s cheap! And it’s easy!
5. DO let them use POS systems in their language (for a while if possible)
Do you remember the first time you used a POS system?
Granted, they weren’t quite as user-friendly back then, but still, they take a bit of getting used to. If you have front of house staff learning the inner-workings of restaurants, English and Squirrel, for example, all at the same time, it’s OK to them use the system in their language—if that’s an option—for a while.
Again, the idea is to help their learn English and grow so they become confident, independent and promotable, but while they’re getting the hang of tricky moves like swapping tables and finding the button for a side of salsa, you can give them a break.
Just let them know it’s all systems English within X number of weeks—perhaps four or six.
6. DO encourage their development
It’s important to regularly communicate with all staff, check in on their progress and identify strengths.
With some non-native English speakers adapting to two new cultures (restaurant culture and North American culture), it’s worth checking in a little more regularly to see if there are areas where they need more or less training, and find out how the process is going. They might have some valuable thoughts on how to better train team members like them.
Of course you want to find out what tasks really make them smile so you know how you can foster their training not as a non-native English speaker, but as a team member who could be your next star cook or bartender.
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