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One of the biggest risks to the restaurant industry right now is a lack of incoming workers to fill jobs. With a tight labor market and the gig economy on the rise, casual restaurant work isn’t the obvious option for young people anymore. Taking a part-time server job at your local pizza place to get through high school is less common than it was ten years ago.
To combat this challenge, restaurant managers and owners are improving their onboarding and training processes to keep staff on the team longer. Millennials – those born between 1981 and 1996 – make up 35% of the workforce, so today much of a restaurant’s survival hinges on how well it can adapt its training and development program to suit millennials’ needs.
Providing your restaurant staff with consistent, skills-based training shows your commitment to helping them grow as people and professionals and increases employee engagement. But there are a bunch of barriers preventing restaurateurs from implementing the training programs they want and need, including time, money, and resources. And then there’s the difficulty of keeping that training up-to-date, accessible, and engaging for a millennial team.
But even with limited time, money, and resources, there's a lot you can do.
What Millennials Want
Before you start planning your training program, it’s worth understanding what millennials want out of the restaurant industry.
Deloitte released a report on the opinions of more than 13,400 millennials that revealed they’re not afraid to stand up and speak out for what they believe in. In fact, 54% of millennials said they would leave employers who didn’t provide a motivating and stimulating working environment, while 55% said they would leave if development through training and mentors wasn’t prioritized.
There might be fewer young people working in restaurants to support themselves through school, but a larger portion of those workers do see hospitality as more of a long-term career prospect. The millennial generation genuinely cares about providing good food and good service, which makes them highly motivated workers — in the right environment, of course. They've also grown up with a heavy influence of technology and have seen how it can support the growth of the restaurant industry.
This means throwing them into the kitchen and leaving them to learn as they go isn’t going to work. Millennials have higher expectations for training because of the way they were taught in school: in more collaborative classrooms with constant feedback.
Restaurant owners and managers need to update their staff training, not because millennials are unmotivated but because they've developed a learning style influenced by the huge bounds in technology that have occurred during the past 20 years.
One last thing. This new generation is more determined to enjoy a healthy work/life balance, which means they can become easily dissatisfied with the rigid shifts requirements of most restaurants if the workplace isn’t making up for it in other ways. In addition to smart, continuous training, restaurant employers need to get creative with benefits, increase opportunities for higher wages, and create an inclusive workplace culture if they want to keep their millennial staff.
How Millennials Learn
How can you reach millennial workers during that initial training stage? There are two key aspects that will influence their interest in learning: relationships and technology.
Millennials are more critical of poor workplace cultures than the generations before them. If they can’t see themselves developing mutually respectful relationships with their leaders, they’ll be less likely to respond to the new skills being taught. Restaurant trainer David Hayden gave us some advice.
When you're teaching millennials, you have to mentor them, not manage them. When you do that, they will remain loyal, and they will want to learn more from your company.
As for technology, that one’s pretty simple: Millennials have been raised on the internet, so naturally, their learning styles are tied to technology. For most millennials, book or paper-based training alone seems outdated, especially since many of them are used to online training modules from other jobs. Organizations like edX and Coursera are bringing traditional university courses online, making learning more accessible and convenient.
Only 19% of restaurant employers offer online training to new hires. If you’re not using online training, you’re missing the opportunity for more quality engagement and a deeper understanding of your restaurant.
There are several methods you can build into your restaurant staff training to get your millennial employees psyched about clocking in every day.
Irene Li wants restaurant work to be a viable option for anyone who loves food. Here’s how she’s making it happen in her restaurant.
Learning Method 1: Incorporate Video Training
Remember, the millennial generation is tech-savvy. When these learners have a problem, they usually seek the answer in one of two places: Google or YouTube. There are millions of short, instructional videos on YouTube that help them pick up new knowledge at their own pace. So it makes sense that incorporating video or online courses into their restaurant training would make them more interested.
Panera, for example, trains staff both in person with a certified trainer or manager and online through an eLearning program called Baguette University. Cute, huh? This audio-visual interactivity keeps young staff engaged while learning about compulsory topics like policy and procedure. Through this portal, employees can familiarize themselves with new menu items and view step-by-step guides on preparing meals. This training isn’t intended to replace in-person training but instead complement it without disrupting day-to-day productivity.
