Skip to main content

Planning a gathering? Learn how to save 20%!

Call today +1-866-227-2328

Fast Casual: How 2 fast casuals mastered training to enhance customer experience

Published: 02 Mar 2016

From Fast Casual: 

About two-thirds of a restaurant's staff turns over each year, meaning training new employees as quickly, cheaply and in depth as possible is imperative to keeping customers satisfied, said Robert Edell, CEO of Servy, which helps restaurants measure performance areas for improvement. His research reveals training can range from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand annually per employee based on the type of restaurant, location and management style of the leadership team.

"Training generally always includes a mock service or kitchen run-through followed by a shadowing period where the new employee oversees other staff members on the floor or in the kitchen for several days before operating independently," he said. "Larger operations sometimes incorporate video and written training, but the restaurant industry is notorious for employing hands-on, learn-as-you-go training."

Dickey's Barbecue Pit is one brand that uses a variety of training techniques from hands-on to digital tools, spending over $1 million each year to make sure employees are on their A games. The chain employs a full-time training staff at the corporate office that teaches and writes curriculum for online training modules and also produces videos to engage team members in-store, said CEO Roland Dickey Jr.

The chain, which has more than 500 units in 44 stores, recently redesigned its in-store training program to incorporate a larger focus on the chain's core values and meet the needs of millennial learners and beyond, Dickey said. New in-store job titles include Pit Boss, Pit Master and Pit Crew, and each reflect the levels of leadership and a clear path to management for workers at all levels.

"Our new training system focuses not just on standards, but on people," he said. "We want to attract the best people to work at Dickey's, allowing them to advance in their careers with us through meeting specific objectives and expectations that are communicated systemwide."

For example, the Pit Boss program teaches managers how to execute systems on a daily basis and how to handle tasks, such as inventory, scheduling, hiring, handling guest concerns, coaching and praising, said VP of Training and Development Chris Patterson.

"Our Pit Crew are entry-level employees, who are trained in deep detail on the preparation of our products, and how to properly serve the guests with energy and speed," he said. "Our Pit Master is the individual that slices and chops our meats at the block, and they too have a specific training program. 

"They not only learn how to properly prepare all of our meats, from the rubbing to the smoking, they also learn how to slice and chop each one of them at the block. We feel it is extremely important that our Pit Masters be the expert in our stores, because of this, they also learn the history behind each of our meats, this way they can engage the guests and teach others about the art and the passion that is barbecue."

Jersey Mike's also has an extensive training program in place, which requires "three times the hands-on experience than many franchise systems, and the majority of that is face-to-face," said Josh Funderburk, the brand's director of training.

"In 2015, 60 certified trainers offered 300 local training sessions to thousands of people including franchisees, managers and team members in all markets," he said. "The goal for 2016 is to redouble our efforts and offer a minimum of 600 local sessions from coast to coast."

Going digital

Although Jersey Mike's has standard training manuals, it also uses training videos and hosts a private franchise website, where all training resources are housed, Funderburk said.

Dickey's new training program has tossed the conventional restaurant training method that relies on textbooks and forms, and has implemented tools that reach learners by using proven curriculum design methods such as short videos, facts without fluff, faster and simpler training modules, and an aesthetically pleasing design, said Steve Hawter, SVP of training.

"Using these new tools developed by our home office training team, we can focus our passion on the art of great barbecue and instill it in our pit crews nationwide," he said. "I believe this new way of training will elevate our brand by challenging each of us to be the very best in our industry."

From the top down

Dickey's not only spends a lot of money to train its frontline and back-of-house employees, it also invests a lot at the owner-operator level, said Patterson, who noted all owner/operators must complete a four-week program called Barbecue University..

"It teaches them everything they need to know about operating a Dickey's Barbecue Pit," he said, adding the program includes interactive videos and quizzes.

"Training is not only worth the time but also the money that is spent on it. Training eliminates issues now and in the future," he said. "It eliminates any confusion as to what the proper procedure actually is. Training increases guest satisfaction, which in turn increases guest counts, and saves dollars in the long run. It reduces and eliminates the cost of turnover, waste and guest complaints while increasing sales and creating a more consistent dining experience."

Training also starts at the top for Jersey Mike's, which requires new franchise owners to have three in-store employees undergo extensive training, Funderburk said. Two people go through 360 hours of training over the course of eight to 12 weeks and one goes through 180 hours.

"All three come out to the company’s training center at the Jersey shore, which is set up as an actual store and so provides an authentic experience," he said.

Jersey Mike's also has its own brand ambassador, John Hughes, who is charged with generating excitement, brand awareness and cultural consistency via mandatory leadership culture classes for teams in each new location, along with existing team members from surrounding areas.

"Understanding Jersey Mike's culture  — where we came from and our mission — is integral to our success. Banter, vibe, atmosphere, smiles —  these are all important to our brand but, without training, it can get lost," Funderburk said. "When possible, Founder Peter Cancro stops by to share his story and passion for the brand."

Measuring success

Cancro has always said Jersey Mike's is "a training company and that is fueling our growth," said Funderburk, who cites growth as proof the training strategy works.

"Every day franchisees and team members make thousands of decisions that determine how customers feel about the brand and whether the business is a success," he said. "High customer satisfaction scores indicate this is paying off. We get requests all the time from fans that have tried our subs in other cities during their travels and now want us to open in their town."

Funderburk also said because of training — and its impact — franchise owners see the strength of the Jersey Mike's brand.

"We have the systems in place to allow multi-unit franchisees to continue expanding," he said. "In 2015, we opened 197 locations and awarded 97 territories representing 198 units. More than 70 percent of the territories awarded went to existing owners, the first time that multi-unit operators outnumbered single-unit franchisees in the Jersey Mike's system."

Dickey's measures the success of its training by verifying standards are being met in each store, Patterson said.

"Are recipes being followed? Is the store executing our core values of energy, speed, barbecue? This is validated by our franchise directors as well as our executive team as they travel throughout the country and visit owners and operators," he said.

To track progress, it also relies on its own reporting platform, called Smoke Stack, developed in-house under the direction of CIO Laura Rea Dickey.

"This program delivers real-time data systemwide, including sales per guest complaint. If a store is executing proper training, they will have fewer complaints and a high sales per complaint number," Patterson said.

Lastly, Dickey's monitors Barbecue University Online to verify each store has executed the required daily training modules.

"We have a recertification process in place for those stores that are not hitting the sales per complaint number," Patterson said. "Training is at the forefront of everything that we believe in here at Dickey's. When a program is adopted you will see it in the numbers."

Fast Casual: How 2 fast casuals mastered training to enhance customer experience
MORE FROM in the news: