Homework, seminars and group projects might be the bread and butter of educational institutions, but some restaurants are borrowing those collegiate touches to cut employee turnover.
“We’re all trying to unlock the secret of how to convert someone that might have a flirtatious relationship with the restaurant industry into a committed long-term relationship,” says Garrett Harker, owner of eight restaurants in Boston, including Eastern Standard, The Hawthorne and Branch Line.
To do that, Harker has created an environment where staff can learn for the sake of learning and chase their passions. “Nothing is off limits,” he says. “That’s been a big defining characteristic for us—it’s a liberal arts education as opposed to a strictly industry education.”
Here’s how operators are schooling employees—don’t forget to take notes.
Harker does not like using the “millennial” word, but he says the generation has influenced the way he operates his business. “Any field of knowledge is available to them at their fingertips,” he says.
In the past, restaurants would put some effort into teaching employees about the wine list or the menu. At Harker's restaurants, employees have the opportunity to present to the team before shifts on any passion or hobby they have—even if it doesn’t directly relate to the industry.
For instance, he asked a manager pursuing her doctorate in opera performance to make a presentation on the topic to the team. “It’s easy to see how the appreciation of a craft can inspire employees,” he says. “If I spark that in an employee and cut them loose on the floor, that might give them the lift they need to create those experiences for guests.”
At Branch Line, Harker’s concept focused on rotisserie meats and veggies, a manager started Branch Line University. As part of the program, employees teach a seminar once a week on a topic of their choice. Not only does the sharing of expertise engage fellow team members, but it gives presenters the opportunity to develop their teaching skills and boost their confidence, he says.
North Peak Brewing Co., Traverse City, Mich., is opening a brewpub in Detroit that doubles as a training site for fermentation science majors. The operator is partnering with Eastern Michigan University for a 10-week course, where half of enrollment is reserved for women and minorities, according to Eater Detroit. The goal is to add more diversity to the industry, according to the publication. The beer produced from the program will be tapped at North Peak’s new restaurant.
For Dabba, an international-fusion fast casual in San Francisco, functioning like a business school is helping the city’s low-income workers advance in their careers. CEO Andy Mercy works to increase staff’s business IQ by training them on everything from managing labor cost to mentorship.
For each position, employees can earn the rookie, expert and master level. To gain the master level, which includes equity in the business, profit-sharing and a $23-an-hour wage, workers have to earn a training certification.
The program trains workers in coaching methodologies and safe-space communication. “I want everyone to have training in a form of communication that will go with them wherever they go in their careers,” Mercy says.