Waffle House is one of America’s most famous and widespread restaurant chains, with more than 1,500 locations throughout the South, offering waffles, omelets, patty melts and hash browns served eight different ways. Waffle House restaurants are iconic in the Southern U.S. and are open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. In fact, it’s so unusual for a Waffle House to be closed, that the U.S. government’s disaster recovery agency, FEMA, uses an informal “Waffle House Index” to track and evaluate the conditions on the ground in areas affected by hurricanes or other natural disasters (“green” means Waffle House is open as usual, “yellow” means they’re open but serving a limited menu and “red” means Waffle House is closed).
However, Waffle House is more than its iconic yellow block letters and its gravy-smothered hash browns – it’s also a smartly run, highly efficient company that has an ambitious and far-reaching training program for its store managers. Every Waffle House manager goes through a 9-12 week hands-on in-store training program that teaches them how to run their own Waffle House restaurant the right way, while integrating the company’s key values and business objectives into their everyday work.
By taking a look at Waffle House, many small business owners can learn how to create a consistent company culture with a replicable business model from one location to another.
Here are a few of the biggest insights from the Waffle House model for employee training:
Focus on Core Business Skills
The Waffle House manager training program includes four key elements: Service and Production, Leadership & Management, Food Safety and Case Studies on Restaurant Situations. This training model shows new managers how to learn from other restaurants’ experiences and how to handle frequently encountered challenges in running a restaurant, while also ensuring a consistent customer experience at every one of the 1,500 Waffle House locations.
For example, Waffle House is known for its unique model of customer service – the food is served quickly, in the style of a fast food restaurant, and yet the food is served at tables by waitstaff, in the style of a sit-down restaurant. Waffle House delivers convenience and friendly customer service, along with a consistent level of food quality throughout the company’s footprint. This doesn’t just happen – it’s the result of carefully teaching and implementing complex restaurant systems, from supply chain management to inventory management to customer service. By investing in its new managers with a time-intensive training program, Waffle House is helping to make sure that its restaurants continue the same standards of performance that have made the company what it is today.
In the same way, every small business needs to make sure its employee training is concise, clear, consistent and focused on the core skills and values of the company. What do your people need to know? What are the crucial knowledge areas that they cannot afford to go without every day on the job? How can you make your training program more consistent, more focused and more applicable to real-life work situations?
Learn By Doing
The Waffle House manager training program is based on hands-on learning, and even after finishing the program, new Waffle House managers typically work for a while in several different restaurants before being assigned to their own location. Many employees learn best by actually doing “real” work – not by talking about work or reading about it, but actually doing the job with help from more experienced colleagues. Is your employee training too esoteric and abstract? Can you do more to make it a hands-on, fully immersive learning experience?
Keep Following Up with Mentoring
The Waffle House manager training program doesn’t end after that initial 9 to 12-week period – it continues throughout the new manager’s career with the company. Every new first-year Unit Manager takes part in the Waffle House Newcomers Program to get specific counsel and advice from senior managers on how to navigate the challenges of the first year as a store manager. And all managers, whether they’re new or veteran leaders, participate in a company leadership development series, a “Coach’s Clinic” to learn more effective management and leadership skills and personalized Personal Development goals to become better leaders.
Another aspect of the Waffle House training program is that the managers are not just accountable to their supervisors – they get personal development goals assigned with input from their peers and their employees as well. This helps create a more holistic picture of what it takes to be a better and more influential leader to get the most out of their team, create bigger sales growth for their stores and achieve more in their careers.
Waffle House is one of America’s most successful restaurant chains in large part because of its detailed, hands-on manager training program. The way a company trains its employees is the way it transmits the key values and cultural essence that makes the company unique. Employee training is too important and too valuable to be left up to chance – take some inspiration from the Waffle House program and see how you can make your employee training more focused, immersive, and reflective of your company’s best attributes.
Does your company have a formal (or informal) mentoring program in place? How do you help your employees develop their skills and grow in their careers? How do you make sure your people are staying energized and continuing to learn new things, every day on the job and every year of their career?