New learning strategies help combat turnover expenses.

Sponsored by PlayerLync.

Foodservice is already a high-turnover business, but industry-wide high turnover rates are making it even more difficult for restaurant leaders to keep restaurants staffed. In 2017, The National Restaurant Association reported that 2016 hospitality employee turnover rates had topped 70 percent for the second year in a row. TDn2K reported in April that hourly turnover continues to increase this year.

All this turnover has a massive impact on how restaurants operate and has the potential to slow service and damage guest experience, but it’s also the source of one of the biggest impacts on a restaurant’s bottom line. Cornell’s Center for Hospitality Research estimates that it costs a business $5,864 to replace each employee lost, including the cost of hiring and training new team members, lost productivity throughout the staffing process, and more. Additionally, these expenses will likely only go up as labor costs continue to rise in the next few years.

Though turnover is an issue that is unlikely to be solved anytime soon, there are ways that restaurants can reduce the impact of losing and replacing team members. Revamping the training process is one method of doing so that has a large impact on both restaurant finances, as well as brand experience.

Traditional training usually involves some sort of paper- or computer-based lessons that must be completed by new employees in a back-of-house office or in the empty dining room when the restaurant is closed. Not only is this process for onboarding a new employee slow, but it also may not be the most efficient method for learning in a restaurant environment.

“Traditional training systems evolved around the desk-bound worker—somebody who’s sitting at a workstation connected to the internet with robust connectivity throughout the day,” says Paul Bradley, director of product management at PlayerLync. “That’s just not the reality in the restaurant industry. People are on their feet, moving around the environment, working with their hands, and are not always connected.”

Though it’s crucial for brands to communicate brand standards during training, monotonous paper and computer lessons aren’t always the most engaging or memorable. Additionally, when relying on these types of training procedures, restaurants may find that the training experience and the messages new employees receive may vary by location. This was the problem at Naf Naf Middle Eastern Grill when Chad Chmielowicz, director of training, started working with the brand three years ago.

With 12 stores using paper-based training documents, guides, and quizzes, it was hard to ensure that each new employee received consistent messages. The brand was also ready to grow, and without solid training in place, it would become even harder for leadership to ensure that each employee was receiving the right messages about brand culture regardless of location. “It can be challenging to maintain consistent quality and service standards given our industry’s turnover,” Chmielowicz says. “Plus, we work in busy stores. Trainers and managers are only human and messaging can get missed.” 

This led the Naf Naf Grill team to reassess its training program, and in doing so, leaders realized that video would be the ideal way for the brand to improve its training. Video is more consistent than doing hands-on training alone and is more engaging than solely relying on paper training guides and employees. Additionally, the Naf Naf team realized that software offered by PlayerLync, a mobile learning management system provider that helps brands devise structured, engaging content, could help the brand move the onboarding process out of the back office and into work stations with iPads without prohibitively high costs.

Since adopting PlayerLync, this model has allowed the brand to help reinforce messages with both the consistency of videos and the memorability of hands-on, shoulder-to-shoulder learning with a trainer. Additionally, because Naf Naf mounts training iPads in the manager’s office as well as work stations, they can be used by other employees for ongoing training and review if they forget a recipe or a process and need to be reminded of this information later.

“In the old days, you learned in the back of the restaurant and then hopefully take that information with you into the actual practice area,” Bradley says. “But we all forget knowledge over time, so having a really easy resource at your fingertips to progressively reinforce that knowledge is very powerful.”

Now, Naf Naf Grill has just opened its 40th store, and as the brand has grown, the benefits of using this approach to training is paying off in even bigger ways, Chmielowicz says. “With so many stores and lots of different managers and assistant managers, we know that we can deliver consistent cultural and safety messages, as well as brand standards and job-specific lessons. Our new employees have a quicker speed to competency, and our other employees can access videos on their own to refresh on how to make the perfect hummus bowl, how to bake perfect pitas, and how to clean,” he says.

Naf Naf Grill has also received positive feedback from employees about the system. “We want a training program where the learners feel like they can get the answers they need without having to chase down a manager or without worry if a trainer is on break,” Chmielowicz says. “People naturally learn through digital technology now, instead of paper, and our learners feel pretty empowered using this joint approach with digital training and in-person training.”

And empowering employees has some big payoffs, too. “This software can be a powerful tool in terms of guest service, as well as in a rapid acceleration of onboarding,” Bradley says. “This breeds confidence and comfort, and that conveys to employees that this may be a place they really want to work.”

By Peggy Carouthers

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