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Fast casual brands are embracing digital training for a slew of reasons and was a focal topic during the 2018 Fast Casual Executive Summit

Fast casual employee and leadership training is going digital in a big way. Those clunky heavy binders and paper-based guides are swiftly being replaced by smartphones, tablets, laptops and PCs.

The list of reasons why, according to both global and emerging restaurant brands, is long — digital learning is saving money, time, travel requirements while proving to be more useful, relevant and engaging for those being trained.

Whether it’s learning how to slice cold cuts and wrap the sub at a Jersey Mike’s, gaining greater customer insight at Rise Biscuits Donuts, driving customer engagement at Holler & Dash or skills certification within a Chipotle Mexican Grill digital learning is reinventing staff training from the kitchen to the dining area to the corporate leadership ranks.

It affords greater accessibility to gaining knowledge and improving skills and simply meets the needs of today’s young workforce as people learn differently than they did 10 to 12 years ago.

When Pete Blair joined Chipotle a decade ago the brand had 700 restaurants (as of 2017 there were 2,450 restaurants operating) and training materials were bound in binders. Now the iPad is the fast casual’s prime learning platform and though some paper-based learning remains in play the shift to digital has been “extremely significant,” said Blair, Chipotle’s digital employee experience manager.

That shift isn’t just happening at global brands but within emerging fast casuals as well. Holler & Dash isn’t training in the old ways and isn’t hiring in the traditional restaurant fashion.

“Our culture is based around people and hiring the right personality and fit for the job. We can teach them the skills needed,” said COO Mike Chissler.

Blair and Chissler shared training insight along with Tom Ferguson Jr., founder of Rise Biscuits Donuts, and Keith Hertling, senior vice president leadership coaching and culture at Jersey Mike’s, in a panel session Monday during the three-day Fast Casual Executive Summit that kicked off Sunday evening at the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington.

The summit, run by Fast Casual’s parent company, Networld Media Group, draws restaurant executives interested in learning and networking via interactive sessions. The session was moderated by Peter McLaughlin, head of customer success for PlayerLync which sponsored the panel. PlayerLync is learning software that helps operational teams deliver rewarding customer experiences.

Why digital is grabbing big traction

Enhancing and delivering an exceptional customer experience is a big focus in employee training for the fast casual industry as the experience is on par, in terms of value and importance, with quality food.

The chef-driven, and chef-inspired brand trains staff on everything from culture and its philosophy (to make the world better one biscuit at a time) to learning its secret southern recipes. Holler & Dash approach training as integral to the lifecycle of the employee.

“We want to give them [employees} tools to be successful, to learn and grow and develop,” said Chissler.

The brand adopted PlayerLync from the start and develops much of its training content in-house — learning modules accessible on any digital device and features employees in its training videos. It’s also tapping its partners and vendors for training materials relating to equipment and operation.

“It’s proved very valuable,” he said, adding each location have thee iPads available which allows the training “to take place where the skill takes place. It’s continually tweaking content and ensuring it’s digestible in quick easy bites — a strategy welcomed and wanted by the young workforce.

“It’s a quick read as the attention span is not long. Content is big, and we continue to keep working on it,” he said.

Chissler recommends brands get staff involved in the training strategy from the start. “Their input is very valuable and it’s better to have them engaged in the training effort,” he said.

At Rise Biscuit Donut the employee engagement philosophy is very similar. Ferguson wrote a cultural manifesto and a focus is staff connections and communication within the organization.

“Technology is needed to maintain accountability and building connection using technology to ensure accountability,” said Ferguson, adding there is substantial energy in training the trainer as well.

“You need to know how the personnel things and then you can figure out what training technology works best.”

The brand’s training goes beyond skill building to do the restaurant role and includes content such a self-help and self-improvement, such as meditation exercises.

All four panelists noted that determining and assessing return on investment when it comes to training can be difficult to measure but that one metric is the employee turnover rate and employee retention.

“The ultimate measure is the experience of the staff and if employees are engaged and keep developing,” said Chissler.

Photo Credit: Networld Media Group.



Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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