Low-cost & (no-cost) training

Smarten up your staff without going broke. Training is tough, but paying for it can be tougher. Thing is, not training has consequences, like high turnover, poor service, even safety risks. But even a small investment in training can pay for itself. “The cost of training is only relevant to the change in behavior it brings about,” says Harry Bond, president of Monical’s Pizza, Bradley, Illinois. “You can do cheap training, but if it doesn’t bring about desired changes in behavior, it’s a waste. You can spend a million bucks and if it improves performance by a million and a half dollars, you’re ahead.” We get some cheap training tips from four operators.

Chip away at comp

Restaurant: Monical’s Pizza
Goal: Reduce workers’ comp costs
Cost: Under $500/year systemwide

At Monical’s, workers’ comp costs were way out of line, mostly due to slips and falls in the dish room. While most claims were minor, the company’s insurance carrier fretted that a major one was inevitable. “As it was, they told us that we were looking at over a half-million-dollar cost if we didn’t change behavior,” Bond says.

A training program named “Silver Bandage” addressed the problem. Monical’s training department began tracking the number and types of claims. Managers met with their crews to generate awareness and reinforce the need to keep the dish area dry. Hobart, the company’s dish machine maker, was tapped for free training videos on how to use the equipment properly and cut down on water ending up on the floor.

Each quarter, stores with no injuries receive an award stripe to add to their Silver Bandage plaque and workers get goodies—maybe cheesecake donated by a vendor. “They really get into it and it costs us almost nothing,” Bond says. “The return has way more than that half a million dollars we might have otherwise lost.”

Ask the associations

Restaurant: Mazzio’s Italian Eatery
Train and retain managers
Cost: $150 per person

John Kidwell, senior human relations consultant at Mazzio’s, Tulsa, Oklahoma, looks to industry associations for low-cost solutions. One he’s most gung-ho about is the Foodservice Management Professional® (FMP) program from the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation and now managed by National Restaurant Association Solutions. “At $150 per person, it’s a steal,” he says. “Why reinvent the wheel?” Topics include food-handling, law, operational procedures and systems. Kidwell says managers’ skills are enhanced and self esteem is boosted. “They appreciate that we devote time and money toward educating them and giving them a credential that can further their careers,” he says.

The only additional cost, he adds, is candidates’ time spent in an eight-hour class led by Kidwell to prep for the exam. His time gets factored in, too, but total cost is still negligible, especially considering the ROI. “We’ve seen a definite enhanced retention rate,” he says.

Another source for low-cost training is CHART, the Council of Hotel & Restaurant Trainers, which provides hospitality trainers access to industry training professionals, resources and solutions. Annual membership is $295. “They’re one of the hidden secrets of our industry,” says Bond. “They put on educational conferences and provide a broad range of  resources.”

Non-members can go to www.chart.org and subscribe to a free Training Flash e-letter, access Webinars, instructional and documentation resources and vendor contact lists.

Tap your vendors

Restaurant: Francesco’s Cafe
Goal: Teach staff to make/sell gelato
Cost: $200 in transportation, lodging

Partnering with vendors is a great way to stretch and enhance training dollars. The vendor community has myriad resources free for the taking. Distributors, brokers and manufacturers make available their test kitchens and training centers to operators all the time. Many will help put together programs and provide expertise, as well as prizes and incentives for trainees. Commodity boards and manufacturers produce mountains of targeted training materials, many of which can be woven into more generic training initiatives.

When Francesco’s Café in Wilmington, North Carolina, opened a year ago with fresh gelato as a signature menu item, GM Jamie Zieger sent a manager to a free three-day workshop hosted by PreGel USA, a maker of gelato bases and flavorings. Zieger and another staffer went through the program this January, and he now plans to send his entire staff. “I was skeptical because it was free, but it’s excellent training,” Zieger says. “They start with the history of gelato, what makes it unique. That alone has helped us to be able to explain it and upsell it. They go on to include a lot of hands-on use of the machines, recipe development, merchandising and serving.”

The only costs were transportation (they drove) and hotel, which PreGel helped secure at low rates. “We spent maybe $200 total for two of us. They even included lunch,” Zieger says.

Sharpen the focus

Restaurant: Logan’s Roadhouse
Goal: Reinforce core operating principles
Cost: 2.5 percent of training department budget

Chris Beckler, VP of training at Nashville-based Logan’s, says his company looks for ways to make an impact while keeping costs in line. “Foundation Based Training,” launched two years ago, is a program built around core operational foundations, such as friendliness, team building, speed of service and food quality. Every week, the entire organization focuses on one of 13 training modules.

“If the topic one week is building great teams, the managers might focus on how to conduct great interviews,” Beckler explains. “Our staffing department would put together some selection criteria and a list of questions for the managers to incorporate to make sure we’re selecting great people. The managers in turn would work with their team members on topics like teamwork, using the buddy system.” 

Costs are minimal. “It was created in-house so there’s some labor involved, and there’s some printing for the management training modules,” Beckler says. “But the return has been great. Turnover has been reduced and we see continual improvements in secret shopper program scores.”

Tightwad training tactics:

•Tap vendors/distributors for facilities, specialists and training programs.
•Check out what’s available from the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (www.nraef.org), CHART (www.chart.org), and state associations.
•Tap other departments; marketing, for instance, to help develop programs with pizzazz, or finance for tracking ROI.
•Chambers of commerce, community colleges, small business groups offer free and low-cost training. Monical’s sent two managers to a college to become HVAC repairmen. Cost: $75 each. Benefit: more than $20,000 saved in HVAC repair bills.
•Certifying hourly workers as assistant trainers boosts their morale and pay and gets the job done at less-than-management rates.
•At Times Grill in Jacksonville, Florida, every shift starts with a meeting that includes sampling. President Kelly Harris says it’s a simple, low-cost way to make sure everyone knows how to explain and sell the menu.  

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