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Restaurant Employee Training: In-person or Digital?

Daniil Klubov Founder & Ceo of spoon.tech
Audri Adhyas Paul
December 5, 2023
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Restaurant Customer Service Training

There is no doubt that training is crucial for any restaurant, but there is a considerable amount of doubt about how the said training should be delivered. The debate over the most effective training method rages on: Is it the traditional, face-to-face approach, or the modern, digital alternative? In this blog, we'll explore the pros and cons of both in-person and digital training methods, as well as the emerging trend of hybrid approaches. Beyond pros and cons, we’ll also talk about what factors to consider before deciding which approach to choose.

In-Person Training

First, let’s talk about the traditional method: in-person training. This includes shadowing, mentoring, apprenticeships and workshops or training sessions in a classroom-like setting. This has been the most preferred method of training for restaurateurs for years, but what are the benefits and drawbacks of this method?  


1. Personalized Learning Experience:

During in-person training, especially in one-on-one training methods like shadowing or mentorship, trainers get to know the trainee closely. They can therefore personalize the learning experience based on individual strengths and weaknesses, addressing specific needs effectively. In-person training also allows for instant feedback, ensuring that employees can clarify doubts on the spot and correct any misunderstandings promptly.

2. Team Building and Communication:

Physical presence fosters team bonding, which is essential in a collaborative environment like a restaurant. Face-to-face interactions contribute to building trust and camaraderie among team members, which improves teamwork, and in turn improves productivity. In-person training provides a platform for employees to practice and refine their communication skills, which are crucial in a customer-facing industry.

3. Hands-on Experience:

The ability to physically demonstrate tasks and techniques allows employees to observe and replicate actions more effectively. Like learning how to drive, in-person training methods, especially in case of mentoring and apprenticeship, allow employees to practice how to perform intricate tasks under the guidance of experienced professionals. This gives them hands-on experience before they have to perform the tasks in the pressures of an actual restaurant kitchen or service environment. This simulation of real-life scenarios during training prepares employees for the unpredictable nature of the restaurant environment and enhances their problem-solving skills.


1. Time and Scheduling Constraints:

Coordinating schedules for in-person training sessions can be challenging, especially in a restaurant where employees work varied shifts. The shifts of the trainer and trainee may mismatch. Even if they do match, two full-time employees (the trainer and the trainee) have to be engaged in training and therefore cannot work with full concentration. This can be a major challenge in the restaurant industry where most establishments are in constant resource shortage. Time constraints may lead to rushed and incomplete training sessions, reducing the effectiveness of the learning experience. Due to time constraints, workshops and classroom-style sessions may have to be held after working hours or on weekends. This can lead to dissatisfaction among restaurant workers, a lot of whom are stressed and badly need the rest.  

2. Reluctance of Trainers:

The effectiveness of in-person trainings are largely dependent on the enthusiasm of the trainers/mentors. However, a trainer/mentor may be disinterested for many reasons: they may consider this a waste of his time, they may be tired of training new people if the turnover rate at the restaurant is high, or they may simply be not good at imparting knowledge and experience. A new or inexperienced employee will naturally have a lot of questions. If the trainer is reluctant to provide the necessary guidance and unwilling to answer their questions, a lot of the aforementioned benefits of in-person training becomes undone. This results in incomplete training, unprepared employees, bad impression among new recruits and bad blood within the team.


3. Lack of Consistency and Scalability:

In-person training may become logistically challenging when dealing with a large number of employees or multiple locations, making scalability an issue. QSR restaurants and franchises thrive on ensuring a consistent experience across locations. This includes taste of food, customer service, presentation, environment – everything. For this, they must ensure that all employees across all their locations receive consistent training. However, this is very difficult to ensure with in-person training, as different trainers have different ways of doing things, different ways to prioritize tasks, different styles of teaching. As a result, employees from different locations may learn the same things differently. Some may even miss certain topics. This can lead to confusion, miscommunication and inconsistency.


Digital Training:

Digital training includes methods where employees are trained using digital tools and concepts such as mobile apps, e-learning, videos, gamification etc. Digitally delivered training has been gaining traction in recent years, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic when people had to get accustomed to distance learning. As modern technologies like AI get introduced in restaurants, new and advanced tech-enabled training solutions like spoon.tech are emerging. But how appropriate is digital training for the restaurant industry context? Let’s find out:  


1. Cost-Effectiveness and Scalability:

Digital training allows for easy scalability, making it a cost-effective solution for training large teams or employees spread across different locations. It also eliminates several costs associated with in-person training, such as travel, venue, printed materials, and productivity costs associated with mentoring and shadowing where two people remain partially productive or unproductive. This results in significant cost savings.

2. Flexibility and Accessibility:

Most restaurant employees are deskless and work in shifts. Time is of the essence, and it can be very difficult to find time to join in-person training. There can be scheduling conflicts, or they may have to attend training sessions outside of their working hours, which can affect morale. Digital and mobile-first training tools enable remote learning, making it accessible to employees regardless of their location or shift timings. Employees can access training materials at their convenience, allowing for flexibility in learning schedules.

3. Consistency in Content Delivery:

As mentioned earlier, QSRs, multi-units and franchises thrive on consistent experiences and require consistent training, which can be difficult with in-person training. Digital training ensures that all employees receive the same information, maintaining consistency in the delivery of training materials. The standardized nature of digital content minimizes the risk of variations in training quality across different locations. This in turn reduces variability in the quality of food and customer service across locations.



