No train, no gain

While you need well-trained staff in your restaurant, training them yourself can be time consuming.

While you need well-trained staff in your restaurant, training them yourself can be time consuming.

Training is a significant cost with returns that are sometimes intangible, so should you outsource it or train staff yourself? Nick Walker reports.

There’s no question you need well-trained staff, and that training them yourself is time consuming. But according to Jenni Heads CPR, general manager of Sydney’s Garfish restaurants, there aren’t a lot of options. “To be honest, we have looked at using some other companies in the past to help with training, because they had approached us,” she says. “I would talk to these people when they presented their courses to me, and more often than not I felt I was more qualified to train my staff than they were.”

Heads or the restaurants’ managers, Carole Dunn and Simon McInerney, do most of the training at Garfish in Kirribilli and Crows Nest in-house. All three have a long history in the business, says Heads, and McInerney has a diploma in hospitality and Heads herself has a degree in Hospitality Management, and has trained as a trainer. When they need specialist knowledge, she’ll call in suppliers, who can pass on in-depth knowledge about their products.

“Generally, staff training has been part of my role,” she adds, “but I think as it starts expanding we will look at hiring people with some training experience, because it’s getting too big a job for just me to do.”

It seems logical that the larger an organisation gets, the more likely it will be to outsource its training. But the Wagamama chain of restaurants, which boasts 11 venues in five cities, still focuses on in-house training, according to CEO Mark Rowland.

“We still utilise our in-house trainers to teach our new team members how to actually perform the daily tasks associated with their front of house and back of house positions,” he explains. “Our trainers work side-by-side our new team members for an allocated period of time to ensure the trainees are reaching our high standards.”

Wagamama also utilises an online training solution called the Superior Service World Training Manager, which trains all team members and managers on the basics of their job descriptions as well as any other aspect of training covered in the company. The software also allows manager and area manager key performance indicators to be tracked.

“The majority of programs we currently run in-house are now trained online, with complete testing and grading,” he adds. “At a single glance, we can see every day exactly what courses our Training Managers have completed for employees. The online training is fantastic for monitoring our team members development, but it does not replace hands-on ‘on-the-job’ training.”

But what if you have more than 10,000 employees across 700 sites around the country? That’s the situation faced by the Compass Group Asia Pacific, and their solution, according to human resources director George Mifsud, was to establish their own college. “We’ve partnered with the William Angliss Institute of TAFE,” he says. “We have qualified workplace trainers and assessors working in our work force, and we use some of their expertise to develop programs, but those programs are tailored to our specific environment.”

“William Angliss train our trainers and audit our training programs which we do ourselves. So we do training ourselves,
but under a structural framework which they’ve developed.”

Which begs the question—why not just get William Angliss Institute to do it themselves? “Our people need to own it,” replies Mifsud. “A part of our managers’ roles is developing staff. And we have 700 sites across Australian alone, so there isn’t any one organisation we can outsource training
to anyway.”

Wagamama outsources some training to a registered training organisation (RTO), but Rowland says the issue of “owning” the training is the same for them. “Even though we utilise an online training solution and an RTO, we have still maintained 100 per cent control of all content. Our operations team are in contact with our outsourced partners on a weekly basis ensuring all content is up to date and accurate.”

There are times when you have no choice but to outsource training to an RTO says Simon Phillips, director of Hospitality Training Victoria, who works with Restaurant & Catering Victoria to offer accredited training programs. “Every employer is responsible for training staff to their own standards,” he explains. “We come in and do the training to a national standard. A lot of training requires certification, and they can’t do that in-house. It has to be issued by an accredited training organisation.”

The accredited training offered through the state Restaurant & Catering Associations was greatly valued by the restaurateurs interviewed for this story. Both Heads and Rowland praised the courses highly, especially for those aspects of training which required national accreditation. “I’m happier using Restaurant and Catering, because they know the industry,” adds Heads. “Some of the other training companies aren’t restaurant focused—they’re experts in training people, but not in restaurants.”

Some argue that a wide variety of skills and information is beneficial. Raman Nambiar, director of Hostec—an RTO that specialises in executive search, training, and Australian traineeships—says: “If you do it yourself you can tailor it into the direction you want to go to and add your own personal touch. If you outsource the training you will get a variation of information from specialists who have lots of experience and have worked with many different people and companies. I think it should be a combination of both so you get the best of both worlds.”

Mark Rowland agrees: “We highly recommend using a combination of both in-house, and outsourced training, to maximise the training and personal development benefits to your team members.”

That hasn’t been everyone’s experience, though. “We’ve tried different models in the past with mixed success,” says Mifsud. “We are finding our current model works best. And we have dedicated people within the organisation who drive it.”

The greatest enemy to getting a lot of training done in-house is time, says Rowland. “The reason most training does not get done in our industry is because managers do not have enough time to commit to doing the necessary training. They are too focused on just staying ahead of the game themselves.”

“Time’s the biggest issue,” says Heads. “You can’t just throw a staff member onto the floor to work with guests. They’ll get a green waiter and they’ll have a bad experience, which will reflect on the restaurant. You basically need to have another staff member on. I will buddy myself with the new person, or buddy them with a senior waiter and have the new person listen and watch. We generally let them loose on regular guests first, because they will give very honest feedback.”

She says one of the great values of sending a staff member elsewhere for training is to reward them. Of course, the course they are sent to has to be very specific, and the reward has to be perceived as a reward by the staff member, for it to be of any value.

“We certainly use outside training courses to motivate staff. It motivates me when the Marks (Mark Scanlan and Mark Dickey, who own the restaurants) send me off to do a training course somewhere, because I’m learning more and I’m getting knowledge that I can pass on to staff. Some baristas who have been with us for a long time, we send them to Coffee Art. We do use it as a reward, but it would be very specific.”

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