MIT Training: Streamlined but Not Forgotten
Director of Training
Twin Peaks Restaurants
The past few months were eye-opening for Twin Peaks Restaurants in Texas. Not only were their restaurants completely shut down during the initial outbreak of COVID-19, like many others, they had to completely revamp key processes and programs when they opened back up. One of those big changes was their Manager in Training (MIT) program. Sarah Roha, Director of Training for Twin Peaks Restaurants, shares how they are navigating these new waters and the innovations they have made to come out stronger and more united than before.
In what ways did you see Twin Peaks change and innovate during the initial shutdown?
Our MIT program was unfortunately put on pause during shutdown. But because I oversee the MIT program and our Manager Development program, I was able to take the managers that were not furloughed and roll out a lot of development programs for them. This included training them on how to work in a more stressful environment with less team members and support. We knew it was going to be crazy – and it ended up being that way when we reopened, with us struggling to just get basic products in – so we wanted them prepared.
How did you adapt your MIT program once restaurants opened back up?
I had to completely revamp our MIT program because of the changes. Originally, we ran a nine-week MIT program, and we were very select on the locations MITs could actually train in. Everyone was in a hotel and on the road during the training process. We realized that in this new environment, we couldn’t keep people away from home in training for nine weeks, so we knew we would have to shorten it to four weeks. We also had to start training them in the location they would actually be working in, rather than have them go to one of our select training centers.
“We realized that in this new environment, we couldn’t keep people away from home in training for nine weeks, so we knew we would have to shorten it.”
How did you streamline the program down to just four weeks?
Following the Tell, Show, Do, Review method, we moved how the Tell step is being completed. Instead of having a manager or trainer “Telling” the MIT the material they would be learning on the shift, this has been moved to our e-learning site. This way they have a base knowledge of what is going to be covered each shift. As a result, this gives our MITs more time to learn hands-on, which is key in a shortened schedule.
The four-week program also focuses on just the basics… information they absolutely need to know. We had to remove some of the soft-skill pieces our previous MIT program included and assume that the people coming in already had those soft skills. We now assess these soft skills through interactive e-learning. For example, we’ll ask them “Explain how you would talk to this team member about this situation.” This helps us get an idea of their soft skills set and how we can best coach them in their responses.
“Making the move to on-site or in-house training, made locations across the board look at and elevate standards. I’ve always said MITs bring your standards up and every location feels that way now.”
How did you make sure all locations were equipped to train in-house?
Training on-site presented a challenge in itself because some locations did not have the proper management team in place to begin with. They may have been working with less managers or managers that were not highly qualified to train. And that included our franchise locations. Making the move to on-site or in-house training, made locations across the board look at and elevate standards.
“By putting people in their own location, we realized they were able to start building relationships with the team member they would be working with on a regular basis right away.”
Were there any immediate benefits of having MITs training in their own location?
We’re a 50/50 mix between craft cocktails and a from-scratch kitchen. There is a lot of knowledge that you have to have at just the basic level. Our food is not microwaved or stored frozen. Our bar is more than pouring beers. By putting people in their own location, we realized they were able to start building relationships with the team member they would be working with on a regular basis right away. In doing this, the MITs already know who the strong team members are. They know how the kitchen and front of house run. And they know if they have to coach someone on their processes, it’s not coming from someone new to the location. It’s a relationship that has been built throughout the entire training process… and that’s a strength. The senior managers and directors also appreciate it because they feel they can build a relationship with their new manager. And the MITs say they love it because they don’t have to worry about something being different when they get to their home restaurant. So, my team now puts extra effort into getting our operations team the information and training they need to support their MITs, so they can be confident in training another manager. It’s always been offered, but it’s more mandated now.
How do you maintain a consistent training message across the brand?
Instead of having managers perform orientation, I now conduct orientations every week so I know there is a consistent message. Also, because we have an all-female staff, I make sure the legality classes come through me as well. I offer them interactively through Zoom so that way we know they are asking the right questions. They get a consistent message. They know exactly the proper terminology. I don’t want someone saying something incorrectly just because they don’t know. I feel like in this environment, there is already enough extra stresses added to our management teams. The laws and guidelines change every single day. I’m trying to take a lot of that extra stress off operations and bring it into our training department.
Do you see your MIT program staying like this going forward?
I think going forward our MIT program will end up being a hybrid of what we were doing, what we are doing now, and what we are doing going forward. We’ve been delivering e-learning for seven years now, which is really long compared to some that just started transitioning this year. So that piece, for us, is really strong.
