Training your staff is critical to building a capable and productive workforce, which in turn is crucial for your restaurant's success. It helps employees understand their roles and responsibilities, perform their tasks in an efficient way, and ensures that they are prepared to handle any situation that may arise in their day-to-day work. A well-trained staff member can provide better customer service, which leads to customer satisfaction and repeat business.
Almost all restaurants provide some form of training to their employees, mostly through traditional methods such as lectures and paper-based training manuals. However, these approaches are not always effective. Most restaurants only provide onboarding training, which doesn't cover everything employees need to know. Furthermore, many employees find the training boring and unengaging, and they often forget what they've learned shortly after the training ends. According to a survey by TalentLMS, almost 41% restaurant employees feel unsatisfied with the training provided to them by employers. To get the most out of training, we need to make it fun and engaging, while making sure employees are retaining the knowledge. A large portion of the present and future hospitality workforce are Millennials and Gen Z, who consume a vast amount of engaging content throughout their daily lives. To engage this vast and growing demographic through training and make the most out of it, we need to get creative with our training approaches. In this article, we’ll discuss some creative approaches to restaurant staff training that will help to empower your team.
Creative approaches to training
Broadly, we divide our training approaches into two parts: offline/in person approaches, and online/digital approaches.
- Peer-to-peer mentoring
Pairing new employees with a more experienced team member can be an effective way to help them get up to speed quickly. This is particularly useful for new and young recruits. This is particularly useful for new and young recruits who may find joining a new job and getting acquainted with new roles, tasks, and people to be a daunting experience. Once they start working, it is natural that a new employee will not understand everything and will have a lot of questions, even if some onboarding training is provided. In such cases, a new employee may feel unsure about whom to ask these questions, as everyone is busy. Assigning a mentor who is on their same level or on a slightly higher level for a limited time, e.g., a month, can help to bridge this gap. A mentor can answer questions, provide guidance, and help the new employee feel more comfortable in their new role. This approach also helps to create lasting relationships/bonds among peers.
Shadowing a more senior employee has been a reliable and age-old way of training employees in restaurants. It is one of the most hands-on approaches to training, and a great way to ensure that employees retain what they’ve learned. Pairing new employees with an experienced team member allows them to see how things are done in a real-world setting. This approach also helps to build relationships between employees.
- Games and Role-playing
On slow or off days, or after closing, some games and roleplaying can spice things up. Games and role-playing can be a low-effort yet effective way to make training more engaging without even making the employees feel like they’re in training. This can include very simple and easy to execute games such as quizzes, trivia nights, etc. about the restaurant, its history, policies, processes and menu items. There can also be slightly more complex games, for instance, you can simulate unusual scenarios where certain ingredients have gone missing or certain equipment has broken down, and then employees have to act out in those situations.
Role-playing can entail having employees play out scenarios where some of them play problematic customers making absurd demands while the others try to serve them. These can help employees learn how to handle unexpected situations and improve their problem-solving and decision-making skills while making things fun for them. There can be role-reversal games where front-of-the-kitchen staff assume the roles of back-of-the-kitchen roles and vice-versa.
You can find inspirations for games from popular cooking shows like MasterChef. For instance, you can arrange a game where teams of employees are given a set of ingredients and asked to create a dish that meets certain criteria, such as being vegan, gluten-free, or low-fat. They then present their dish to a panel of judges who decide which team did the best job. This game can help employees learn how to create new dishes and work together as a team. By incorporating games and role-playing into restaurant staff training, employees can learn important skills and information while also having fun and building camaraderie with their coworkers.
Cross-training is the process of training employees in multiple roles within the restaurant. Instead of only training employees in one specific job, cross-training enables employees to learn how to perform multiple tasks, giving them a more comprehensive understanding of the restaurant's operations. For instance, employee could be trained in both serving and cooking, allowing them to have a more holistic understanding of how the restaurant operates.
Cross-training employees in different roles can be an effective way to ensure that everyone understands how the restaurant operates. By learning about the responsibilities of other roles, employees can develop a greater appreciation for the work that their colleagues do. This can improve communication and collaboration between employees, leading to enhanced teamwork and a more positive and supportive work environment. It also helps to create a more flexible workforce, as employees can step in to cover shifts in different areas if needed. These additional skills and the holistic understanding of restaurant operations also give employees more options to grow in their careers.
Online or digital approaches to training refer to the use of digital technologies and tools to deliver training to restaurant staff. The need for digital training approaches arises from the changing learning preferences of the modern workforce, especially post-pandemic. Most restaurant employees are not desk-bound, and traditional classroom-style training is often not practical or effective. Digital approaches can provide the flexibility, accessibility, and engagement that caters to the training needs of a modern hospitality workforce. Examples of digital approaches include mobile-accessible training, videos and microlearning, gamification, learning management systems, VR, and simulation.
- Videos and Microlearning
Videos have been a popular learning delivery method for years now. Whenever students want to learn something, or face a question, they jump on YouTube to find a tutorial. This popularity drastically increased during the pandemic when classrooms went completely virtual, and platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and Skillshare, etc. have become more and more popular.
Video-based training is highly effective in demonstrating tasks and procedures, and can also be used to showcase best practices and real-world examples. For instance, a restaurant could create a video on how to prepare a particular dish or how to interact with customers. Videos can be used in a variety of training scenarios, including safety training, customer service, and food handling procedures.
A more recent and emerging trend in learning is microlearning, which refers to delivering training content in short, bite-sized chunks. With decreasing attention span of the population and increasing amount of screen time and content consumption, microlearning is the logical next step in learning. This is evident from the popularity of TikTok, YouTube Shorts, and Instagram Reels. Microlearning makes it easier to digest and remember learning contents. For example, a series of short videos on food safety guidelines can be more effective than a long, tedious manual.
Videos and microlearning are necessary because they make training more engaging, memorable, and accessible. Many restaurant employees may not have the time or inclination to read lengthy manuals or attend lengthy training sessions. However, videos and microlearning provide bite-sized, easily digestible content that employees can consume at their own pace from their mobile phones. Microlearning is an effective way to address the forgetting curve, which refers to the decline in memory retention over time. By delivering training in short, regular bursts, microlearning can help to reinforce learning and improve retention rates over time. An example of this is spoon.tech, where you can utilize microlearning by incorporating short, bite-sized “scoops” on various topics relevant to your restaurant operations.
Gamification is the process of adding game-like elements like quizzes, points, leaderboards etc. to training to make it more engaging and fun. A popular example of the effectiveness of gamification is the language learning app Duolingo. The goal of gamification in training is to create a more immersive and interactive experience for learners, which can lead to improved knowledge retention and higher levels of engagement. Gamification elements like levels, points, and leaderboards can serve as positive reinforcement, providing learners with a sense of accomplishment and introducing healthy competition among peers. These elements can motivate learners to return and engage with the learning materials on their own. When done correctly, gamification can make learning more enjoyable and can help employees to stay motivated throughout the training process. For restaurant operators, spoon.tech is a great option to easily incorporate gamification into their training plan and make it more engaging for staff.
- Learning Management Systems
A learning management system (LMS) is a digital platform that allows you to formulate training plans and goals for employees, create and deliver training content, and track employee progress and assess their understanding of the material. It can also generate reports and analytics to help restaurants evaluate the effectiveness of their training program. This can be particularly effective for large restaurant chains with multiple locations to ensure uniformity of training and get a holistic view of employee training and progress across locations. There are many learning management solutions in the market, such as TalentLMS, Trainual, EdApp, SAP Litmos, spoon.tech.
Virtual Reality (VR) technology can be used to create immersive training experiences that simulate real-life scenarios. VR involves using headsets and other hardware to create a fully immersive 3D environment. By simulating real-life scenarios, VR can provide hands-on training that is difficult to replicate in a real world training setting. For example, a VR training program could simulate a busy restaurant kitchen, allowing employees to practice their skills and decision-making in a safe, controlled environment. It can also simulate cooking various menu items and safety training, giving employees a hands-on learning experience without actually using or hampering physical space and equipment needed to emulate a similar level of hands-on training in real life. However, VR does involve some upfront investment on hardware and creation of custom virtual environments.
Before choosing and implementing one or more of the approaches outlined above, the following practical aspects should be considered:
- Conduct a needs assessment: The first step is to assess the company's training needs and formulate clear training goals and objectives. This will help in identifying the skills and knowledge gaps and aligning the training program with the organizational goals.
- Choose the right approach or right mix of approaches: While all of the approaches stated above are good, it is not possible to implement all of them. It is also not necessary to go with only one. Thus, after identifying the training needs, the next step is to choose the right approach or the right mix of approaches that suit your organization’s needs the best. The choice of training approach should be based on the training goals, the learning style of employees, and the available resources.
- Involve staff in selection and implementation: Your restaurant staff are the target audience of the training approach, whichever one you select. Thus, employees are the best judges of what works and what doesn't work. It is therefore important to involve your restaurant staff in the selection and implementation of training approaches. This will not only provide valuable insights but also create a sense of ownership and buy-in among employees.
- Consider timing and accessibility: The timing of the training should be considered carefully, so as not to overburden the employees who already have a stressful and busy schedule. The training should be scheduled at a time that is convenient for the majority of the employees. Most restaurant employees are not desk-bound, so it is essential to ensure that the training is mobile-accessible. This will enable the employees to learn at their own pace and look up anything in case they forget.
- Consider costs and benefits: The implementation of the training idea(s) should be cost-effective. A cost-benefit analysis can help in determining the return on investment and the long-term benefits of the training. Make sure the approach you choose doesn’t exceed your budget and the cost doesn’t outweigh the benefits.
- Train and communicate: Once the training approach has been selected, it is important to train the employees and communicate the expectations and goals of the training program. This will help in creating a positive learning environment and setting the tone for the training.
- Evaluate and improvement of training methods: The selected training methods should be evaluated on a regular basis to determine its effectiveness. Employee feedback, performance reviews, and surveys can be used to identify areas of improvement and make the necessary changes to the training program. This will help in ensuring that the training program is aligned with the organizational goals and meets the needs of the employees.
In conclusion, effective restaurant staff training is crucial for ensuring that employees can provide top-quality service, improve customer satisfaction, and contribute to the success of the restaurant. However, traditional training methods are often ineffective and fail to engage employees, resulting in poor retention of information. By implementing creative training approaches, such as peer-to-peer mentoring, role-playing, cross-training, and digital/online approaches like videos, microlearning, gamification, VR, and simulation, restaurant managers can empower their teams and ensure that they retain knowledge while enjoying the process of learning.
It is important to conduct a needs assessment, choose the right approach, and consider the timing and accessibility of training, involving staff in the selection and implementation process. Regular evaluations and feedback should be conducted to identify what works best and what needs improvement. By taking these steps, restaurant managers can create a culture of learning, growth, and improvement that benefits employees, customers, and the restaurant as a whole.
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