How to Train Staff to Communicate Premium Menu Attributes

Published on: 11/18/2019 in Menu Claims, Featured

How to Train Staff to Communicate Premium Attributes

When premium-ingredient sourcing is one of your operation’s core values, it’s not enough to simply state the commendable attributes on the menu. Servers and other customer-facing staff must be coached on those qualities—and why they’re important.


The list of premium attributes important to consumers is ever-evolving and includes sourcing matters such as sustainability, growing practices (as in organic) and animal welfare. These qualities resonate most with younger generations—particularly Gen Z. According to Mintel’s Dining Out in 2019—US, December 2018 report, nearly a quarter of 12- to 24-year-old consumers say they would like to see more information about ingredient sourcing on full-service menus.1


In light of these new consumer priorities, servers must know—and be able to communicate—such terminology as no antibiotics ever, all-natural, clean label, no added hormones and humanely raised. Operators are already embracing no antibiotics ever as a differentiator: In the past four years, no antibiotics ever menu claims have increased 219 percent.2


As an operational bonus, consumers tend to find it easier to justify paying higher prices when they’re aware of these valued qualities. For example, 76 percent of consumers say “antibiotic free” labels influence their purchasing decisions.3


Train servers to communicate premium qualities using these tips—and watch profits rise.


Offer Engaging, Onsite Immersion Training

Use a visual delivery tool or slideshow—complete with grower/farmer/animal photos and compelling facts—to communicate the company’s premium-ingredient values to the staff. Younger employees are especially likely to appreciate that 94 percent of consumers want restaurants to be more transparent about their food;4 that animal care is the top cause Americans are interested in supporting;5 and that 59 percent of consumers are more likely to eat at a restaurant serving meat raised without antibiotics.6


Dedicate another portion of the training to menu sampling, choosing items with the premium ingredients you have discussed. While they eat, discuss what they could tell customers about the meat in that dish, such as that the chicken was fed a 100 percent vegetarian diet (and why that’s important). Follow up the menu sampling with role-playing to reinforce the information just shared. Pair managers or experienced waitstaff with newer servers, taking turns being the questioning customer and the knowledgeable server.


Use Cheat Sheets Liberally

No matter how thoroughly you train your waitstaff on premium qualities, it’s nonetheless helpful to post key points in the back of the house and to circulate them on reference cards that servers can carry in their pockets. This approach will also help you define your value statement messaging more succinctly, making it easier to remember.


Panera Bread, for example, takes pride that its food is 100 percent clean––free from artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors or colors from artificial sources.7 Such selling points could easily be broken out into bulleted back-room and pocket-card talking points.


Incentivize Waitstaff

If you already have a server incentive program to encourage upselling, include contests for selling key items with premium ingredients. The rewards, distributed weekly or monthly, could include free meals, gift cards, parking spots or a bonus.


Not only will this create a stir among staff, it will help increase profits. Within one year of implementing monthly server contests, Kachina Southwestern Grill in Westminster, Colorado, increased check averages $1 over the previous year. It was able to pull data from its POS system to measure server performance.8


Don’t leave the communication of your core value of sourcing premium-quality ingredients to chance. Effective waitstaff training and incentivization will ensure that your message makes it to the table, where guests can and will appreciate your efforts.


  1. Mintel, Dining Out in 2019—US, December 2018
  2. Datassential, MenuTrends, January 2019
  3. Technomic, “Healthy: What Matters?” April 2017
  4. 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, Jan. 21, 2018
  5. Ketchum Purpose Study, March 2018
  6. Natural and Antibiotics Labels Survey Report, April 2018, Consumer Reports
  8. Shee, Jody, “Breed Success with Contests,” The National Culinary Review, February 2014