By Paul Schlienz


You can’t have hospitality without customer service, and you can’t have customer service without training.

“Our customers expect us to be top notch,” said Jerry Lynch, general manager of Spokane’s N. Division Street Arby’s. “For us to be able to deliver on a promise at Arby’s of high-quality food, we have to train all the time, especially our top people, because they set the standards on the floor every minute of the day.”

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Lynch is not the only hospitality operator who understands the value in investing in employees through training.

“It’s common sense,” said Donny Bocksch, owner of Papa Murphy’s Take ‘n’ Bake Pizza outlets in Grays Harbor and Thurston counties. “The more you invest in your employees, the more productive they will be, but also, the more loyal they will be.”

The many faces of training

Training encompasses many activities to teach employees new skills and reinforce old ones. It can include simple observations of how experienced employees do their jobs, role-playing exercises, in-person and online courses and coaching.

Warren Beach, vice president of operations at SMJ Management, Inc., which owns Holiday Inn Express & Suites hotels north of Seattle, says the training process starts during the initial job interview where he looks for a dynamic personality that would fit in well in a hospitality environment where great customer service is essential.

Once hired, Beach said his new employees receive online training. Then they start learning directly from experienced employees.

Beach also says it’s important for employees to feel empowered to make decisions, and provides coaching, not punishment, if an employee makes a wrong decision.

Many restaurants send employees for ServSafe Manager Certification, which verifies that a manager or person-in-charge has sufficient food safety knowledge to protect the public from foodborne illness.

“We send a couple of our employees to ServSafe Manager training, hosted by the Washington Hospitality Association,” said Jesse Eggers, executive director of CARDAN Enterprises, Inc., which owns IHOPs in the Spokane area. “IHOP has a requirement that managers be ServSafe certified, but we’ve always gone above and beyond the requirement. Our employees have to protect food safety for the customers. Those leaders, who have received the training, are going to pass on their knowledge to others because that’s what leaders do. Leaders impact other people.”

Risk management

Training helps employees identify workplace risks and avoid them.

“With training, risks are identified more quickly and are nipped in the bud,” Lynch said. “Because our management is thoroughly trained, if they see something, they’re going to be throwing up red flags.”

Keeping your best people on board

Another benefit of training: increased employee loyalty and reduced turnover.

While Eggers said not all training investments lead to a long-term relationship with an employee, he knows from personal experience that training does contribute to employee loyalty.

“I worked in other places before IHOP,” Eggers said. “I’ve been here for 22 years. I don’t know that I would have been here for more than a summer job if investing in me hadn’t happened. If you talk to the vast majority of people who’ve stuck around and been successful, part of being successful is feeling successful, and that isn’t going to happen without having somebody show you how to do the job properly through training.”

Lynch also says training helps retain employees at Arby’s. Nevertheless, he insists that not all turnover is necessarily bad, and that Arby’s develops skills that are transferrable to other industries through its training process.

Training options

There are many options for training employees. One of the best places to start is the Washington Hospitality Education Foundation. The Education Foundation sponsors ongoing training, including ServSafe Manager, ServSafe Alcohol, ServSafe Allergen, Allergy Safe Certification and Workplace Safety as well as providing resources to other training needs and options. For hotel employees, the Education Foundation offers Guest Service Gold, position certifications (front desk agent, housekeeping, etc.) and human trafficking identification and prevention.

For more information, contact Alyssa Flores.


Note: This is a condensed version of an article that will appear in the Aug. 2019 issue of Washington Hospitality Magazine.