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As cities across the United States become increasingly diverse, restaurant owners are adjusting their practices to better serve diners. Bilingual workforces are growing, allowing businesses to cater toward non-English speaking customers. By hiring employees with a strong grasp of restaurant Spanish, you can create a better experience for a wider range of diners.

Why bilingual staff members are an asset to your business

If you run a restaurant in the United States, chances are good that a percentage of your customers are fluent in Spanish. About 41.76 million people speak Spanish at home; next to English, it’s the most common language in the country. Bilingual staff members enable you to communicate with a diverse customer base, making all your diners feel more comfortable and welcome. They give you a distinct competitive advantage — people who speak Spanish as a first language may be more likely to choose your restaurant if they can converse fluently with staff about the dinner menu, wine options and food allergies.

Experts expect Spanish to grow in popularity in the coming decades. While the majority of the country’s Spanish-speaking population has historically been concentrated in nine states, statisticians are seeing a move toward broader geographic spread. Whether you run a Spanish restaurant in Florida or an American diner in Michigan, bilingual employees can prepare the company for changing demographics.

The most successful restaurants go a step beyond hiring multilingual employees; they train staff members in niche-specific restaurant Spanish vocabulary and explain how Spanish dinner etiquette varies from culture to culture. For example, when serving customers from Spain, the trickiest aspect of service is waiting to deliver the check until it’s requested. Diners from Mexico and Central America, on the other hand, may have different expectations.

Hiring a diverse staff

Hiring bilingual employees can be a challenge, particularly if you aren’t fluent in both English and Spanish. Don’t rely on applicants’ self-assessment of language skills — find someone who’s both bilingual and experienced in the restaurant industry. They’ll be able to help you conduct the search and evaluate candidates more effectively.

When you’re hiring new staff, try these best practices:

  • Use bilingual job descriptions.
  • Advertise on Spanish-language job boards to reach a diverse group of jobseekers.
  • Ask current bilingual employees for referrals.
  • Find a bilingual person to evaluate candidates’ language abilities.
  • Switch between both languages in the interview.
  • Test interviewees on their food-related Spanish phrases.
  • Judge applicants’ Spanish vocabulary with a written test.

As you’re hiring, be mindful of your customers’ cultural backgrounds. If most diners speak a Latin American dialect, you might prioritize candidates who learned Spanish in Latin America as opposed to Spain. This strategy helps you find employees who can use precise regional vocabulary. Of course, if you’re serving authentic Spanish cuisine, you might opt for workers who learned the language in Europe.

Restaurant Spanish: important phrases for all team members to know

For many restaurants, it’s not feasible to hire a full bilingual workforce. However, if you have a large Spanish-speaking customer base, consider training your existing staff in basic restaurant Spanish. Knowing even a few phrases can help servers communicate more efficiently with people who speak limited English.

To incorporate Spanish vocabulary into your standard training, start by teaching basic phrases: bienvenidos (welcome), por favor (please), gracias (thank you), buenos días (good morning) and buenas tardes/noches (good afternoon/evening). Help employees expand their knowledge by hosting language classes or providing on-the-job training with bilingual employees.

At a minimum, staff members should understand key Spanish dinner, lunch, and breakfast words:

  • Dinner: la cena
  • Lunch: el almuerzo
  • Breakfast: el desayuno
  • Allergy: la alergia
  • Table: la mesa
  • Half portion: una media ración
  • Appetizer: plato de entrada
  • Entrée: plato principal, plato fuerte
  • Quiero/quieres: I want/you want
  • Beef: carne de res
  • Chicken: pollo
  • Beer: la cerveza
  • Soft drink: el refresco
  • Coffee: el café
  • Spicy: picante
  • Large: grande
  • Small: pequeña
  • Still water/sparkling water: agua sin gas/agua con gas
  • Wine: el vino
  • Plate: el plato
  • Fork: el tenedor
  • Knife: el cuchillo
  • Spoon: la cuchara
  • Glass: copa/vaso
  • Bill/check: la cuenta
Download a Spanish restaurant reference sheet.

Navigating a multilingual kitchen

When you start introducing multiple languages into a restaurant kitchen, you can expect an adjustment period as staff from different linguistic backgrounds learn to communicate. Whether you’re running a Spanish restaurant or you simply have a diverse staff, a few communication and inclusivity best practices can create a more welcoming environment for everyone on the team:

  • Promote language learning on the job.
  • Offer language training in both English and Spanish.
  • Establish a no-tolerance policy for insults or bullying.
  • Encourage workers to share their languages and cultures.
  • Discuss specific vocabulary for authentic Spanish cuisine and Latin American food.
  • Bring in translators for performance reviews and training sessions.
  • Offer multiple channels for employee feedback to accommodate everyone.
  • Take employee feedback seriously.

A company culture that prioritizes connections and celebrates employees’ unique backgrounds tends to feel positive and inclusive for everyone; it helps workers feel safe and reduces employee turnover.

Your restaurant managers play a big role — other employees will look to them for behavioral clues. To help managers navigate a bilingual kitchen more effectively, consider sending them to immersive language training. They might not become fluent overnight, but the extra language skills will go a long way toward breaking down communication barriers and enabling a free flow of ideas.It takes time and effort to build a bilingual restaurant workforce, but the investment can pay off significantly. When you provide service in multiple languages, it’s easier to attract a broader range of customers and build a foundation for long-term success. Need a partner to help your restaurant grow? Sign up for Grubhub today to reach more customers.