Charting roads to advancement can give employees an incentive to stick around. But language barriers pose roadblocks to that success.
At The Kati Roll Company, a five-unit Indian street food chain in New York City and London, the biggest obstacle to achieving management roles or even front-of-house positions is language, says Managing Director Anil Bathwal. “We feel that their potential is being stymied and blocked by their lack of English proficiency, and if we offer a growth plan for people, we believe everyone can go from dishwasher to general manager,” Bathwal says.
Many of the workers at Kati Roll Company are first-generation immigrants. The two main non-English languages spoken in both the front and back of house are Bengali (the national language of Bangladesh) and Spanish. Kitchen workers can get by without perfect knowledge of English, Bathwal says; but without it, many cannot get ahead.
To get over the hurdle, Kati Roll Company and other restaurants are investing in their staff’s language proficiencies to help streamline communication and accelerate career development within the organization.
At Curry Up Now—a restaurant group with food trucks, restaurants and bars in San Francisco—every member of the team is trained to do a multitude of tasks from cashier to cook. With that kind of dissolution between the front and back of house, the need to facilitate communication between a mostly nonnative English-speaking staff is even more important. “Communication is all about keeping [processes] very, very simple,” says co-founder Akash Kapoor.
Show, don’t tell
Curry Up Now emphasizes visuals over words in its two-minute training videos. “Most people are visual and they like to see things,” Kapoor says. “With short videos taking over our lives, we decided to video-fy our recipes and processes.” Using plug-in software, staff can type a question into an app in any language, and receive an instructional video in return.
Invest in education
Kati Roll Company offers free English classes to its staff as a perk. Workers can sign up for the weekly class held at the chain’s offices. Bathwal says the classes not only allow employees to provide better customer service, but they also help some immigrants study for citizenship exams, a benefit that helps with retention.
Talk in code
Part of Curry Up Now’s training includes teaching new hires a code language to facilitate quick, universal communication. Staff use the in-house jargon to convey orders, menu modifiers and when things go wrong. The sassy lingo suits the concept’s culture: For example, “bastard” lets the kitchen know that an order has been messed up, and menu items are abbreviated to single words, such as “sexy.”
Teach to test
Kati Roll stocks up on test prep resources in different languages and pays for the class and the first exam for employees to become certified food handlers, a qualification needed to become a supervisor in New York City. Not only does this widen the chain’s pool for potential management, but it helps attract ambitious workers who want to advance their careers.