Get in training!
Last month, Caterer Middle East met up with top F&B industry professionals at Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi, to discuss the challenges of staff training, the importance of correct recruitment and why specialised instruction is today more important than ever...
• Rinaldo Boscaro, director of F&B, Yas Island Rotana
• Alexandre Maurisseau, director of F&B, One to One Hotel — The Village
• Sandra van Reenen, F&B trainer, Fairmont Bab Al Bahr
• Dominique Morin, executive chef, Le Méridien Abu Dhabi
• Naji Esta, director of F&B, InterContinental Abu Dhabi
What in-house education do you offer F&B employees?
Naji Esta: All the in-house training we offer is really based on skills, so we have training programmes fitted to each department, focusing on specific F&B fields, in addition to the generic hotel training.
The key is definitely to keep it frequent, not only because you might have new people or turnover, but because by repeatedly training skills, they becomes second nature.
Dominique Morin: We start with an assessment to determine what kind of training the member of staff needs; this is conducted through special software, so we can tailor-make the training programme for each individual. Then of course there’s on-the-job training, which is essential, particularly in the kitchen where it takes place on a daily basis, as it does for front-of-house F&B staff.
Alexandre Maurisseau: We don’t have the software, but it’s the same kind of system for us: all new employees go through the basic house training, then as soon as they are assigned to one of the outlets they go to daily and weekly on-the-job training. After that, it comes down to finding the best staff to put through for cross-training between outlets. It’s always helpful to have a few staff that can be rotated, depending on demand.
Sandra van Reenen: With the opening of the hotel, it has been very interesting implementing our F&B training system; a lot of it has been from the most basic level. I think it helps that the place has a dedicated F&B trainer though, which is beyond the regular resources for HR and training at a hotel.
Do you feel training gets sufficient support today?
Esta: I would say we get about 33% of our hotel’s training budget and that’s decent, in the current climate. Our department makes up 45% of the hotel’s workforce, which is quite sizeable, so we do need a major focus on the training.
Morin: I think that things have changed a lot over the past five years; 10 years back, there wasn’t really any emphasis on training — then you got people coming here with little or no experience in the field, so they all had to be trained from scratch. That meant spending time and money on instruction and it became a real focus.
And now, since so many new properties have opened, the market’s becoming more crowded. Again that means people need to spend time on training, so their F&B options remain competitive.
Rinaldo Boscaro: A lot of employees are brought from abroad, from countries where F&B may not be viewed as a career but just a job to pay the rent. Also, probably because of the salary structure we have, we’re hiring people with zero starting knowledge.
Customers will often expect staff should be up to scratch almost right away, which puts a lot of pressure on us. At the same time these new staff are training, they’re also working in day-to-day operations and some do find it difficult to work and study at the same time.
Maurisseau: The way we’re going about it is trying to get people with just the right attitude at the recruitment stages. We can provide training support for skills and knowledge, but you really have to be approachable and cheerful to work with customers.
How important is the training you offer with regards to attracting and retaining staff?
Morin: A few years ago, people were looking for training and development, the opportunity to grow; now I think a decent training programme can still attract people, but more those in management roles. F&B line staff are often not looking for development.
Maurisseau: We’re just coming up to two years old, as a property and as a company, and in my experience training has definitely helped us retain people — along with the fact that we have more projects in the pipeline, which gives staff another reason to stay.
After that, wages obviously play an important part in the decision that associates are going to make, but I would say today people are coming back to looking at the bigger picture.
Esta: I believe nowadays it’s not only the salary, it is about development. We and most other hotels have a personal development plan for each of our staff, so they can see where they are going and where training could take them, which definitely retains and encourages people.
Maurisseau: In the old days, the difference between what one property and a new competitor offered could be almost triple. But when the crisis started, many of these new players cut positions, which made staff appreciate that money wasn’t everything.
Van Reenen: But looking at the past three years or so, I think a lot of training aspects were cut during the economic downturn, and I can’t help but wonder how that impacted the personal development plans of employees at properties where this was the case.
I think many hotels in this area were affected by that — but I personally believe training is even more essential during periods of instability.
Boscaro: We actually increased training, specifically to retain staff and because there was more time. It’s not only beneficial for the employees but also the brand, because they are then more useful to our sister properties as well and can potentially be promoted.
Morin: In 2007 or 2008 it was very busy — we were asking people to work a lot of overtime, so it was difficult to actually train them. But like many hotels, we stopped overtime last year and now I am finding people coming and asking me for training. So there is a demand coming from the associates themselves, which is great to see.
In what capacity do you make use of external learning courses and services?
Morin: We use a lot of online training actually, working with hospitality schools such as e-Cornell, so our students can complete modules and ‘graduate’ online.
We also bring chefs from other properties and countries to train the staff, which is a great opportunity to learn new techniques.
Van Reenen: We also have e-Cornell available; obviously we’re still in the opening phase, but these courses should work well in line with a person’s development plan.
We also have My Fairmont e-Global Learning, and we’re in the process of moving forward with that, which is available across the Fairmont brand.
Then we have FAME, the Fairmont Artistic Mixology Experience, where we have celebrity mixologist Kathy Casey come and pass on her expertise and helps develop our cocktail menus and so on. So that is incredibly useful for our bartenders.
There is still a lot more out there — we’d like to offer items like WSET training for those interested in the sommelier field — but we’ll look at these more selective trainings as we move forward.
What’s the biggest challenge you face when it comes to F&B training?
Morin: It takes time to train people. Even though we are less busy in F&B than before, we have less people — even properties that did not make redundancies probably did not fill vacated roles when people left. So operations have become more streamlined and, as a result, time is still an issue.
Maurisseau: Balancing operational needs and training needs is definitely tough.
Boscaro: It’s a bit of a vicious circle — business goes down and they don’t cut you workforce as such, but staff are moved to other properties and you’re left with a skeleton team.
Still, training has to go on — but it can put a dent in operations.
Guest satisfaction will go down because employees are not there, in the same way that if the employees are not training their satisfaction goes down. It’s hard to know what to do anymore!
Esta: We have the same issue, but we try. For example, with our suppliers who offer training, traditionally they want around 30-40 people but nowadays they are a lot more flexible, and we have got them down to 15-20 people per session.
But I feel that the team is much more aggressive and responsive to training now; they tend to have the right behaviour, requesting training and looking forward, which is a positive thing. There’s much more commitment.
Van Reenen: We were very fortunate in a lot of ways; we have a dedicated F&B training manager, we have great scope for our outlets, we have a sizeable team, and we managed to prepare thoroughly during the pre-opening stages. It was extremely high-pressured, but still streamlined.
But now we’re a business, we’re an operation and we need to function. So yes, time can be an issue that crops up, but I think it comes down to how you plan and structure the training.
How would you like to see the field progress in future?
Morin: I would like to see an F&B school in the country — not some institute, but a proper school, like Cornell.
Boscaro: You could even have a school affiliated with one of these big existing hospitality schools, with the same curriculum. And we definitely need more F&B training managers around!
Van Reenen: I agree; in the year or so I’ve been here, I have come across very few dedicated F&B training roles. It is a luxury for a hotel. But of course as such, it is a role that may go if times get tough.