By Richard Myrick

Of course, you need to train staff members when they first join your food truck team, however, ongoing training for all staff is also essential, not only because everyone on the staff can stand to learn more, but also because creating a culture of steady learning helps you improve retention rates and make your employees more effective at what they do.

The primary goals of an effective training program are to define the major functions of the job each staff member holds and to make sure they’re able to perform their individual tasks and responsibilities. For the entry-level employee, training includes various aspects and tips specific to the job and the mobile food industry. For your more experienced employees, ongoing training helps them polish their skills and reiterate the knowledge they already have. The length of training each individual needs depends on the amount of experience he or she has in the food service industry.

You should begin training on an employee’s first day on the job, starting with appearance, hygiene standards, and aspects of the dress code, such as what type of shoe to wear to prevent slip-and-fall injuries. Other areas of training include learning the menu, cooking or food preparation, service standards, cleaning, safety, and how to deal with irate customers.

A properly trained staff keeps your food truck running efficiently and increases customer satisfaction. Customers are more apt to patronize your business when the staff is well trained in hospitality and service.

Failing to properly train employees can result in serious consequences. For example, if employees aren’t trained properly on the correct temperatures to serve some foods, such as meats, customers can get sick with a food-borne illness, which can lead to health department infractions and eventually the closure of your business. Cross-training individuals in all areas of your food truck operation and food safety is a must for any food truck operation.

Avoid falling into the trap of thinking, “I just can’t afford to train my employees right now.” Training your employees doesn’t have to suck up a lot of your budget. You can implement an effective training program for very little cost, as long as you’re willing to put in the time. One way to save time and money on employee training is to have your experienced staff members train those who aren’t as well educated on a particular subject.

For example, if you have a few employees who want to learn more about working the grill or want to improve their butchery, you can have the grill masters or expert butchers on your staff teach their co-workers.

The food service industry has always had relatively high turnover work rates, making employee training a constant task for management. Here are some simple guidelines to help you maximize employee retention and reduce turnover:

  • Have patience. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. As such, training a cook or service staff member takes time.
  • Avoid criticism. Nobody likes to hear he’s been doing a job the wrong way, so be positive and encouraging instead. In most cases, if an employee hasn’t learned a task properly, the trainer has missed something in the lesson. Try to use the approach of offering a “better way” to complete a task. For example, instead of yelling or making a scene if a new cook put together a food order improperly, pull him aside and show him how you’ve found an easy way to remember the process.
  • Put yourself in the trainee’s place. Even though some tasks may now seem easy to you, they may have taken you days or even weeks to learn. So give your new staff member ample time to learn new tasks.
  • Set realistic objectives. You have to set goals that the new staff member can achieve. Let him experience success in each step along his training path. For example, set a goal for a new cook to master the cooking and presentation of your menu items within a certain amount of time after walking him through all the steps. Give a more experienced cook less time.
  • Use your best resource for training — your employees. One of the best resources you have at your disposal to accomplish the training of new employees is your existing team. Have the new person shadow one of your top performing staff members for a few days. Not only will this help him figure out the details of his new job, but it will also give him your best example of a good employee.
  • Create clear expectations. Nothing is more confusing to a new employee than contradictory or constantly changing expectations. This trap is easy to fall into, because everybody in your company will have expectations for the new guy. Make clear to the new employee and to the rest of your staff what your expectations are for them so you avoid crossed signals.
  • Set a positive example. Ultimately, your employees look to you for cues on how they’re performing. The best way to improve new employee and overall staff retention is to set a positive example for all employees to follow. Create a positive work environment that values constructive criticism and mutual support.