1. Lack of Personal Interaction:

In-person training methods like mentoring and shadowing can provide a first point of contact and a sense of belonging to new recruits. The absence of face-to-face interaction in digital training may lead to reduced engagement and a sense of isolation among employees. Employees may face challenges in seeking immediate clarification or guidance on specific queries during digital training.

2. Technology Barriers and Glitches:

Dependence on technology introduces the risk of bugs and technical glitches, potentially disrupting the training process. Tech-savviness can vary widely among employees. Some employees may face difficulties in accessing and operating digital platforms, particularly if they lack the necessary technological infrastructure.


Hybrid Approach:

A hybrid approach seeks to combine the strengths of both in-person and digital training, mitigating the respective weaknesses. This could involve using digital platforms for theoretical components and in-person sessions for hands-on training or team-building activities. The flexibility of hybrid models allows organizations to tailor restaurant training programs to their specific needs, maximizing the benefits of both approaches.

Factors to Consider in Choosing the Right Approach:

1. Nature of the Restaurant Business, e.g., Service Style and Menu Complexity:

Consider the service style of your restaurant. Fine dining establishments may benefit more from in-person training to emphasize personalized service, while quick-service restaurants may find digital training more suitable for standardized processes. If your menu involves intricate preparation techniques or specialized knowledge, in-person training may be essential to ensure employees grasp these nuances.

2. Budget Considerations:

Evaluate the initial and long-term costs associated with each training method. In-person training may incur expenses related to travel, accommodation, and materials, while digital training may involve technology setup costs. If you are currently using in-person training, then assess how much cost you’re incurring and whether you are getting your desired returns. Besides direct costs, consider indirect costs of training, such as productivity loss due to multiple employees remaining busy for training, and retraining costs in high-turnover environments. Compare that to potential costs of digital training. It may include initial technology setup costs and ongoing maintenance costs, or in case of outsourcing to technology providers, subscription costs. Weigh the costs against benefits for both approaches and assess which one is more budget-friendly for you.


3. Learning Preferences of Employees:

Recognize that employees may have different learning preferences. Some may thrive in interactive, in-person settings, while others may prefer the flexibility and self-paced nature of digital training. Seek input from your staff regarding their preferred learning methods. This can help tailor the training program to better suit their needs and maximize engagement.

4. Scalability Requirements:

Assess the size of your current workforce and potential growth. Digital training provides scalability advantages, making it easier to onboard and train a large number of employees, especially if your restaurant is expanding or has multiple locations.


5. Technology Access and Preparedness:

Evaluate how prepared your employees are for tech-driven training approaches. Do they have access to technology? Are they comfortable using technology in their day-to-day lives? For instance, if a significant portion of your workforce lacks access to devices or the internet, in-person training may be more practical.


6. Regulatory Compliance and Certification Requirements:

Some jurisdictions may have specific regulations regarding employee training in the foodservice industry. Ensure that your chosen training method meets these compliance requirements. Evaluate whether your training program requires certifications and whether these certifications are achievable through your chosen training method.


Implementation Considerations

Consider these factors collectively and weigh the importance of each based on your restaurant's unique context. Ultimately, the decision should align with your organizational goals, ensuring that your chosen training method contributes positively to the growth and success of your restaurant and its employees. Evaluate the pros and cons, check which training method aligns with your organizational goals better, and seek feedback from employees.

Before rolling out a new training approach, consider implementing pilot programs. For instance, the digital training solution spoon.tech allows multi-units to pilot their tool to one location first and see how it works. This allows restaurants to assess their effectiveness in a controlled environment before making a full-scale commitment. Collect data during the trial period, including employee performance, engagement levels, and any notable improvements or challenges observed.

Choose a training method that allows for adjustments based on evolving circumstances, such as changes in the workforce or industry trends.

The work is not done once you select and implement an approach or a combination of them. Establish feedback loops to continuously monitor and improve your chosen training method. Regularly solicit input from employees and trainers to identify areas for enhancement. Understand that the decision-making process is iterative. Be prepared to make adjustments based on ongoing feedback and evolving business needs.


In the ongoing debate of in-person versusdigital training, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The key lies inunderstanding the unique needs of your restaurant and crafting a trainingprogram that combines the best of both worlds. Embrace the dynamic nature ofthe industry, prioritize continuous improvement, and empower your team with theknowledge and skills they need to excel.


If you found that article helpful and want to implement digital training at your restaurant, get in touch with us by filling out this contact form. You can also call us at +43 670 655 56 82 or e-mail us at hello@spoon.tech.

Daniil Klubov Founder & Ceo of spoon.tech
Audri Adhyas Paul

Hi, I'm Audri, a Master's student in Digital Economy at Vienna University of Economics and Business, and an enthusiast of the food and hospitality sector. Digital transformation in the hospitality sector is an intersection of my practice and passion, and I love to write on that topic. Let's connect on LinkedIn to chat more!

Audri Adhyas Paul

Hi, I'm Audri, a Master's student in Digital Economy at Vienna University of Economics and Business, and an enthusiast of the food and hospitality sector. Digital transformation in the hospitality sector is an intersection of my practice and passion, and I love to write on that topic. Let's connect on LinkedIn to chat more!

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