Restaurant Briefing: Continuing Education Means More Motivation, Less Turnover

Promote Your Business Restaurant Industry By American Express August 12, 2015

According to the 2015 NRA Forecast, a majority of casual and fine dining operators report that training and re-training employees is a significant or moderate challenge for their business, especially as turnover slowly trends upward for the fourth year in a row. Some restaurateurs find that – in addition to daily training and re-training – offering continuing education opportunities (both on- and off-premise) not only engages and motivates employees, helping them become more knowledgeable, it also results in lower turnover.

Mentoring: At Pal’s Sudden Service, hq Kingsport, TN, the 37 people in leadership positions, including ceo Thomas Crosby, spend 10% of each day mentoring one or two employees, helping them develop a skill or specific aptitude. Thomas says that mentoring builds strong relationships and trust, leading to open communication with employees who readily share concerns and ideas.(All employees are given direct access via emails and personal cell numbers to all Pal’s leaders, including Pal, the founder, and Thomas.) “By working side by side, giving them the knowledge to do their job correctly, employees understand that the leaders of the company and I really want them to thrive.” The result: frontline turnover is tracking at 27% for 2015, down from 32% last year.

“Most machines go out of calibration and, just like equipment, people do too. Daily mentoring acts as preventive maintenance, helping us to stay at the top of our game.”

–Thomas Crosby, ceo, Pal’s Sudden Service, Kingsport, TN

“It takes a lot of time to mentor people and recently it became clear that I can’t personally educate everyone who comes to the restaurant to learn about wine,” says Bobby Stuckey, co-owner and Master Sommelier, Frasca, Boulder, CO. “Last year two of our sommeliers, Carlin Carr and Matthew Mather, created a tiered system for those who want to study for sommelier exams. Those who take the introductory exam work with someone who has passed that exam, those working on their certified exam work with a person who has passed the advance exam, and those working on the Master Sommelier work with me.” Bobby adds, “All this training and education – including our daily focus on wine education and the opportunity for some to work the harvest in Europe – leads to lower turnover and higher motivation.”

Curated online education: In addition to daily wine classes – the core of employee wine training at Barbara Lynch Gruppo, Boston, MA, Cat Silirie, executive wine director, reports that they have hundreds of pages of Gruppo-related wine information on the company’s Google drive that employees can access by invitation. For those who are interested, Cat also sets up winery visits.

“Education is such a huge part of our culture and business; it provides a bigger forum to believe in – to be part of a team of people who are really good at food and wine and passionate about what they do.”

– Cat Silirie, executive wine director, Barbara Lynch Gruppo, Boston, MA

Patina Group, New York City/Los Angeles/Las Vegas, uses an IntraWeb system (Cornerstone) called MyPatina to host a database of trainings and articles for managers to refer to at anytime during their employment. “It’s important to keep them engaged, especially as good managers are harder to come by today,” says Frank Marino, director recruiting, training, and development. Jessica Mulroy, training manager, explains that all managers have a profile on MyPatina. “It’s where they can access job-related information, including short videos, which enable them to learn and update specific skills (i.e., understanding p&l’s, a guide to ordering, Excel training, etc.).” Frank adds that a lot of continuing education at Patina is the result of personal initiative. “We encourage staff to take ownership of their growth and continuing education, and support them as much as possible through classes, r&d trips, etc.”

Off premise education: “Many employees come to us to learn about wine due to our wine country location and because our restaurants are very wine-focused,” says Mitchell Sjveren, owner, bouchon and Wine Cask, Santa Barbara, CA. “We’re happy to support employees who want to learn about wine, whether it’s covering the cost of sommelier exams, connecting them with our wine contacts, or arranging for someone to work during harvest. All of this study and experience adds to an employee’s wine knowledge, which is a great asset on the floor,” says Mitchell. At AvroKO Hospitality, New York City/Napa, wine education is also subsidized. Dan Rafalin, principal, says, “We split the cost of wine education programs with employees whom we identify or who identify themselves as being interested. If they complete the program and do well, the company covers the other half. Plus, we’ll pay for almost all of sommelier certification.” He says they also place four employees as interns for the French Culinary Institute’s wine program, which allows them to take classes for free in exchange for assisting. Dan adds that he is always on the lookout for educational opportunities for employees. “Recently we sent our management team to a seminar on wage and hours laws – it’s not only the HR director who needs to know how the new laws impact scheduling, managers do, too.”

Christina Tosi, chef/owner/founder, Milk Bar, hq New York, NY reports that her team of almost 200 is thirsty for knowledge and, as a result, they are continually given opportunities to learn. In addition to frequently offering skill set classes at various levels (cake writing, knife skills, etc.) and professional management training offsite, once a month a number of employees visit another production facility (Brooklyn Brewery, Mast Brothers Chocolate, Grayson’s) to learn how to better run the Milk Bar production facility. “We all ask a lot of questions and come back thinking about how we can mirror some of what we’ve seen and learned. Christina recently became an advisor to Journee, a new space in New York City specially created for restaurant professionals. “Journee offers lectures, classes, demos, events, networking opportunities, town halls, as well as a library,” explains Christina. “I believe it fills a void that I longed for when I came to New York 15 years ago – a place to have access to information and people to learn from, a community of peers. I’m pleased that my employees and others now have a place they can to go on their own to learn alongside a group of other passionate professionals.”

Developing a curriculum for ongoing education: Dan says that in addition to monthly training and staff meetings, AvroKO Hospitality is developing two 6-month continuing education curricula. “We feel it is much more powerful to have an established curriculum that employees can pick and choose from, rather than one offs,” he says. Classes will be held every two weeks, some of which employees are obligated to take and others that are optional. Classes cover a variety of topics, from the basics of wine and flavor, how to prepare an Excel spreadsheet, and understanding labor laws to sales techniques taught by a sales specialist and how to write a resume. “We wanted to be more methodical in our approach to continuing education and teach subjects that are important not only to make the restaurant a success, but help the employee be a success both inside and outside the restaurant.”