Managing Risk by Training Restaurant Employees

By | March 22, 2021

Restaurants are risky businesses. They take more cash than you would think. They take more time than you want to invest and have more problems than anyone wants to deal with.

Many restaurants struggle with keeping employees. The work is hard, the pay isn’t the greatest, the hours can be long, and dealing with the public is not for everyone. The turnover can be high, which increases the risks associated with the employees.

We often think about ways we can manage risk by putting certain controls in place or by buying insurance. There are several ways to deal with, manage, or mitigate risk. One important way of managing the risks related to restaurant employees is in their initial and ongoing training.

Training on Helping People

Consider the people that a restaurant employee serves, in particular the service staff. They are dealing with people who come into the restaurant. On the surface, they all come in for something to eat, but there is always more to it than just the meal. Some might be coming in to celebrate something great in their life. Others are coming in to have a hard conversation in public, hoping that it doesn’t turn into a scene. Some come in because this place is their social outlet. And the service staff need to know how to deal with different people in different moments in their lives.

They need training on dealing with people who either come in upset or get upset about something related to their experience in the restaurant. Angry and frustrated people can say and do things that range from impolite to rude to violent, and the one person who will bear the brunt of that frustration, anger, and rudeness is their server.

The risks here include a customer that gets angry and demands that their entire bill be comped. A customer that leaves and never returns. A customer that leaves and tells everyone that they know about the service that (they perceive) they had. A customer that gets loud and needs to be removed. And the worst case is that the customer becomes violent with the staff or others at the restaurant.

Of course, we would never recommend that staff be trained on trying to handle a physically violent customer. They should disengage and get management and law enforcement involved. Barring that kind of altercation, there are ways that the staff can be trained to diffuse situations before they become real issues.

They should be trained on the art of helping make customers happy, which includes being polite and friendly and presenting themselves as the helpful expert. They learn when and how to make recommendations to the customer to enhance their dining experience. They should also learn tactics for turning a potentially difficult experience into a happy one. They should be skilled in choosing their words and their body language to help make a hard situation easier.

The service staff is the face of the restaurant, and because of that, they need to be trained on how to put the restaurant in the best light for their customers.

Training on Delivering Food and Drink

One of the riskiest times for a server is when they are carrying food and drink from their service window, or the kitchen, to the table, bar, or to the parking lot for takeout (curbside) service. Some tables are individuals who order a small meal, there’s just one plate, and it didn’t just come out of the salamander (a kind of broiler used to make dinner look yummier). Other times, there’s a family, and the server comes with a crew of people who are all carrying large trays full of plates of hot food and additional beverages.

One risk of carrying food around is that sometimes, things spill. We’ve all seen the movie where someone stands up suddenly, knocking the waiter over, who in turns spills the plate of pasta in a nice lady’s lap. In turn, her husband stands up and punches the waiter. Hilarity ensues. (Unless that actually happens, in which case it’s not really funny, especially for anyone involved.)

It is a serious risk if the server isn’t properly trained in the transporting of food because people can get hurt. Hello, lawsuits. It also presents a serious risk of the server being injured, especially over time as they continue to carry those trays in an unsafe or incorrect way. Hello, carpal tunnel syndrome. Hello, workers’ compensation claim.

‘There are several ways to deal with, manage, or mitigate risk. One important way of managing the risks related to restaurant

employees is in their initial and ongoing training.’

Many restaurants in 2021 are offering curbside delivery and that adds to the risks for the serving staff. Not only do they have to navigate the restaurant with trays of food. Now they have to navigate the parking lot to deliver food to people in their vehicles. Consider them as having all of the same risks as someone inside the restaurant, and now, they have to go outside where they may have to be aware of moving vehicles, uneven walking surfaces, and other hazards.

Carrying food can be risky business, and the people who are doing it need to be well trained so that no one gets hurt or a plate of pasta in their lap.

Training On Off-site Operations

Some restaurants do more than serve people within their four walls. They offer catering, where they bring the food into someone else’s venue, potentially serve the food, and then clean up after themselves. Others have food trucks where they take a limited menu (or a different one) from the restaurant and drive around looking for places where hungry people are. Sometimes, restaurants will have a place in festivals and other outside gatherings, too. All of these operations have different risks associated with them.

Of course, there is the risk of driving either a good truck, a van, or a van and trailer that carries their equipment and food that they need for whatever the operation will be. The risks associated with driving a vehicle to a work site and back include the liability risks of causing an accident along the way and the risk of damaging the vehicle, equipment, and the people on board. Anytime a business allows team members to drive for them, they should validate their licenses, get them driver training, and do all they can to mitigate the risks of vehicles and people travelling down the road.

Once at the location, there are more risks to consider. The team that travels to the off-site gig now must execute the plan for the gig. Whether it’s a catering assignment, a food truck, or a festival where they setup an outside kitchen. Once they get there, they need to get ready to do what they came to do. That might include setting up tents, tables, and outdoor cooking equipment. That cooking equipment might be a griddle top, a grill or smoker, or a fryer. These pieces of equipment have something in common. They can be heavy and complicated to put together. That means the team needs training on how to do these events.

Training will not handle all of the risks of a restaurant. It doesn’t even handle all employees. But it does help to understand the role of training in managing certain risks.

Topics Talent Training Development Restaurant Human Resources Risk Management

About Patrick Wraight

Patrick Wraight, CIC, CRM, AU, is director of Insurance Journal's Academy of Insurance. He can be reached at

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