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E-learning gets practical

Greystone Grill in Frederick, Maryland, has a new way to educate waiters on the restaurant's extensive wine list: Vino 101 (www.vino101.com), an interactive, online wine training course. "We have seen significant increases in our wine sales," says director of operations John Linderman, "and we've seen a lot more enthusiasm from our staff."

"E-learning is much more than courses," says Jim Javenkoski, PhD, director of custom solutions with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. Online classes are just one component of this larger trend.

E-learning can also include webinars, online collaboration solutions and even employee-accessible Web sites where information about new menu items or promotions is shared between locations. "The primary advantage is that you can have repeated access to content, concepts, principles, facts, people and simulations," says Javenkoski.

There's no one-size-fits-all solution with e-learning. "Focus first on what you want to achieve and use that as the guide to finding the content and resources that will help improve the performance of employees," says Javenkoski.

If you're known for your stunning wine list, then a course like Vino 101 makes sense. "From a cost standpoint, it has been a tremendous savings because we don't have to tie up our managers' time or print a bunch of paperwork or manuals," says Linderman. If you're a growing chain, you might invest in a large-scale custom solution that would help to standardize training across all locations. "Build it once and use it many times over thousands of employees," Javenkoski suggests.

Now any employee with Internet access or an MP3 player can get training modules via podcast. PodOmatic (www.podomatic.com) lets you record training podcasts online, then distribute them to staffers.

"We're seeing more and more attention to better design and a higher level of engagement and interactivity," says Javenkoski. If your restaurant has a broadband hookup, you're halfway there already.

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