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Something to Add to Restaurant Training Manuals

Standing in line at a famous fast-food restaurant the other day, I overheard the person in front of me asking the counter clerk for advice. She wanted to know which was the best salad.

The first clerk said she had never eaten the salads, so she could not say. She called another clerk over.

The second clerk raved about one salad as "to die for." She described another one as "pretty good." She had not tasted the other two salads, so she could not speak for those, she said.

Some employees may not care to eat salads, but they should be able to tell customers about the good taste of each one. What makes a salad "to die for"? I was curious about the salad with that description, although I had come in for coffee and the Internet.

What if the restaurant training manual (or a job aid at the counter) had just one sentence about each salad? It would help employees who are not confident describing food–and it could help their customers.

If you write restaurant training manuals, do you include a section on food descriptions?

Just food for thought, or rather thought for food. Feel free to add yours.

Syntax Training


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

5 comments on “Something to Add to Restaurant Training Manuals”

  • The one-sentence description belongs on a sign or menu. This is like the custom in many U.S. restaurants of having the waitperson recite “today’s specials” orally. Putting them in writing in the menu or on a sheet or sign (with the price!) is much easier for the customer.


  • To be fair to the employees, the question is a pretty dumb one – “to die for” is no more subjective than “the best”.

    Had the customer said something like “I’m not keen on salads with sweet things in them. Which salad is the most savoury?”, that might have elicited a more specific answer.

    I once overheard someone ask an ice cream seller in Florence “which is the best gelato?”, to which he understandably responded “it depends which flavour you prefer”.

    Perhaps the clerk’s response should have been “well, what do you like in a salad?”

  • I managed a coffee shop in a “past life.” It was standard for new employees to ensure they tasted everything we offered during their first few weeks on the job. I told my staff that even if they didn’t like a particular coffee, they needed to know how to talk about it intelligently and positively with customers. We also had many “easy to digest” print resources to help staff describe our coffees in a pinch. Being familiar with all of our products was a huge focus for us, so I’m always amazed when I visit restaurants and cafes where the employees seem unable to make recommendations.

  • That would be a nice addition, but you have to also take into consideration the kind of people can be behind the counter. Often times, it’s just a teenager or some fellow who took to the job to have some kind of small income. They may not be inclined to remember short lines about each food item.

    Adding it to the menu would be a great idea, as George put it. There, you can add even more than just one line about the item. You could add 2 or 3 sentences about the composition of the salad, the taste and maybe what it goes well with.

    However, I do love the idea of counter employees knowing how to describe things. Maybe they don’t have to remember it. Maybe they could just have a laminated sheet near the register that offers details.

    There’s a number of solutions, so I don’t see why the cafe doesn’t entertain them.

  • Hello, George, Clare, Leigh, and Vincent. Thank you for weighing in on this subject.

    George, I like your suggestion of a one-sentence description on the menu or sign. I believe it could answer many customer questions. The famous fast-food restaurant in my story does not have menus, just brief names of items on a huge sign above the counter. Perhaps the restaurant could add brief blurbs to the sign, but it is already overwhelming in the amount of information it contains.

    Clare, I agree the question was vague. I don’t know how the employee might have responded to your excellent question, but I like it.

    Leigh, that sounds like a terrific cafe, something with a very different feeling from the huge restaurant chain. Your approach to taste-training, along with print resources, sounds workable and wise.

    Vincent, the laminated sheet seems like an efficient solution, even in a restaurant without a printed menu.

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment, everyone!


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