Some things that we’ll definitely keep are doing video chats and Zoom calls with our MITs and throughout the organization as a whole. This addition just helps us teach our culture. Going through shutdown, many of us also realized we really missed seeing each other’s faces. We work in hospitality. We like people. I never used to be on Facetime and now that is all I do. To be honest, the video chat aspect helps me build better connections with MITs that may have only met me one time. So that part will stay. We will also keep having MITs train at the location they will be at. We’ve seen a lot of benefit from them.
One thing that will change is that we have learned four weeks just isn’t enough training. Managers aren’t confident enough after four weeks because our concept is so intensive. We are going to extend the time by a couple weeks at least, but still keep everyone in their home location so they can build those connections.
“Some things that we’ll definitely keep are doing video chats and Zoom calls with our MITs and throughout the organization as a whole. This addition just helps us teach our culture.”
How have the changes to your MIT program enhanced your culture?
We’ve actually learned that it is pushing our operations team to strive to do better because there are more people involved. I’ve always said MITs bring your standards up and every location feels that way now. Everyone’s standards have gone a lot higher because we’ve expanded the training team from our previous 20 and now they are seeing areas that can be improved in their own locations while they are training. Franchises also see they have to raise their standards, and they are realizing the cost-benefits as well.
Do you feel more best practices are being shared among managers?
I’m a full-on collaborator… everyone I work with knows this. But through this, we’ve come up with many new ways to do things. It could be something as simple as a new way to memorize a recipe or how to manage a busy night. We’re actually able to share more best practices by having more locations involved. My MITs are coming up with these ideas that I would have never thought to teach them like that! There is so much more collaboration going on between our restaurants than there was before, and I honestly thought we did a great job of it previously. Now, I’m just in shock.
“We’re actually able to share more best practices by having more locations involved. My MITs are coming up with these ideas that I would have never thought to teach them like that! There is so much more collaboration going on between our restaurants than there was before.”
How do you keep training fresh and share these best practices?
We have a forum that some use in our e-learning platform. But really everyone has a “guy” in our industry, and I’m one of them. Our MITs want personal connections so they give me a call and ask me who I recommend to help with their situation. Also, any questions we get in are redistributed through our e-learning website via short videos and clips. Our goal is to make sure everyone has the answer because we are certain not just one person had the question. Typically, we send something out every other week. It could be something as simple as a couple of slides with pictures or a 30-second clip.
How has the changing environment positively impacted your business?
Our to-go program wasn’t very strong before this. Now, in some of our markets, it can be 10% of our sales where it had previously been just 1%. That’s a big increase! As we looked at our to-go program, we knew we had to do it in a way that was true to us. Everyone was doing beer and wine, but since we have a cool craft bar, we wanted to make ours focused on that.
We now have a to-go craft cocktail menu and a from-scratch kitchen menu that have both been a standout with late night business. These menus are streamlined, of course, because not all dishes and drinks travel well. On top of all of that, we also had to train on a whole deeper level because we wanted everything to be safe for our customers, have the hot food stays hot, the cold food stays cold and deliver a perfect package every time. Our end goal is to be one of the top-rated restaurants for packaging and cleanliness in the to-go world. Adding the craft cocktails to our offering was just something new and made it a little more us. All of our drinks come in mason jars, and you get the full thing of bitters and fruit. We fully garnish the drink exactly how it would be in the restaurant all in the to-go box. And we priced it accordingly, too. A lot of restaurants are still trying to charge restaurant prices, but we wanted this to be a bonus add on.
How have you had to adjust personally?
For me, all of this has been an adjustment. I’m used to being on the road and working side-by-side with our teams. Now, I can’t treat working from home like I do working from the office. So, I treat working at home as if I’m on the road. I break up my day… a couple hours at home, a few hours training at a nearby restaurant, then back home to do some more work at home. I’ve also been doing more one-on-one training through this.
“We knew cutting down our program to four weeks was a short-term plan to help our franchises out. But we knew long-term we would have to extend that back out because their training and development is our commitment to them.”
What have you learned through all of this?
I’ve learned how committed Twin Peaks is to training. We knew cutting down our program to four weeks was a short-term plan to help our franchises out. But we knew long-term we would have to extend that back out because their training and development is our commitment to them. We always talk about for every week you put into training that is one more year that you get out of that manager, so we know we need to keep this going. Even though training right now officially ends in four weeks, we know we will keep that going. A lot of restaurants cut out their training department completely and decided they didn’t need it anymore, instead of looking at the long-term cost of it. So while yes, it looks a little different for us now, we’re committed to delivering training in new, more innovative ways going forward.