The restaurant industry is constantly changing. Regulations, staffing, inventory, product, customer demands - they are all evolving by the day. The restaurant industry is on a constant quest for excellence, seeking ways to provide exceptional experiences to customers and improve training processes in order to deliver on those experiences. While digital training solutions offer numerous benefits, it is crucial to recognize the enduring value of on-the-job training.

gallup research shows that disengaged employees may be costing the workforce $7 trillion in lost productivity annually on a global scale. Instead of completely replacing in-person methods, digital training solutions should complement them in order to increase engagement and knowledge retention. This way, restaurants can enjoy the best of both worlds and create a powerful training ecosystem that captures data from both digital training interactions and the in-person training moments that happen in between.

Shoulder-to-shoulder training, also known as on-the-job training or hands-on training, is a common practice in any business that employs frontline employees, or employees who don’t sit at a desk all day. It involves pairing a new or less experienced employee with a more seasoned one to offer direct guidance, mentorship, and practical learning opportunities.

Examples of shoulder-to-shoulder training in restaurants:

  1. Shadowing: A new employee shadows an experienced staff member, observing their tasks and responsibilities. They learn by watching and asking questions, gradually gaining familiarity with various processes such as taking orders, serving tables, preparing food, or operating the point-of-sale system.
  2. Tableside Assistance: In fine dining establishments, a new server may accompany an experienced server while serving a table. They assist in table setup, taking orders, delivering food, and providing exceptional customer service. This hands-on experience allows them to learn proper etiquette, timing, and attention to detail.
  3. Kitchen Training: Aspiring chefs or line cooks often undergo shoulder-to-shoulder training in the kitchen. They work alongside experienced cooks, observing and assisting with food preparation, cooking techniques, plating presentations, and maintaining kitchen hygiene. This training method helps develop essential culinary skills and an understanding of kitchen operations.
  4. Barista Training: When learning the art of making specialty coffees and beverages, a new barista may work closely with an experienced barista. They learn the intricacies of espresso extraction, milk steaming, latte art, and drink customization by observing and receiving hands-on guidance in a fast-paced coffee bar environment.
  5. Managerial Mentorship: Aspiring managers may undergo shoulder-to-shoulder training with an experienced restaurant manager. They learn about administrative tasks, inventory management, team coordination, handling customer issues, and ensuring smooth operations. This training helps them develop leadership skills while understanding the managerial responsibilities of running a restaurant.
  6. Expediter Training: In busy kitchens, an expediter plays a crucial role in coordinating and ensuring the smooth flow of food from the kitchen to the dining area. A new expediter may work alongside an experienced one, observing how they communicate with the kitchen staff, prioritize orders, and maintain efficiency during peak hours.

On-the-job training allows new employees to learn from experienced team members, acquire practical skills, and gain confidence in their roles. It facilitates knowledge transfer, fosters teamwork, and maintains consistency in service standards throughout the restaurant. Let's take a closer look at why this balance between tradition and innovation is so important for the success of restaurants:

Preserve The Human Connection

The essence of the dining experience lies in the human interactions between staff and customers. Repeat that 10 times. Restaurants are a human-centered business. You cannot train fully online and expect human-like results. Analog training processes, such as hands-on mentorship and face-to-face communication, foster personal connections and instill a deep understanding of customer needs. By integrating digital solutions thoughtfully, restaurants can leverage technology to enhance these interactions rather than replacing them. For example, using digital tools to supplement training modules can free up time for staff to focus on developing relationships with customers, ensuring a personalized and memorable dining experience.

Balance Institutional Knowledge with Efficiency

Analog training methods have been perfected over time, drawing on the knowledge and experience of experts. They reflect the values, culture, and unique approaches of each establishment. Digital training solutions can support these traditional methods by providing efficient training modules, accessible resources, and real-time feedback. This partnership allows restaurants to preserve their brand identity while benefiting from technology. I’m not saying to reject technology, of course. But brand equity increases in value when humans carry the cultural undertones from employee to employee. By balancing institutional knowledge with efficiency, restaurants can maintain their authenticity while embracing modernity.

Bridge Operational Gaps

Restaurants often grapple with high turnover rates, order inaccuracy, inconsistent training quality, and managing multiple locations. Digital training solutions can bridge these operational gaps by providing standardized training materials, remote accessibility, and continuous learning opportunities. New hires can access digital modules to familiarize themselves with company policies and procedures before their first day even, while experienced employees can use online platforms to refresh their skills and stay up-to-date with industry trends. So the blended learning experience of in-person training with online resources ensures more reliable knowledge transfer. This has been shown to reduce training costs and promote a sense of unity among staff across various locations.

Cultivating Innovation and Adaptability

The mere use of technology to innovate in training is a sign to your team that being agile is a part of your culture. But the mere presence isn’t enough. That’s why 70% of restaurants have still not adopted a learning management system for their frontline. The 1200 learning management systems on the market are not enough and are not built for frontline teams.

The restaurant industry thrives on innovation, constantly evolving to meet changing consumer demands and industry trends. Digital training solutions enable restaurants to foster innovation and adaptability within their workforce. By leveraging technology, employees can explore new techniques and acquire specialized skills. These solutions also facilitate training in emerging areas like online ordering platforms, delivery logistics, and new compliance requirements from state and local governments. By blending analog and digital training approaches, restaurants empower their teams to stay agile, adapt to industry shifts, and embrace new opportunities - sometimes for the first time ever.

Striking the Perfect Balance

The key to success lies in striking the right balance between analog and digital training approaches. The goal is not to replace traditional training methods but to integrate digital solutions seamlessly, amplifying their impact. What’s the ratio? It really depends on the operation. The balance between in-person training and digital training will lean more toward digital when you are a quick-service restaurant and developing specialists internally can be done on a tighter cycle. My recommendation is to start by evaluating your unique needs and objectives to identify areas where digital tools can enhance training processes without compromising the human touch. A thoughtful and strategic implementation of digital training solutions can maximize efficiency, streamline operations, and enable restaurants to thrive in an increasingly competitive landscape.

By embracing digital tools as enhancers rather than replacements, restaurants can preserve the essence of human connections, balance tradition with efficiency, bridge operational gaps, foster innovation, and adapt to changing industry dynamics. With the harmonious integration of analog and digital training processes, restaurants can create a robust training ecosystem that sets them up for long-term success in the modern era. It's all about finding that balance between the old and the new, and making sure that we use technology to our advantage without losing sight of what makes the dining experience truly special - the human connections that bring us together.