How Black Walnut Cafe Ensures Employee COVID Training Is Consistent
"Training goes hand in hand with trying to create a safe environment for your employees and your guests."
Barret Bailey is the Senior Director of Training at Black Walnut Cafe, a multi-unit quick service restaurant group based in Texas. Serving delicious comfort food three meals a day, Black Walnut Cafe employs more than 500 employees who are cooks, servers, and cashiers and speak either English or Spanish. With locations in Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth, Barret oversees staff training at all of their stores.
As Texas reopened after lockdown, Black Walnut Cafe provided "contactless" service, but their operation is still people-reliant. Barret needed to ensure the company executed on safety training that was accessible to each team member and ensured consistent levels of COVID compliance across 11 locations.
What prompted you to start looking for employee COVID training at Black Walnut Cafe?
We wanted to make sure everybody stays safe. That was really priority number one. We wanted to make sure our employees that we were able to keep during the month of the shutdown had a safe place to come to work and still be able to earn their paychecks and take care of the guests that we had with to-go orders. We wanted to ensure they knew the ins-and-outs of COVID-19, how to keep themselves safe, and in turn, provide a safe environment for our guests.
What is your approach to state compliance and communicating that to your guests?
Of all of our locations, Harris County, Houston had the strictest requirements, but everything that we were already doing was going above and beyond any requirements that the county or the city had put into place, especially after we were allowed to reopen our doors and operate at a 25% capacity. When we got the okay to start reopening restaurants, we made a big push to let people know what we were doing. We had it plastered all over the restaurant. "Hey, we're reopening. This is what we're doing to keep our employees safe. This is what we're doing to keep our guests safe."
Were guests asking for your team to be trained on COVID safety?
It was proactive for us. It was something we knew that our guests would be looking for. From the beginning, how we interacted with our guests was noticeable. Guests were commenting, thankfully mostly positive, about how good each one of our cafes was or how our team in the kitchen was handling things, always having gloves and a face mask on, and asking where we can leave their food to minimize contact. Training goes hand in hand with trying to create this type of safe environment for your employees and your guests.
Why did you choose Opus's text message-based training?
I think the biggest reason is the simplicity. Employees go directly to their phones, train over text message, and don't need a login. That is worth its weight in gold! The ease of sign up for the individuals was so nice. Each lesson taking just a couple of minutes via text message made sure it wasn't an interruption to your day.
Opus ensured everybody was getting the same information, that we could just follow up and make sure that our employees were all on the same page, that they understood the basics of COVID-19 and how to handle that in the restaurant. It was really about providing a consistent message for every single person in the company to hear and to adhere to.
How did you track your team's compliance?
Working with Opus, the ability to see the engagement and the progress in real time was fantastic. We had some stores that really jumped on the text-based training, and then we had some that were slower to adopt, but it made it really easy for someone like myself that works outside of the restaurant to follow up with individual locations and individual managers to stress the importance of it, and then to see their progress after that was really cool.
How did your employees respond to the training? Did you notice a difference in their behavior?
Immediately. The biggest change for us was when we reopened the dining room and what habits they had once we reopened. A lot of employees wanted to make sure they were doing the right thing and wanted to take care of themselves, their fellow staff, and the guests. As a result, we had very few issues at our restaurants, making sure our employees were wearing face masks. I think everyone realized, "Okay, this is serious and we need to take it seriously."