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Extra training has service soaring at LaGuardia Airport

Just about all foodservice operators have their own training programs for employees, including how to handle customers, but for the restaurants at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York, workers receive extra customer service training. Employees attend monthly sessions, either new-employee training or a session on various topics, such as creative ways to greet customers. The training is mandatory for companies that want to be tenants, and they must also participate in a mystery shop program, said Lillian Tan, vice president and general manager of MarketPlace Development, the company that manages the retail shops and food facilities at LaGuardia.

There are 28 foodservice outlets in the airport’s central terminal building, the largest of LaGuardia’s four terminals. Restaurants account for half of the businesses in the airport’s Food & Shops division, generating $34 million in annual sales.

To spark some excitement about its training program and mystery shops, MarketPlace began a “Quest for the Best” employee awards program last year. Each store competes individually. Those with the highest mystery shop scores and most employees participating in training are recognized quarterly with a traveling trophy. Earlier this month, the retail outlet Motions Entertainment was the winner for 2007 and gets to keep a trophy. Two food outlets were runners-up Tan told NRN about her airport programs.

What kind of additional training are tenants getting that their own companies don’t give them?

Training that is specific to being in an airport environment. Where are things in the terminal? Where is the change machine, the post office? Things that are completely unrelated to their own store or restaurant.

How long is the training?

Usually an hour. We have two segments—basic training if they are new to the airport. New employees get the basics about what it means to be in an airport environment and customer service in general. Then we have an advanced class that changes subject every month—how to leave a lasting impression, how to upsell. Employees love it. For some it’s the only time they get to interact with employees of different companies.

If tenants are required to send their employees to the training, why bother with a contest?

It creates a new level of participation and interest. It creates a fierce sense of competition and team pride among the stores.

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