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Tue 1 May 2007 01:00 PM

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To train or not to train?

Laura Barnes asks if training staff really affects a guest’s lasting impression of a restaurant.

Laying claim to some amazing feats, including the tallest building, man-made islands and rumours of an underwater hotel, the UAE certainly knows how to hit the headlines across the world. No doubt these stories have helped the Emirates lure tourists, but do they leave thinking they have had a true taste of something amazing?

Of course, this can be measured in many ways, but looking specifically at the catering industry, there is no doubt in my mind that service is a key aspect. In this case, it is important to look at training, as what goes on behind the scenes dictates the behaviour front-of-house.

Training takes shape in many forms, from in-house courses on hotel policy, to globally recognised standards and qualifications. Central to this is training in specific areas, like table setting and dining etiquette. On the whole, the Middle East does remarkably well on customer service, with guests leaving a restaurant thinking they have experienced true five-star service, but what is lacking is training in product knowledge, which proves more detrimental than a restaurant or bar manager may think.

I am a firm believer that staff should undertake intensive training that puts them on a par with the most educated of diners. In a fine dining restaurant each staff member should know exactly what ingredients are in each dish and how it is prepared, particularly when these dishes remain static for months. They should also understand the wine menu and be able to answer any questions regarding the wine they are serving.

Although many waiters will excuse themselves and find the sommelier or restaurant manager if they cannot help the diner - which is not wrong by any account - they should be amply educated to quench the diners thirst for knowledge before heading to their manager in order for them to follow up on the request, if needed.

I have had many discussions about this with restaurant managers, and while they may not want front-of-house staff to get confused with too much information, as a diner there is nothing worse than a waiter looking dumbstruck at the most simplest of requests.

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