Drive-Thru Training and the Power of Making Real Connections
Corporate Field Trainer
Galardi Group, Inc.
When states across the nation shut down in March as an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the hospitality industry was rocked. Business was not going on as usual. And those that were deemed essential… they had to come up with new, socially distant ways to operate safely amid potential community spread concerns.
James Ledbetter, a Corporate Field Trainer at Galardi Group, Inc., the Franchisor of all Wienerschnitzel Hamburger Stand and Tastee Freeze, quickly found his job would look a lot different over the next few months. Not only was he “grounded” from travel as non-essential traffic bans were put in place, they also needed to come up with a new way to train.
How has your job changed since social distancing measures started rolling out?
My primary role is Guest Service Field Trainer. That means I’m usually traveling Monday through Friday to the different franchises in my region to provide guest services training, right there in the store. About once a quarter, I also do some classroom teaching, but most of the time, I’m out in restaurants. Ninety percent of my work is in the stores standing shoulder to shoulder with franchisees and employees. Now that we’re not able to do that, we had to come up with a new way for their employees to create the elevated guest service levels that customers have come to expect over the last few years, while still maintaining social distancing. Our first step was to create meaningful connections between team members and customers.
“Ninety percent of my work is in the stores standing shoulder to shoulder with franchisees and employees. Now that we’re not able to do that, we had to come up with a new way for their employees to create the elevated guest service levels…”
What new tactics have you employed as a result?
The number one thing that I’m working with employees on is guest perception. The key things that affect that are gloves, masks, and conversations at the window. So I hopped in my car and started going through drive-thrus as a customer. Since I’m in the stores often, a few employees recognized my voice but not all, so this gave us some unique perspectives and learning experiences. I’d listen to how they were greeting customers on the microphone and started making connections through the speaker. Once I got to the window, I made sure they were wiping things down with the sanitizer solution and using their gloves properly. But I also took that opportunity to coach the team on things they are doing great, provide encouragement, and give tips for improving the customer connection. Since it was real-time (and there were real customers in the drive-thru behind me), my drive-thru sessions were not always a single encounter. Sometimes we’d chat for a second, then I’d have to loop back around and go through the drive-thru again.
Why is making that guest connection more important now than it was before?
One of the things we’re seeing at Wienerschnitzel is that we’re gaining a lot of fast casual diners… people that would have been going to the sit-down-and-eat burger restaurants. We’re getting those guests, and it would be great to keep them. How we’re going to keep them is by connecting with them. If we make that connection at the window (and not make them feel like they’re grabbing fast-food), they’re going to remember that and hopefully continue coming back to us when this is all over. Yes, we’re the largest fastfood hot dog stand in the nation, but the guest experience and connection with the team member at the window can be so much more than a rushed “here’s your food and go” encounter.
What techniques are you training your employees on to help them make that connection?
The biggest thing we’re doing is focusing on talking with the guest at the window. Until we hand them their food, we can talk with them. So what I’m coaching the team to do – especially those that are working the window – is to allow the people with the food to focus on the food and drinks. The only thing window employees should be focused on is the cash register and the person at the window. Talk to them and keep the conversation going. Once they get to the point of handing the customer the food, that’s when we tell them “it was great chatting with you.” We have to make sure employees continue having these conversations with guests because this is what they are looking for. The reality is, sometimes this may be the only face-to-face interaction that person has with someone outside their immediate family that whole day. People are craving it. I’m telling employees, “Let them have that. Let them enjoy however long they want to talk with you. Because at this point, if you have your gloves on, you can’t turn around and make a drink if you just took their credit card. You can’t bag their food because those gloves are dirty.”
“We have to make sure employees continue having these conversations with guests because this is what they are looking for. The reality is, sometimes this may be the only face-to-face interaction that person has with someone outside their immediate family that whole day. People are craving it.”
What are some other ways you’re helping employees navigate these uncharted waters?
Another thing we are coaching employees on is how to properly wear a mask. For example, why it’s important to keep the mask up above their nose. We’re breaking it down to these tiny bits of conversation on “what, how, and why” to make sure we keep employees and customers safe.
How are you measuring the effectiveness of this modified training?
We’re not utilizing hard metrics or feedback right now. The training we’re doing is very much soft skills based. Our leadership isn’t looking at scores in the mindset of trying to increase them. We’re simply measuring through communication with our franchise community. From the training team, we’re also measuring success through communication with our operations team. We’re not part of the operations team, so we rely on their feedback to understand what we’re doing well and areas we can improve.
