Staff training and development: an expense or a wise investment?

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We have probably all heard the alleged conversation between a CEO and CFO where the CFO asks the CEO “why are we spending all this money on training our teams and then they leave for another employer who will benefit from it”, upon which the CEO replies “imagine what the consequences would be if we don’t train our people and they stay with us” …

It probably made you smile and realize it raises more questions than answers.

Those living in the Middle East will be all too familiar with receiving terrible or under par service when dining out, and we all complain about the lack of service or attention, the inconsistency in what is on your plate or simply the unbearable experience you have just had while spending the equivalent of a waiter’s monthly salary on a fancy meal at one of the many “Michelin star” associated restaurants around town.

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We believe that the root of the problem lies in the fact that staff training is seen as an expense or a burden and is often something that is overlooked, ignored or not taken seriously during HR and budget discussions and consequently has an effect on the operation due to the lack of commitment and shortage of funds.

There are many ways to resolve a lack of staff training, it is not a case of using one magic idea but rather a combination of factors that can elevate the customer experience by any of the following:

  1. improving service skills
  2. improving culinary skills
  3. increase upselling
  4. improve job knowledge
  5. increase customer satisfaction
  6. and much more…

Eventually, a well-trained team will inevitably lead to a decrease in expenses and an increase in footfall, repeat business and additional revenues.

So let’s look at some of the reasons why the majority of F&B business cannot seem to get this right and how they can change this.

1. Recruitment strategy

When an employer entrusts a team of people to run their multi-million-dollar business, they better hire the right team. This means looking at skill set, personality, reliability, flexibility, general attitude, a good mix of nationality and gender and most important of all: commitment of each team member. You are not just hiring a body with a pair of hands and legs; you are hiring someone that can make a difference to your business. Too often people get hired just because they are immediately available and have done the job previously; this is a dangerous precedent. Checking references and sitting with candidates face to face will give you a good idea of what type of person you are employing and how they will fit into the rest of your team. In any business you need a good mix of extroverts and introverts, lots of experience and opportunities for personal development, male and female and those that are ambitious for promotion and those that are happy to stay on the floor looking after your guests. The cost of good recruitment will pay off fairly quickly in this market as we all know how much it costs to organize visas, medicals, relocation flights etc… The solution to this is to hire only people that are qualified, are eager to be developed and that have a good attitude towards team members, customers and the job itself.

2. Company culture

This is a term that is often used by companies as a PR tool but what does it actually mean? Is it referring to all the pretty notice boards in the changing rooms, is it the list of house rules and HR policies you are given when you start a new job or is it simply that staff members are referred to as colleagues, team members, employees, ambassadors, or whatever other name you want to use? It is all of the above plus much more. We see company culture as all the tangible and intangible things you experience when you work for an employer. Great companies ensure that company culture is not just about your time when you are on duty but also when you are off duty. To start with, a company culture breeds from the top down and NOT from the bottom up as some might think. For senior management it is important that they portray respect, politeness, understanding, empathy, team work, integrity and many more good values in their daily dealings with other employees, and it is the CEO’s job to uphold these standards for everybody. Just like human beings, companies also get only one chance to create a first impression so ensure you welcome new starters and subject them to a thorough but fun induction program before they get unleashed on the floor. We need to create a training culture and ensure that employees get regular training, that we support them to be successful, that they are kept informed of how the business is doing, that they have all the tools to do the job we are expecting them to do and most important of all; that we ensure they get regular downtime to recharge the batteries and spend time with their families. If an employer can’t do any of the above, then he/she will not be able to build and keep a team in place for the long term. A basic rule to establish a good company culture is to look how you would like to be treated as a human being if you were the employee.

3. Investment of time and money

Training and developing a team don’t happen by itself, it requires an investment in time, effort, commitment and unfortunately also some money. Not all training is a direct drain on your budgets but there will be some courses that you may want to look at to provide specialized skills for both junior and senior team members. For on-the-job training, ensure you plan your training sessions in advance so that both the trainer and the team can prepare and to ensure that you have as many people present as possible. This should be a regular occurrence that happens at a set time either daily, weekly or bi-monthly, whichever you feel is required. I must stress though that it really doesn’t help if an employer refuses to spend any money on in-house training, especially if it comes to product knowledge and menu knowledge. An employee that is expected to sell food or wine MUST have tasted all the food and some wine. To this day I still find it incomprehensible to hear that front of house employees had to learn the menu from a piece of paper rather than tasting the actual dish themselves. That’s like training a football player through watching YouTube videos and then sending him out onto the pitch without ever having kicked a ball!

As I mentioned earlier, training is not just for junior team members, senior team members need their share of development just as much. Whether this is on financial skills, marketing, interviewing techniques or any other topic that will help them do their job better and more efficient or whether this could lead to an increase in revenues / decrease in expenses in the future. An owner must make an effort for their managers in the same way that management commits to developing the junior members of the team.

So, it’s best to include training expenses in your budget and get the commitment from owners /investors to approve this investment in human capital.

There are companies out there that have made training and development a vital part of their company culture and mission and I salute them for doing so. But there are still many businesses, both groups and stand alone, that still fail to realize the benefits.

It is never too late to start, all it takes is the commitment to make it happen.

Koen Theunis
My love affair with the hospitality industry started when I was in my teens; every weekend I saw my mother, who was a great baker, put home baked cakes, bread and all sorts of other sugary things on the table for us to indulge in… week after week. It was my first call to attend the secondary hotel school where I learned all about cooking, service standards and all other technical knowledge whether it was beverages, hygiene regulations or stock control. Thanks to a rather challenging apprenticeship during my last term in one of Belgium’s top kitchens, I knew that I didn’t want to become a chef full time but I loved the hotel and restaurant environment. I was fascinated by how big hotels and busy restaurants could run so flawlessly even though they were looking after so many people’s experiences at the same time; I decided to start my Bachelor degree in hospitality management in Antwerp in 1989 and graduated 4 years later. The intention and my dream at the time was that I would work hard to move up the ladder to become a hotel GM of a luxury hotel brand one day. My studies brought me to London in 1993 where I was fortunate enough to work for some of the most reputable names in our industry; The Dorchester Hotel, Intercontinental Hotels, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts and The Goodwood Hotel Group. After more than 10 years in London, an opportunity offered itself in 2003 when I was asked to move to Dubai to become part of the pre-opening team at Madinat Jumeirah, a 1,000 bedroom resort with dozens of restaurants and event space large enough to host concerts for a few thousand people. I can still remember today that it took me about 2.5 seconds to say, “YES!”. A whole new world was waiting for me to explore. My learning curve continued to grow and grow, even after I left hotel operations in 2005 and moved as F&B manager to Dubai Golf, then into a corporate operations role at Emaar Hospitality Group in 2007 and eventually as Director of Operations at one of the boutique restaurant groups in Dubai in 2011. It was during these times that I was mostly exposed to start ups of new projects and overlooking the operations of multiple restaurant concepts. I knew then that a hotel GM job was definitely not for me but F&B development and starting up new ventures was what I really wanted to do day in day out. I set up my own agency in late 2012 and we have since been involved in multiple projects in Dubai, KSA, Bahrain but also in the Maldives and as far as Grand Cayman Islands and the Bahamas. For over 20 years I had worked for good companies in good management positions, went through good times but also not so good times, but the experience I gained during all these years is now invaluable for what I enjoy doing most.