As part of a needs assessment project, researchers from South Dakota State University Extension interviewed restaurant managers and owners from a sampling of restaurants across South Dakota to learn more about beef consumption, beef sales, and training provided to waitstaff in regard to beef and beef products. The project was funded by the South Dakota Beef Industry Council.

Part 1 A Snapshot of Beef Consumption summarized the findings of beef products consumers order in restaurants, why they return to the restaurants, and what characteristics of beef they prefer. This article will focus on the results from interviews with 30 restaurant managers and owners about how they train their waitstaff, specifically in the area of understanding beef and beef products.

Many restaurants reported they conduct informal training for their waitstaff, with more of a focus on general training with very few strict training programs. A majority of this training is centered on providing time for the new waitstaff to shadow and train alongside a more experienced server, testing or review of the menu, acting as food runner to learn the plating process of the food, and understanding the concepts of general customer service techniques and point of sale systems.

More than one-third of the waitstaff is not trained to offer advice to customers if the customer inquires about which beef cut to order or the levels of cooking (degrees of doneness). However, those trained in this area are primarily taught the degrees of doneness (i.e. medium rare) and a general understanding of what cuts are offered on the menu. Of those who do offer training, only a limited number go into more in-depth training with their waitstaff about the qualities and characteristics of beef.

Restaurant owners and managers identified the top five content areas for training on beef and beef cuts which should be included in waitstaff training and they include: explanation of the different cuts; characteristics of the cuts and a thorough understanding of degrees of doneness (cooking temps); a general understanding of the aging process of meat and why meat is aged; the different USDA quality grades and how that influences taste and flavor; and knowledge of the concept of tenderness.

Participating restaurants in the survey project indicated their waitstaff would benefit from more training in order to communicate effectively with restaurant clientele, however they identified the challenges of finding time to allocate to training in a work place setting which is very busy, especially during serving hours and where the majority of their staff is part-time. Yet, if effective training tools were developed to meet the training needs and styles which were identified in the needs assessment project, restaurants would be willing to incorporate more training about beef into their waitstaff training program.

Source: B. Lynn Gordon with contributions from Keith Underwood, Assistant Professor & SDSU Extension Meats Specialist.