Training for consistency: restaurants

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Restaurant 2012 summer olympics Brand Restaurant associates

Staff training is the bedrock of good service
Staff training is the bedrock of good service
As those involved in training within hospitality have underlined in our previous article, developing staff can make a difference to consistency within a business, but if you don’t already have a training scheme in place it can be hard to know where to start. 

In the second part of our four-part feature we speak to three restaurant companies of differing sizes and styles with established training schemes to find out more about how their respective schemes work. 

The people

In April of this year, an array of key industry faces gathered in London’s Armourers’ Hall for the Horizons Annual Briefing​to discuss some of the latest trends, forecasts and predictions for the sector.

The Briefing, entitled ‘Consumer change: adapting business to new demands’, concluded with a panel discussion featuring Andrew Guy, Ian Sarson and Peter Backman – the respective managing directors of Ed’s Easy Diner, Compass Group and Horizons.

At the end of the discussion the floor was opened up for questions and a member of the audience asked each person on the panel: ‘What is the most important factor in a restaurant’s success?’ The panel’s answer was unanimous and simple: The people.

Despite changes in consumer behaviour and an ever-intensifying competition within the foodservice industry, the ‘people factor’ has always remained at the heart of every business, be it small standalone restaurants or large multi-site chains. Staff form the entire infrastructure - from chefs and operations to training and development, HR, finance, marketing and sales, they are the life and soul of a business.

It is no surprise, then, that it is important to train your staff in the right way if you want to ensure consistency and excellence within your brand. More crucially, staff training is the bedrock of good service - which was recently revealed as the most important aspect of a restaurant, even above the quality of food and drink.

Development and progression

But, while panel discussions and industry surveys can raise awareness and inspire change, making sure you are always training the right people in the most effective ways can be a tricky task in practice.

“Continued development is essential and world-class training has to be part of day-to-day life,” advises Tracey Smith, HR director at Gaucho, the 16-strong Argentinian steakhouse concept. “At a basic level, the staff must feel valued and you have to ward off complacency.

“If you teach them and challenge them, give them room to breathe and inspire them, then their progression will be as much in their hands as it is in yours, which is really important.”

Training academy

Gaucho operates its own strict recruitment and training processes, with each new recruit put through the Gaucho Training Academy​where they learn a broad range of skills and have to sit two exams before securing a job.

Smith believes it is this cut-throat training process which has enabled the group to improve its service standards and up its prices.

“The philosophy of our training has evolved to focus on how an adult learns and the Training Academy operates under the mantra of ‘tell me and I might forget, show me and I might remember, involve me and I will understand.’ It takes place over eight days of theorised and practical teaching, with classes running from at 9am to 5.30pm.

“It all starts with a ‘speed date’. After speedily getting to know their colleagues, they get to spend two hours with me and they gain a broad understanding of what is now their company – its evolution, the people, the values and beliefs of the business.

“’Academites’, as they are affectionately known, then attend lessons on everything from grilling and cutting of beef to selling, service, wine, cocktails, the brand and Argentina. Staff from all departments learn all skills and they only separate three times to learn the skills specific to their departments - we do this so that our guests are never receptive to the ‘I don’t know, I work on reception’ type of response.

“They then take two two-hour written exams, both of which must be passed at 80 per cent and above - fail either exam and we part company.

“Since the launch of the Academy we’ve seen Gaucho’s restaurants change to being all about the service. It’s gone from a £40-a-head restaurant to £65-a-head, purely based on the staff’s experience; their ability to sell and to create a great evening for our guests.”

The Red Hot Way

This regimented-yet-rewarding approach to staff training is also evident at Red Hot World Buffet. The company has evolved from a single site with 24 staff serving 120 different Indian, Italian, Chinese, Thai, Mexican and Japanese dishes into a rapidly-growing chain of seven restaurants around the UK,​employing more than 720 people and serving up to 300 different dishes to more than 45,000 customers a week.

The majority of the core team who launched the first Red Hot World Buffet restaurant nine years ago are now senior managers having grown with the business. To help newer team members climb the ladder in the same way, the chain has a rewards programme called the Red Hot Way.

“Red Hot Way recognises the true stars of the business,” explains group general manager Sal Bajpai. “This year we saw about 40 high-flying bar staff, chefs and front-of-house staff rewarded for their hard work with holiday packages, trophies personal letters from the chairman.

“You read lots of stories of employees feeling undervalued and overwhelmed. We think it’s important to honour our staff because at the end of the day, they make the brand what it is.”

The most difficult part of staff training can often be in guaranteeing a consistency in the levels of service delivered across the brand, with different learning speeds and initial abilities having to be taken into account. For Bajpai, having a restaurant which offers such a wide variety of cuisines can make individual performances hard to track, which is why the company regularly uses ‘mystery diners’  to keep a check of things.

“Being a multi-cuisine buffet restaurant with so many dishes on offer and so many people to manage can make cooking and service standards harder to maintain,” Bajpai says. “For our chefs, we’ve got a standard operating process for each restaurant - we make sure they are always passionate about the food they serve, right down to every individual dish.

“And for front-of-house we’ve got our own Red Hot brand standards. In terms of the overall service, mystery dining operates at all of our restaurants quite regularly, to judge how they are doing.

“Mystery diners come in twice a month at every unit. They make sure our brand values are kept high and alert us if there’s any areas that we need to work on or extra training we need to provide.”

First Impressions

With competition among restaurant operators continuing to intensify, the recession biting hard and cash-strapped diners becoming more cautious about where to spend their money, it is the service standards that can take your business to the next level and make it stand out from the crowd.

Restaurant Associates, the fine-dining arm of contract caterers Compass, is one such business that has prioritised its service standards through its staff training, with the launch of a new guest experience programme, Impressions.

Having engaged with its restaurant clients and undertaken individual focus groups with both customers and employees, a series of Impressions toolkits have been produced which are suited to Restaurant Associates’ client portfolio. These toolkits enable the business’s teams to create their own customer experience standards and tools that are bespoke to their contracts.

The Impressions training programme has been developed with assistance from Silvano Giraldin and Michel Roux Jnr and includes forums with guest speakers as well as accredited training from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust and the Academy of Food and Wine Service.  It is again continually monitored through monthly mystery shopper visits.

“Key to delivering an exceptional experience is being able to understand every part of the customer journey,” says Andy Harris, Restaurant Associates’ managing director.  “This provides a clear picture of the expectations of your guests and allows you to anticipate their needs and hopefully exceed expectations.

“By introducing Impressions we have created a brilliant tool to enable our teams to do this and importantly we have also involved our clients and customers in this process.

“Core to the success of this programme was the training and engagement of our colleagues. We spent a lot of time developing the right training programmes and I’m really proud of how enthusiastically our people have embraced it.”

The road to success…

With these case studies it is fair to say that training and service are taken more seriously than ever, and the bar is continuing to rise. Earlier this month, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge wrapped up the Olympics Closing Ceremony, stating: “You have shown the world the best of British hospitality.”

The London 2012 Olympics proved that the UK’s hospitality industry is capable of providing world-class service​and, despite restaurants constantly having to adapt to new demands and consumer changes, the one thing that has and always will remain at the heart of the industry is its people. A business that prioritises these people with effective training techniques and excellent service provision is therefore, at the very least, on the road to success.

To read all our articles on training for consistency click here​.

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