Honeygrow is a more complex Asian concept than some smaller fast casuals, offering stir-fries that can’t be prepared without a set of culinary skills. As a result, kitchen employees learn everything from the right way to chop (using knives safely) to stir-frying (correctly smoking a wok) to recognizing the best ingredients to use in salads (dark green romaine, for instance).
“We want to make sure we really train these guys and they understand the food,” Rosenberg says.
The work and life skills program at 31-unit chain Tender Greens is offered at its California units only. “When my partners and I were starting the company, we were employing a lot of young high school kids who had many issues at home and for whom we became father figures in many ways,” Dressler says. “It opened our hearts to the concept that Tender Greens would be more than a place to come and work.”
The internship program includes restaurant training, classes, field trips, and workshops. While some of the candidates continue to struggle with challenges in their personal lives, including homelessness, and may need to drop out of the program for one reason or another, at least 30 participants have graduated thus far.
The initiative also provides an opportunity for the restaurant company’s executive chefs—the main managers and supervisors at each restaurant—to grow and mature as they work with the kids, who are atypical hires. “Those relationships become beautiful to see,” Dressler says.
The online culinary program that Hopdoddy—and some other businesses—has with Escoffier for full-time employees includes two 30-week diploma options, each ending with a six-week “externship” working in the industry, including their own work experience at Hopdoddy. Hopdoddy employees pay discounted tuition rates for the program, too.
“We identified Hopdoddy as a progressive company in the industry,” Souza says of the partnership. “We are in a war for talent.”
She says fast casuals, along with quick serves, need to work to retain employees amid significant industry turnover. Providing an educational benefit is a plus, positioning the culinary trade as a career instead of simply a job.
Of course, the hope is that these educational efforts will entice employees to stay with companies. At the same time, though, workers may learn enough through these opportunities that they become more valuable elsewhere, with some even considering furthering their careers at another type of restaurant.
The prospect of employees looking to other futures within the industry is not something that overly concerns professionals.
“The idea is to build up the employees and to allow them a path for success,” Johnson & Wales’ Delle Donne says. “It’s not about keeping them locked up and confined. If I am leaving the nest singing the praises of the company where I worked, and I am on a path to success, imagine what that says to future employees. Anything positive is a fantastic win for the company.”
Rosenberg sums it up best: “If we are doing other things right and the employees are being paid right, we will not worry about them leaving,” he says. “We think if we train them well and treat them well, they will stay.”