Foodservice Training Programs That Reduce Risk & Enhance Quality

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Foodservice Training Programs That Reduce Risk & Enhance Quality

By Maureen Azzato - 01/10/2015

When you listen to convenience store operators discuss foodservice training, they predominately focus on food safety training. While food safety and sanitation is certainly paramount, other types of training are also important, such as proper menu item preparation, food station setup and breakdown, packaging and presentation, proper equipment operation and maintenance, and customer service, to name a few. All are essential to reducing risk, and enhancing foodservice quality and the customers’ overall experience.

“Foodservice training is a must for operators of any size and level — from the smallest food operations to the largest quick-service restaurants,” said one retailer member of the Convenience Store News How To Crew. “Even the smallest items, such as training on how to clean fountain nozzles, can enhance the quality of the product.”

Without question, operators can suffer major harm to their business if there is a food safety and sanitation breach –– as we discussed in the November 2014 issue of Convenience Store News –– and best practices are critical to embrace and perfect. The commitment to food safety and sanitation begins at the top, at the CEO level, and must trickle down to every employee in the field and in the stores where food is served.

In addition to food safety and sanitation, foodservice training should include classroom and hands-on training about every facet of an operator’s foodservice program, and the skills required to execute the program consistently and with the highest quality possible.

“Teaching proper foodservice skills –– such as equipment operation and maintenance, inventory control and quality checks –– can result in better and more consistent foodservice quality as your staff becomes knowledgeable in the necessary fundamentals,” said Mathew Mandeltort, corporate foodservice manager for distributor Eby-Brown Co. and an expert on the

CSNews How To Crew. “For example, we always stress the importance of using checklists during station setup to ensure that the various elements of a station (such as disposables and condiments, etc.) are in place and fully stocked so that guests are not inconvenienced in any way due to out-of-stocks.”

Foodservice training should take place at all levels of the organization. Most of our How To Crew experts agree that everyone from top executives down to store level should be required to take food safety and sanitation training because executives and upper-level management will then more readily lead by example; instill a culture of foodservice in their organizations; and ensure there are resources for continuing education and training, monitoring and continuous improvement.

At the store level and district level, training is much more focused on the nuts and bolts of foodservice execution, such as how to properly make all sandwiches on the menu, how to read and calibrate thermometers to ensure food is held at the proper temperatures, or how to clean the cappuccino and other beverage machines. Store-level training should also focus on service to ensure foodservice customers are hospitably greeted and expediently served.

TRAINING METHODS

Given the broad spectrum of topic areas that foodservice employees must be trained on, what are the best methods to train them? Are internal programs superior to external programs? When is classroom training more appropriate than hands-on training or video/ internet training?

All told, the average foodservice employee’s initial training consists of about 20 hours for both informational classroom training and practical (hands-on) training, according to How To Crew panelists. And for the most part, the experts recommend internal training as opposed to using outside resources because employees tend to participate at a higher level and respond better to internal programs.

Some experts only recommend video training or computer-based training if it is used in combination with live classroom and hands-on training.

For passive educational and informational training (i.e., the principles of food preparation, food safety and sanitation, inventory management and customer service), most experts recommend live classroom training. Active training on the job with their supervisors, however, takes place in the store and is where employees can combine their passive training with hands-on learning, supported by visual training aids. At the store level, most employees learn best by doing, according to the experts.

“Computer-based training is fine, but not as critical as consistent on-the-job training from location to location,” noted one expert on the CSNews How To Crew. “On-the-job training is a must and needs structure with a bible for all recipes.”

It’s also critical for trainers to “keep their hands in their pockets” and allow employees to learn by doing because they will better retain skills this way. The trainer’s voice should become the “conscience of the listener/trainee,” who executes the skill while tapping their memory for the trainer’s directions and expertise, as one retailer explained.

Several experts cite the importance of using good images on visuals in food-station manuals and recipe books, making it easy for employees in training to understand what a product should look like at every stage or preparation, for example. Strong support materials for employees to take home after training also provide them with reference information to support their learning.

During training, companies should explain why things are done a certain way “so employees further understand the importance of their actions [regarding] serving safe food,” advised Ed Burcher of Burcher Consulting, also a member of the CSNews How To Crew.

“With the multitude of training methods, there may not be one best way to do it,” Burcher said. “At the end of any training, however, it is essential to verify learning and understanding by the employee” with quantitative and practical testing.

Meanwhile, managers, supervisors and district managers should be trained so they can become the teachers to continuously reinforce training.

KEEPING IT CURRENT

It’s ideal, for chains with the resources, to have a corporate training team/person that is responsible for updating training materials multiple times per year, scheduling training, and staying on top of new rules and guidelines that emerge from states and local municipalities.

Essentially, a trainer’s job is never done, especially in a dynamic organization that is continuously updating its menu and expanding its offering. Training programs and manuals must be updated any time new products, new equipment or new programs are introduced.

“In some cases, a subject matter expert (SME) for the program is the appropriate person for this review,” said Burcher. “I have found that assigning SMEs that responsibility –– making it a part of their yearly deliverable and evaluation –– puts the added emphasis on the need to have programs up-to-date.”

Training programs also should be tweaked or updated whenever there is a gap or inconsistency found during store audits, employee evaluations or poor customer reviews and complaints that arise, according to one How To Crew expert. “This is even more critical if there is a food safety issue,” he added.

Even if programs or menus don’t change for a year, training programs should still be updated annually.

Finally, how much should operators budget for employee training annually? While firm dollar figures are difficult to ascertain and can vary widely based on a company’s size and the scope of its foodservice program, top organizations across many industries budget approximately 4.5 percent of their payroll on training and employee development, according to Training magazine.

To become best-in-class and instill a foodservice culture, convenience store operators must develop a training culture. This will help them keep the best and brightest employees who will stay with the company to hopefully become the next product and program developers, and executive leaders.