Kristin Burk had fond memories of eating at Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill restaurants while growing up in Southern California, so she was thrilled to land a job with the casual-dining chain three years ago as director of training and development. But she had her work cut out for her at the now 15-year-old, 11-unit company, based in Agoura Hills. Training was not formalized. Burk wrote employee handbooks on service and standardized training for new-store openings. Wood Ranch now has a management development program and an extensive, three-month-long new-manager program. The training department has expanded from just Burk to four people. One of the things she is most proud of is an online wine-training program to educate servers and bartenders.
Why introduce an online wine program?
We found a few years back that wine knowledge was challenging to train because many of our servers are under 21 and don’t drink, or it was just a hard subject for them to pick up and memorize. It was difficult to train just through on-the-job, so we paired it with online basics. We’re hitting Gen Y and Gen X who are more accustomed to the visuals and graphics on the computer.
What more can the online program offer that they don’t learn training in the restaurant?
It covers basic and advanced wine information, and our beer and cocktail drinks. We customized the course specifically to our needs and what we carry. Within 14 days of hire, the new team member takes the two-hour online training program. We track all compliance for the course through the training department in our home office.
Do they do the computer training at the restaurants?
No. We pay for them to take it at home. We were very concerned that access would be the No. 1 challenge. We’ve been doing it for a year and half now and everybody has access. A friend has a computer, they have a computer, their school has a computer, parents—someone has a computer. Then we were concerned about their computer systems, whether they had (an Internet connection) that was not fast enough. That’s not been a problem either.
What’s been the result of the wine training, so far?
Our servers are better sellers of wine and wine sales have improved.