“Rinsing” Conflicting Brand Standards

What to leave in and what to leave out when training new employees.

By: Michael Costa, Industry Relations Editor for Hotel Food & Beverage Magazine And Don Billings, President of iMi Agency and Editor of in the Mix Magazine

Wait staffA hotel’s F&B infrastructure—restaurants, ballrooms, bars, etc—can usually be remodeled to meet specific brand standards. But what about “remodeling” new employees through training? Is there a need to “rinse” their prior food and beverage habits so they can serve the guest within the guidelines of the brand?

We asked some of the top minds in the industry for answers: Jean-Pierre Etcheberrigaray, VP F&B-Americas, IHG; Doug Zeif, VP F&B, Hilton-Americas; Don Stanczak, senior F&B executive at Interstate Hotels & Resorts; and Don Billings, president and CEO of Incentive Marketing Inc, a hospitality consulting firm.

Have you had employees bring prior training to a hotel that conflicts with your brand’s standards?

Etcheberrigaray: Yes, plenty. There is such turnover in our industry that people come with baggage that has to be dealt with. Training methods are different across the industry: on-the-job, online, in theory, in method, before work, after work, etc. New employees need to conform to our training methods. The good thing about food and beverage is that the sequence of service is more or less standard—there may be some tweaking, but the core is similar.

Zeif: The classic examples are bartenders who bring their own “recipes” for drinks, and then we have to undo that training so they can make our drinks, our way. A second example is a server not used to serving and clearing from the correct side of the guest in an outlet or banquet.

Is there anything in your F&B training that addresses the need to “rinse” new employees of habits learned at other hotels?

Zeif: Yes. We use the word “cleanse.” The first step is having them understand and buy into the objectives of the job. For example, are we expecting them to pour drinks or sell drinks? If the answer is the latter, the training needs to be geared towards that end. We follow up with a testing program to make certain they are achieving what we trained them to do—inspect what you expect. It’s amazing that we do so little of this. I recently went to one of our hotels incognito, and ordered a Mojito from three different bartenders, and they were all different. In the case of a bartender, I do drink reviews and evaluate the quality of their workmanship along with their compliance to our objectives.

Billings: Each hotel company handles it differently. Some use a hands-on approach; others just let new associates find their own way and correct on the fly. If it’s a new property opening, that’s the best of all worlds, because they get the appropriate training in the pre-opening process.

Stanczak: We focus on teaching our best practices and ask the employees to forget the past and focus on our steps of service. One habit that is hard to break is an outgoing service style that may be too chummy for an upscale restaurant.

Is there any prior F&B training that you find useful in a new employee?

European service training is superior, both in the front and back of the house. Also, people with body language training, like actors, are better at communicating and reading guests. Of course, a positive attitude is always important too.

Stanczak: Employees who have worked in a competitive upscale environment can, in some cases, help us improve our product by showing us new ideas and techniques.

Overall, why is it important to instill brand standards in a new employee?

Stanczak: Because we’ve spent a lot of time developing what we are, so it’s important that we have consistency.

Each hotel company has its own identity and corporate culture that it’s spent a lot of time developing—it’s part of its DNA.

Zeif: If you have a “brand,” guests and clients expect consistency mixed with some regional flair when they visit a property. If a general manager or hotel team isn’t focused on driving training results—and, believe me, continuing education is necessary—you will never have a property that exceeds guest expectations.

Don Billings had a follow-up meeting with Sue Morgan, VP, Franchise Food & Beverage for North America in which similar questions where discussed.

Back staffHave you had any new employees who bring certain work habits/previous training to your hotel that conflict with your training methods/brand standards? If so, can you provide a few examples?

Morgan: Different brands have varying cultures and standards in support of their F&B activities.  So yes, a new employee may initially bring a different set of paradigms to work regarding customer service and the guest touch points throughout the meal occasion as examples.  Our opportunity in the training process is to clearly define our brand standards so that the new employee fully understands the guest-centric rationale behind the programs and how that experience relates to the brand.

Is there anything built into your training program, especially from an F&B standpoint, that addresses the need to “rinse” previous training from other brands/hotels with new employees? If so, can you give an example? What are some of the most common conflicts?

Morgan: Our biggest opportunity is to effectively communicate IHG’s purpose in creating Great Hotels Guest Love and for each brand, the F&B guest-centric standards that support this purpose.  If the hotel can do a great job in this communication during the Orientation and initial training process, then we are off to a strong start.  Each of our brands crafts standards that are important to their guest in fostering not only a great dining experience but also benefits the smooth operation of the hotels.  An example of a great guest-centric service protocol is the Morning Matters program; which is a Holiday Inn brand standard.  Each key touch point at breakfast is defined to allow the guest to dine and depart on their timeline with the experience of a great, cooked-to-order breakfast in a full service environment.   They even leave with a complimentary cup of Rainforest Alliance Certified Coffee to get their day off to a wonderful start.

Is there any prior training/experience, especially from an F&B standpoint, that you find useful in a new employee? What are some examples of prior training in a new employee that can help your hotel?

Morgan: When an employee is hired and has already experienced recognized industry certified programs, this knowledge and accreditation is a major benefit to the hotel and the balance of the F&B team at the property.  Whether the course work is a time management class, Serve Safe or TIPPS training, this knowledge is very helpful in their new position.

Why is it important to instill the specific brand service standards from your hotel into a new employee, and not just let them carry on with previously learned training and habits acquired from other hotels?

Morgan: IHG has a strong portfolio of seven brands and the guest-expected experience for each brand differs in F&B.  At IHG, Food & Beverage has the wonderful opportunity to craft programs and service platforms and protocols that not only dimensonalized the brand in the respective F&B experience but also differentiates.  The end game for all of our brands is to create Great Hotels Guest Love and the distinctive F&B experience is a big part of that.

What these interviews show and demonstrate is that each hotel chain’s flag company has invested a lot of time, energy and money in establishing a unique image for that flag hotel chain image.  And they want to carry it through the entire organization including food & beverage customer service through extensive training and retraining to manifest that flag’s unique persona to deliver quality service to their quests. Each company may approach the challenge from different angles but the object and result is the same.