TJ Schier, the president of restaurant training consultancy Incentivize Solutions and co-founder of Which Wich quickservice sandwich franchisee S.M.A.R.T. Restaurant Group, has a very specific mission for his employees. Make the guests say “Wow!” “Which Wich is a very young brand, so there is not a lot of infrastructure to help build training materials,” Schier says. He found himself with a blank slate to build a completely new training program for his 180 employees across 10 Dallas area locations. The result is a program that combines e-learning, video, iPods and hands on training. “Very few chains are doing the blend of online and video. That is the magic bullet,” claims Schier.
Developing the new training program started with finding where guest metrics showed problem areas. “The issues were around speed and accuracy,” says Schier. He developed training modules that slotted into the Sysdine online employee management system. This e-learning access lets Schier track his employees and managers as they work their way through the training and has brought a new level of consistency to all 10 restaurants.
S.M.A.R.T. Restaurant Group skips the usual process of rounding up employees in a conference room and having them sit through a half hour training tape. Video is still key to the company’s training success, but it is delivered in short bites using iPod players. “It’s taking the old 10- or 12-minute training video concept and cutting it up into small pieces that help you train faster,” says Schier. “It’s a short content rich burst of information. They practice that skill right after they watch it. That’s their attention span these days.”
So what does the training world look like to a new sandwich maker at the Which Wich franchise? The employee logs into the Sysdine e-learning system and works through short training modules on a computer in the office. “We take them through all of the equipment they use at the station so they are familiar with the terms we use and what it all looks like. We show the basics of the system. Meat goes first. Cheese goes second and so on,” says Schier. The e-learning system is designed to be extremely visual with minimal text. Schier likens it to a narrated PowerPoint presentation.
The new hire heads to the station for hands on work with a trainer. That training is supplemented with the iPod videos. These tackle common problem areas that can slow down the sandwich production line. “The videos go through a series of tips such as grab all the bread and grab all the meat. If you are behind, slide the first sandwich down to the next person,” he says. He finds that his managers use the videos as ongoing training tools that can be re-watched right at a worker’s station as needed.
Integrating technology with training doesn’t have to break the bank or loom as an insurmountable obstacle. S.M.A.R.T. has a partner that creates professional training videos, but Schier recommends that independents and small chains get their feet wet by doing it themselves. “You can have your employees do this for you. They can film on a Flip camera and edit on a MacBook. You could have training videos for pretty cheap,” he says. Computer learning modules can be as simple as a PowerPoint presentation. “You would be shocked at what your own employees can do with a little direction,” says Schier.
S.M.A.R.T.’s training initiative is only 10 months old, but Schier is pleased with the improved speed, accuracy and friendliness at his restaurants. So far, he has developed 15 training modules for hourly employees and six for supervisors, with more on the way. He estimates that it can cost several thousand dollars to put an e-learning training module together. Schier is already looking ahead at how to bring tools like iPads, Twitter and Facebook into the training mix. “At the end of the day, if I can get the employees to say ‘Wow!’ then they are going to get the guests to say ‘Wow!’”