LinkedIn is also great resource when training millennials. There are plenty of YouTube channels, LinkedIn Courses, and other social media forms that offer professional development coaching in addition to training. Ask your staff to send you their favorite videos and create a team compilation. You could even create a competition to incentivize staff to watch extra training online, like a “no side-work” coupon for the employee who watches the most training videos.
Learning Method 2: Peer-to-Peer Mentoring
Millennial diners rely heavily on reviews from their peers to tell them whether or not they should visit a restaurant, and millennial employees also feel more comfortable learning from their counterparts. It’s easier to relate to those who understand their daily challenges.
Give each new staff member a peer mentor so they can learn from someone on their level. This mentorship will create a culture of real-time feedback, which is something millennials crave from managers who don’t necessarily have the time to provide it on a regular basis.
Since this generation finds it harder to be open about problem areas in front of large groups, giving them a peer mentor will also give them a space to admit to mistakes and ask for feedback. This will allow you to gauge where they’re falling short and where you need to focus more of your training.
Learning Method 3: Mobile and Tablet Training
You’ve probably had a chat with your staff about staying off their phones during shifts. Well, according to a B2X study, 25% of millennials look at their smartphones more than 100 times a day. And this is something you can use to your advantage. Instead of banning phones from your restaurant completely, meet this need head-on by introducing tablet-based training.
Tablets are becoming the training restaurant point of sale technology of choice for restaurants that want to upgrade their training methods. This eLearning initiative allows your staff to find answers for themselves rather than going to a manager first, which saves you time and money. Plus, with the mobility of tablets, your staff can learn on the go. Employees can view content whenever and wherever it's convenient.
Pizza and taproom franchise Old Chicago has moved away from paper-based training to tablet training. Kitchen staff, for example, can log in on a tablet while working at a prep table, look at a recipe, and find the answers they need without going to a manager. Not only does this answer millennials’ need for independence, but it also reduces the costs associated with printing and distributing training materials.
Learning Method 4: Gamification
Gamification refers to the incorporation of gaming elements in training to leverage peoples’ natural inclination to competition and socialization. In a study conducted by Toast partner 7shifts about restaurant employees’ level of workplace happiness (of which most participants were millennials), team-building activities and the amount of recognition they receive from management were rated among the highest determiners for workplace happiness.
Through the use of gamification in training, you can engage your staff in healthy competition and reward them for successfully completing otherwise boring tasks.
In a TEDGlobal talk, Jane McGonigal spoke about how playing games helps us bond with the people around us. That might sound a bit strange when it comes to planning a training schedule, but gamification can involve anything from team competitions and staff leaderboards to playful badges and daily quizzes. And because participants have a fun experience, gamification actually increases knowledge retention.
Gamification is an easy way to engage employees in training and keep them growing throughout their time with you. Using a game to replace any part of training, from sales to customer service, can make work more enjoyable while simultaneously driving performance. It can be as simple as instituting a sales competition for who can sell the most specials to winning service-related compliments on Yelp.
Pep Boys, an automotive repair chain (stay with me here), tried to teach its staff about policy and safety compliance, but the staff kept forgetting what they learned. So Pep Boys started sending out short daily quizzes on company policies. If people got the answers right, they won points that could be used towards prizes, like Amazon gift cards. it worked.
Learning Method 5: Team Building
Three out of five millennials say friendships with their co-workers make them happier at work.
Incorporate team building into your training from day one. Play some icebreaker games during their orientation, and don’t worry about being cheesy — your staff will bond over the silliness. Create opportunities for socializing, like after-work dinners, team sports tournaments, or scavenger hunts.
Another important aspect of team building is knowing the work that goes into other jobs around the restaurant. When employees understand what it takes to complete different jobs, they’re more empathetic and can make decisions that benefit the entire team, not just the individual.
Give your staff the chance to learn about other people's jobs during family dinner. Have a different person speak about their challenges and what they love about their specific role each week. Or dedicate monthly shadowing time for employees as part of their training, where they can understand the difficulties and triumphs associated with each position.
Restaurants are competitive and stressful environments, so it’s in your best interest to foster a positive team culture. If the millennial workforce views your restaurant as fun and rewarding from the get-go, they’ll be motivated to stick around to keep learning.
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