The food and beverage (F&B) industry is the biggest pillar of the hospitality sector. According to a recent report from Plunkett Research, the global F&B industry was valued at a whopping $8.1 trillion worldwide! And the total number of people employed in this industry could range in the higher millions – more than the population of many countries! Most countries apportion a substantial chunk of their GDP to education, so you must be thinking that this must be the case for this industry as well. Alas, that’s where the good news ends.

Only 52% workers employed in the F&B industry reportedly receive training when they join their organizations – that too only onboarding training, and no skill-related training is provided after that! An industry of this size cannot thrive on such dismal performance. Providing F&B industry employees with more training opportunities is surely the need of the hour. 

But training for the sake of training is not what is needed here. The training needs to not just exist, but also engage. Having a training program that isn’t relevant or is unengaging is the same as having no training at all. 

What makes training content engaging in the first place?

Let us first see what makes any training content engaging. 

  • Relevance: Human beings are inherently self-centred, which makes them disinterested in anything that isn’t tailored for them specifically.

F&B employees take up a variety of roles – from kitchen duty to service. To engage your learner, you need to make it relevant for them – making it specific for the work they are supposed to be doing.

Some might feel that employees should know about the industry as a whole. While that would be great to get an idea about how a restaurant’s supply chain works, an in-depth training about different roles would just risk alienating the learner.

  • Goal-driven: A necessary condition for learning is the presence of strong learning goals. If your learner doesn’t know what the learning is set out to achieve – or if they don’t identify with it – they won’t spare their time and attention. 

Throughout the training, your learner must know exactly how this will help them. This not only ensures they remain invested in the program, but also gives you, the learning designer, clarity about what you need to focus on.

Many F&B employees reportedly wanted training that would help them move up the ladder. If they know the training they are receiving would help them acquire skills which would help with this, they are much more likely to invest themselves in the program.

For example, a chef-de-partie would give a lot more of their time to the training if they know this gives them the necessary skills to become a head chef.

  • Emulating real-life scenarios: We learn from our mistakes. Any skill that we’re trying to develop derives from the knowledge of what mistakes can potentially be made and avoiding them; like how we learnt to ride a bicycle in our childhood. 

To bring this to your training, imagine this: Food safety is something all the restaurant employees should be mindful of, yet the kitchen staff can wreck more damage than those in the service area. So, the training designed for the kitchen staff should have a higher focus on the details of handling food properly while cooking. Similarly, the service staff is the face of a restaurant for the patron. Naturally, a training program for the service staff should focus more on customer service, in comparison to that for the kitchen staff.

  • Crisp: Excessive use of technology and social media has drastically reduced our attention span. This means that training content cannot be too long. It wouldn’t matter how many hours a person spends in front of eLearning modules if their attention is elsewhere. 

Besides, F&B employees often don’t have much time. You must grab their attention in the middle of their hectic schedule. In such circumstances, ensuring your training is crisp and not too long isn’t just a desire, but a necessity!

How to Achieve This Task?

Before you design the training, map the requisite competencies. The good news is, you don’t need to create it afresh. Numerous competency maps are already available that you can build upon. Note that these are general maps so you would need to adapt it in the context of your organization.

Once you have identified this, interview and observe the staff to obtain a glimpse of their work. It might also be a good idea to observe them while they are performing their duties, if possible, to understand different points at which they end up making mistakes. For example, a mistake young chefs often ended up making was putting knives in the dishwasher. Seems like a natural thing to do, but the harsh detergent dulls the blade.

Craft your training scenarios to include some of the key areas where the employees would make these mistakes. Giving them a chance to make these mistakes in the safety of your training and providing relevant feedback at the point where they make this mistake is a great way of ensuring the key takeaways are retained.

F&B employees, like others, expect structured training programs to help boost their careers. Providing a certificate at the end of the successful completion helps towards this cause. It also motivates them and brings a psychological closure to the whole process. 

Ensuring retention

Training is one thing, but ensuring the learning is retained is another challenge. To ensure retention, F&B teams need to be given periodic refresher training – once every six months is generally preferred. 

But sometimes six months can also be a very long time. Provide your learners with just-in-time tools to help them perform better. For process-oriented tasks, handy checklists can help ensure no step gets missed out. For more in-depth takeaways, consider creating ready reckoners and quick reference guides. 

Have clearly documented protocol cheat-sheets for them to follow. For example, what to do in the event of a customer complaint or fire or municipality inspection, etc., needs to be clearly drawn up and posted at strategic places in the workplace.

Choosing between classroom and eLearning

It’s not an ideological battle, so it’s not about choosing a side. For F&B, you may need to use both. But for each modality, there are a few things that you can do to make it better for your employees.

Studies show that employee engagement is much higher when their manager is taking a face-to-face session with them, as opposed to an outside trainer. Another good idea is to mix and match your classroom training cohorts. This serves two purposes. First, restaurants need all services running. It may not be possible to have a cohort that comprises all the available bartenders. Secondly, by interacting with colleagues working on different services, your learners would get a good idea of their colleagues’ work and understand the big picture better. Social learning is an important part of any good training programme.  

But in a classroom training session, it is hard to replicate many of the situations your learners would find themselves in. Using a simulated environment, you can create a life-like replica of the different situations your learners would find themselves in. This makes it much easier for you to create the right scenarios. On the flip side, we need to ensure that eLearning doesn’t go on and on. Our general ability to stay engaged in an online method is lesser than a classroom session, especially since there is going to be no trainer to jolt some energy into the room when required! 

Keep your eLearning crisp. F&B employees, especially, have hectic days and may not be able to find time at a stretch to go through the entire training at once and might have to take it in instalments. Use efficient bookmarking solutions and give your learners the option to resume from where they’ve left off. 

Finding the right balance between classroom and eLearning is a key step in creating engaging training content for F&B employees. One way to get the best of both worlds is to use live virtual training platforms where employees can join from their locations – this gives you the rigour of an instructor (albeit virtual) and the cost effectiveness of eLearning.

Summing it up..

For learning designers, the F&B industry can be hard to understand due to its vast and complex nature. But as with any other vast industry, the key to creating engaging good training content is making it learner-centric. The industry is waiting for a training revolution to happen and the road surely promises to be an exciting one.