Employee training is a crucial investment for convenience store retailers today, and it’s even more important when it comes to the foodservice counter where missteps can result in public health and safety issues that can hurt the business.
For those c-stores just embarking on a foodservice program, before developing a training program, retailers must become clear on the various aspects they plan to build into the program.
“Will you offer sit-down service? Drive-through? Delivery within the trade area? Made-to-order? Curbside pickup? Simply grab-and-go?” asked John Matthews, president and CEO of retail consulting firm Gray Cat Enterprises Inc. “The type of foodservice will influence your foodservice operations, and therefore training, as well as the products, equipment and c-store floor plan.”
An effective training program for foodservice workers covers a wide breadth of information, including safety protocols, standard operating procedures and the nuances of the brand’s culture, noted Alison Harrison, senior regional trainer for La Plata, Md.-based The Wills Group, which operates 56 Dash In convenience stores.
“Those are three lofty topics, but by no means are those three examples the only concepts that operators should cover while training,” Harrison said. “The c-store operator should be prepared to introduce their team to every facet of the business and explain to associates how their role impacts overall operations.”
Training is not a one-size-fits-all concept and should be tailored to fit the needs of the business,” Harrison said. “New-associate training should be hands-on, allowing associates to learn from mistakes early on without adversely affecting the customer experience.”
Hands-On & Tech-Enhanced
Training tools have grown in number and sophistication, but nothing takes the place of one-on-one instruction and having employees roll up their sleeves and start working, agreed James Fry, foodservice director for Dandy Mini Marts Inc. in Sayre, Pa. Dandy operates 66 convenience stores across Pennsylvania and New York and has an extensive foodservice program at 63 of the sites.
“Be a hands-on trainer,” Fry advised. “Don’t just hand them a sheet of paper and tell them to follow the list. People retain better if first they are shown and then reinforced by letting them do it themselves.”
A multi-faceted approach to training that also integrates technology can ensure employees are strongly prepared for the tasks ahead.
“Training should be done with a combination of corporate training, store management and/or in-store personnel,” said Ken Morris, managing partner of Cambridge Retail Advisors in Boston, Mass.
Resources are a challenge in today’s labor environment, he acknowledged. Implementing tools such as operational execution platforms for task management and operational training can help retailers keep employees on track.
“Operators must avoid ‘pencil-whipping’ of task lists or relying on handwritten temperature logs,” Morris advised. Such logs don’t inspire employee accountability, he warned.
Where possible, Morris advised that associates shouldn’t be responsible for cashiering and food prep at the same time. That kind of multitasking can cause food quality to suffer, he said.
That said, cross-training convenience store employees to be able to manage foodservice is ideal, especially given the labor shortages many retailers are dealing with today.
Food Safety Considerations
Foodservice training must incorporate food safety best practices, Morris stressed.
This includes teaching employees how to cook items to the proper temperature; how to maintain temperature logs; the steps of cleaning and sanitizing the prep areas; the ins and outs of temperature monitoring of refrigeration and freezer units; and policies and procedures surrounding expiration date codes.
Third-party training certifications can help c-stores ensure employees are up-to-date on key food safety protocols.
“All foodservice workers should have ServSafe training,” said Steven Montgomery, president of b2b Solutions LLC in Lake Forest, Ill. “The food-handler training is a very basic, generic type of food-safety training that all foodservice employees should receive.”
ServeSafe manager’s certification is designed for the manager or any person in charge. It verifies that the employee has sufficient food-safety knowledge to protect the population from any foodborne illnesses. The certification is needed for food handlers, managers of stores with food operations and operations supervisors who need to know what to look for when they visit the stores.
Specifying regular times for training is important.
“Schedule the training on the posted schedule,” suggested Dallas Wells, vice president of foodservice for High’s, which operates 60 c-stores in the Mid-Atlantic region. “Plan for it. Training time must be scheduled to review educational materials, computer-based modules, operating procedures, checklists and guides. Follow with demonstration and practice on station.”
Dash In conducts most employee training during off-peak hours, while fully trained associates handle the food operations, Harrison pointed out.
C-stores often err by training without explaining the reasons behind procedures.
“When explaining standard operating procedures to associates, c-store operators tend to explain the what and how without examining the why,” Harrison said. “Clearly defining the reasons behind standards allows associates to understand the brand’s philosophy, building their confidence and ability to problem solve within the brand’s guidelines.”