What is the feedback you’ve gotten from the franchisees?
The franchisees have been happy to have us there. In fact, if the franchisee isn’t there when I do a drive-thru training session, I’ll give them a call right away and tell them, “Hey, I just swung by your location and spoke with this person. Give me a call back and we can talk about the visit and how they did.” I also talk with them about how they are working through things right now because everything is so hard on their end. I’m reinforcing the support system that we offer them. That’s really what training is. Supporting the initiative that we put out there and making sure the communication gets to the people in the right way.
What is your company’s plan going forward as we deal with COVID-19?
We aren’t trying to put the cart before the horse. We’re letting the powers that be decide when things can get back to normal. But we can’t stop training people. As a training team, we have put several things in motion. I just created a reference tool for our Guest Service website that is rolling out to all franchisees. I’m also revamping our Profit & Loss class, which is what we teach all new management and franchise trainees. And, we revamped all of our classroom material so that we can deliver it remotely and over video conferencing.
What training innovations have come from your company because of this?
We’re doing a live Zoom-based training with our franchisees once a week with the training department. This is in addition to the five- to ten-minute, high-production-value training videos we had been doing for a while. These live chats are obviously lower-production value, but it gives a different feel, a more authentic feel. We’re also releasing some new modules on our e-news system that are helping bridge the learning gap between a shift manager and a general manager. This is for those shift managers that want to become general managers. We are also providing them with new materials that showcase what they can do in their store to give added support to onsite management.
How has your life changed as a trainer since this all started?
I’m a travel trainer. I’m on the road two weeks out of the month. I get on a plane on Monday and get home on Friday. Because of all of this, I’ve been able to to spend a lot more time with my wife and our six-year-old daughter. I’m really enjoying being on a normal schedule. Even though I’m still going out doing these drive-thru trainings, the furthest I’ve traveled in a day is a 2.5-hour drive away.
How are you training locations that you can’t do a drive-thru session with right now?
We’re doing lots of video calls with the franchisees and offering that up to general managers, too. I’m getting on the phone, talking to franchisees, talking to our operations teams that are remote, and encouraging everyone to hop on the weekly live call because there is a lot of good information coming out there.
What do you think will change in the world of training because of all this?
I don’t know how much will change in the way we do things, but I do see a shift happening with the giant companies like McDonald’s, Disney, Home Depot, etc. These companies are having their Directors of Communications, their COOs, the CEOs put out videos and communications that are talking to the frontline employees. I think that there is going to be a greater focus on soft skills moving forward, because the current amount of connection is going to be the new expectation. Executive teams of large businesses don’t typically have that personal communication with the entry-level workforce. People are going to continue to want that, to feel like the leadership of their company is accessible to everyone.
“Relate to people… The stories I’m hearing from others, they may not be my story, the story of our crew members or a franchisee. But they could be the stories of our customers. It could be their wife. It could be their husband. It could be their uncle. It could be someone else that is affecting their well-being. We can’t just look at this as it’s just me and you. We have to look at this as a big picture.”
What words of advice can you offer to fellow trainers in the hospitality industry?
Relate to people. That’s the reason I pop into CHART’s Virtual Training Forums (VTFs). Our business is different than some businesses. We are operating at a fairly high percentage compared to our pre-COVID numbers. We are essential, but a lot of businesses aren’t. The stories I’m hearing from others, they may not be my story, the story of our crew members or a franchisee. But they could be the stories of our customers. It could be their wife. It could be their husband. It could be their uncle. It could be someone else that is affecting their well-being. We can’t just look at this as it’s just me and you. We have to look at this as a big picture. It’s very holistic in that way. That’s how I’m approaching all of this and framing my training response. I want to be there for employees and customers. And I’m hoping that they’re going to be there for our business in the long run.
About Galardi Group, Inc.
Based in Irvine, California, Galardi Group, Inc. is a family-owned company that franchises popular restaurant brands: Wienerschnitzel, Hamburger Stand, and Tastee Freez. Wienerschnitzel is the world’s largest hot dog chain serving more than 120 million hot dogs at over 350 locations. They are famous for their delicious, secret-recipe chili smothered on hot dogs, fries, and burgers.