September 13, 2012 |

Cross Training

By Dave Ostrander

The more your crew can do, the better your operation will run.

In baseball, triple threats — players who can hit, field and run brilliantly — are rare gems. Entertainers who can sing, dance and act are called triple threats. In our world, my definition of a triple threat is crew people who can “make it, bake it and take it.” The more of these gems you have, the more successfully your restaurant will run — and with a noticeably lower labor cost.

You can replace two, and sometimes three, average employees with one motivated, hustling, cross-trained triple threat. Where do we get these keepers? Occasionally they find you. Maybe the place they were working for just closed down and they are seeking a new job. Maybe they have heard through the pizza grapevine that you are an awesome person to work for. More often than not, however, you have to mold them by training them from scratch.

I’m not suggesting that every new hire will evolve into a triple threat. This is unrealistic. I do suggest, though, that when you are evaluating job applicants you look down the road a year or two and determine if they have what it takes to become one. I’m also not advocating that you need an entire crew of triple threats. Many times you need to hire one person to do one job for a given period of time.

Triple threats have characteristics that have a common thread. I look for these six key traits:

• Positive, friendly attitude. I can teach job skills, but I can’t make them smile.

• Hustle. Successful pizza shops move at high speeds. Hire people who like to pick up the pace.

• Trainable. How fast do they understand the lesson at hand and how many times does it take to have them master the task?

• Willingness to do the dirty jobs with a smile. I never want to hear the words, “It’s not my job, man” anywhere in my restaurant. I have never asked an employee to do any job I wouldn’t or couldn’t do.

• Passionate about the product. Only our best will do for our customers. We stand for and deliver the very best food we can, every time.

• A service mentality. They understand where the paychecks come from and how the sum of their actions impacts the rest of the crew. They must be customer lovers.

Make a list of all your employees’ names. Refer to the above 6 traits and give each one of them a numeric number based on their probability of achieving triple threat designation. Some may already be a 9 or 10. Some may need a lot of coaching and work.

Your next task is to create a written job description for each area of expertise. If I were to create a description for “Make-It” folks (remember, our triple threat can make it, bake it and take it), it would start like this: “This area is the hidden backbone of the restaurant. People who are stars in this area have mastered all areas of food preparation, ordering, storing, rotation and are certified ServSafe food handlers. The quality of the entire menu starts here. The basic ingredients are transformed from groceries to delicious entrees. This position will understand the how, why and basic chemistry of fresh dough management. They will understand how to make all signature sauces. They will understand that food inventory equals money and institute close prep and ordering levels. They will implement tight portion control levels. They will work and maintain a clean and safe kitchen.

This list would go on to explain every task in detail. I’ve found that prep people get enthusiastic when you let them make the lists. Involvement is the key to an emotional buy in.

Now, let’s move on to the “bake it” and “take it” areas and describe the job duties. Your drivers, servers and order-taking staff comprise the take it area. The cook’s roles are described in the bake it segment. When you take the time to actually write down how you want every important piece of the pie to be accomplished, your systems start to take shape.

Once your menu items and service delivery becomes consistent, your business will grow. Customers want the same meal every time, and hate inconsistency. Future growth stops right here if your recipes and systems are passed down from one employee to the next orally. Shortcuts start to invade the processes and recipes often take a toll on the quality and consistency of your menu items. I encouraged my cooks to improve the systems and recipes — but only after we mutually agreed and changed the manual together.

Your crew will gravitate to their areas of first love and expertise. Drivers will want to be drivers, prep cooks will want to be preppers and pizza makers will want to strut their stuff in front of the ovens. But, when the chips are down and the order rail is full and deliveries are stacking up, these folks can slip in and fill any position. What value does that have?

New hires are very impressionable. We tell them right up front that they will be in charge of getting pay rises. They have ten weeks to master one area of expertise. Generally, the new hire is being mentored and trained by a sponsor who will be rewarded with a crisp $100 bill at the end of the 10 weeks. If the new hire fails or quits, the sponsor agrees to pay me $50. Once the employee passes the 10-week training and probationary period, they get an hourly raise. The next raises are up to them. They are in control of their income. When they want a raise they challenge and prove they have mastered one more leg of the triangle. Once they have demonstrated they are proficient in their new area they get a hefty raise.

Here comes the payback for all of your hard work: Your restaurant will be staffed lean and mean. Cross-trained staffs are much more productive than average employees. Additionally, guests will enjoy consistently great meals and service. This is the first building block for expansion.

And, as importantly, your restaurant will now be able to function without your heavy involvement on a daily basis. If you need a break, your shop will be thriving when you return.