The restaurant workforce is getting younger. According to Zippia, the average restaurant worker is 24 years old. That’s a stunning five-year age difference from 2013, when the New York Times reported that the average quick-service worker was 29 years old.
The relative inexperience of restaurant workers—paired with the fact that restaurants remain largely understaffed and are being asked to do more with less—has triggered a growing need for effective training protocols. And training Generation Z is proving to require new technologies, says Rachael Nemeth, CEO of Opus, a mobile training platform.
Nemeth, a hospitality veteran herself, most recently worked at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group. Her experience in the industry helped her identify the above tensions, along with the fact that a large percentage of the restaurant workforce does not speak English as a first language. Because many LMS are English-only, they did not meet the needs of many operators and frontline workers.
Nemeth is seasoned in technology for frontline workers as well. Her first company, ESL Works, designed translation technology to help non-native English speaking restaurant workers communicate better at work. Opus has a broader reach using the same principles of accessibility: a mobile technology platform optimized for training the modern restaurant worker quickly and effectively.
“Legacy training technology really set the stage for what learning management systems (LMS) are today,” Nemeth says. “We owe a lot to those companies—there are over 1,000 of them. But as we enter a new era of work, those solutions have become obsolete. They are desktop-based, email-based, English-only, and it’s difficult for operators to build content in them.”
Nemeth also says that restaurant brands are finding legacy LMS have low adoption rates and little-to-no return on investment (ROI). In an era when costs are rising on all fronts, and margin rates are decreasing, brands can hardly afford components of their tech stack to have no discernible ROI.
The following is a conversation with Nemeth, edited for clarity, exploring the best way to train frontline workers, and what it all means for restaurants.
QSR: What is the disconnect between legacy training methods and the on-the-ground reality in the quick-service landscape?
Nemeth: It’s really unfortunate. But in the past, there was little-to-no consideration for blending learning models. On-the-job training and digital training were seen as entirely different modes of doing things. Legacy LMS couldn’t always support back-of-house training—or really, they couldn’t support any frontline training at all. They were instead focused on managers, who sit at desks.
At Opus, we designed our technology to capture data from shoulder-to-shoulder training—that’s the stuff restaurant managers are really good at, right? And then our mobile app accompanies the worker for pre-learning, taking quizzes, and for vetting skills. This is a data problem that every business has—you have to find ways to make training easy for everyone, but that doesn’t mean you should eliminate in-person moments. It means you need to enhance their output with tech and then track that data so you can make better business decisions. That’s what Opus is built to do.
QSR: Labor costs, food costs—everything is inflating. Why look at training now? Can it help control costs?
Nemeth: We all know what’s happening with the labor market, but here is a unique insight: The truth is, many employers are no longer asking, “How can we get people to return to work?” The real question they are asking is, “How can we do more with fewer people?”
Right now, restaurant leaders asking that second question need software that is purpose-built for doing more with less. Opus is a next-generation training solution that’s designed for the frontline worker. It’s mobile-first, multi-lingual (every lesson and interaction are translated into over 100 languages), and chat-based. This makes the experience efficient and interactive for frontline employees and managers. We help all businesses get people up the curve fast and then get more out of them.
And history has shown that this is the right way of doing things. During the 2008 recession, employee output per hour increased 5.4 percent. In other words, in a recession, employers don’t cut labor as a means of cutting output. So, an investment in not just technology, but the right technology, can immediately show the ROI brands are looking for.
Put another way, worker buy-in and efficiency are the most effective ways to control costs.
QSR: How can a good LMS help turn around constant turnover and begin building a positive workforce culture?
Nemeth: What you have to focus on is day zero. How do you get a team member so enthused to work with you that by the time they show up to work, they are excited to be there?
The moment you hire a new team member, you can have him scan into Opus immediately. They can see a welcome video from the CEO and take a quick lesson on what to expect on his first day, and even get their Food Handler Certification. Now you’ve already invested in that team member, and they haven’t even put on an apron.
From there, it’s about aligning with career growth. But not all careers are created equal. So learning new pathways should be bespoke to that team member and their interests.
For more on Opus, visit the company’s website.