Providing excellent customer experiences is paramount – especially today when consumers have fewer discretionary dollars and a myriad of choices. And, while restaurants are reporting higher retention rates and have fewer new employees to train, many realize that in this economic climate it’s critical to provide regular training. The challenge is to do it effectively, even with reduced training budgets.
A recent survey* of members by the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers (CHART) reports that 53% of respondents say their training budgets have been cut in the last 18 months, with casual dining being hardest hit (64%). Fifty-six percent of upscale restaurants have made cuts, and 39% of quickservice. “Cost centers are the first to be looked at when cutting budgets, and training is usually perceived as a cost center,” says John Isbell, president of CHART. “However, training is necessary to generate cash flow, and I believe that it should also be considered a profit center.” Many restaurants are focusing on cost-effective ways – both high- and low-tech – to strengthen their training programs, concentrating on improving customer service, building skills, and cross training.
Moving training online. Some restaurants are turning to a combination of printed and online training materials (called “blended training”) as a way to trim costs. Golden Corral has replaced as much printed material as possible with online modules, which Lisa Schweickert, vp of training, explains is both an issue of saving money and sustainability. “We’re trying to be smarter with our training dollars and using technology whenever can, including Web-based meetings,” says Lisa. “All of our stores are required to have a computer kiosk dedicated to training.” She adds that annual turnover has dropped to 118% from 145%, in part due to using customized e-training (created by DiscoverLink) which is very appealing to their staff. she says. Mike McCoy, senior training information manager, Bravo/Brio Restaurant Group, uses an e-course that he buys “off the shelf” from DiscoverLink to train servers in suggestive selling techniques. “The curriculum is easily customized to include examples from our menus and more than pays for itself,” says Mike. Servers take the course several times a year when menus change. “Not only are we benefiting from increased sales, which we see immediately, servers are putting more money in their pockets, too.”
Updating training materials with a focus on guests. “Golden Corral is reworking service steps to better match the best practices of top employees and updating e-learning modules to emphasize hospitality more, especially in the key guest-contact areas of server and display cook,” says Lisa. They recently released a new module for display cooks that is focused solely on interacting with guests. “Now is the time to train beyond the basics,” she adds. Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants has created role-playing scenarios called “situational leadership.” At lineups and pre-meal meetings, two employees are given a scenario to act out, one playing the customer, the other the employee. “We developed 20 scenarios that we sent to managers and are encouraging them to create new ones from their own experiences,” says Alan Baer, senior vp of people and information. “Employees say these skits help them prepare for a variety of customer interactions and, as a result, they are calmer and more thoughtful when stressful situations arise.”
Concentrating on cross training. Jack in the Box has implemented a “labor deployment system,” which requires employees to learn skills for three to four workstations, rather than the normally required two. “We’re using this time to build skills for current employees who need to master all workstations before they can move up the ladder, “ says Curt Archambault, regional training and development manager. “Because turnover is down, we have the opportunity to build the skills of our existing employees and ensure that, when the economy improves, we will have the best trained teams and will be more productive.”
Trimming travel. John says many CHART members, report they are cutting travel in their training budgets, as is Patina Restaurant Group. “We’re being smarter with our time and money allocated to training,” says David Specht, vp human resources. “We recognize that even seasoned employees need tune-up sessions, so we’re doing a lot of ‘training the trainer’ – developing managers in each unit to take on the role of trainer rather than sending trainers around.”
Tapping into vendor training resources. Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, Fort Lauderdale, FL, has trimmed its travel budget, too – no longer sending employees off to beverage training seminars. “I asked my wine distributor to do training onsite,” says David Cronin, dir., food & beverage. “Over the course of nine weeks, three hours/week, they trained my service and bar staff using Kevin Zraly’s ‘Windows on the World Wine Guide.’” While the company still pays for employees’ time, not having to send employees offsite creates significant savings.
Focusing on cost-effective leadership training. “Continuing education for managers is so important to nurture leadership skills,” says Patrick Yearout, dir. of training, Ivar’s, Seattle, WA, who frequently passes along recommendations for books and webinars. Recently he used Jim Sullivan’s book – “Multi-Unit Leadership: The 7 Stages of Building High-Performing Partnerships and Teams” – as the basis for several management forums. “We went over two chapters at each session, discussed them, and shared actual in-store scenarios to further managers’ leadership skills and get their buy-in to the concepts,” says Patrick. He also encourages managers to join local chapters of professional organizations, such as chambers of commerce (which are often low cost), and network. He says joining an organization is especially valuable for young managers who don’t always have great people skills. “My own membership in CHART has turned out to be an invaluable resource,” adds Patrick, “putting me in touch with other training professionals around the country with whom I frequently share ideas.”
*Note: An analysis of the CHART survey, The 2009 State of Training and Development in the Hospitality Industry Report, is available to members and non-members to read online or download by clicking here.
“Even seasoned employees need tune-up sessions, so we’re doing a lot of ‘training the trainer’ – developing managers to take on the role of trainer rather than sending trainers around.” – David Specht, vp, human resources, Patina Restaurant Group