Recruitment and retention in Hong Kong's catering industry have become notoriously tough in recent years. To maintain a stable and efficient workforce, the French-style restaurant chain has designed a series of practical training programmes.
"Most of our frontline staff are in their mid-twenties, some with little or no work experience," says Samson Leung, manager, learning & staff development, Délifrance (HK) Limited. "Conversely, customer expectations regarding food and service standards grow ever higher. It is therefore essential for our frontline employees to be trained on customer service issues and the specific dishes served at our outlets."
Délifrance currently operates 24 Délifrance cafes, 10 BistroDélifrance outlets and three kiosks, employing a total of 900 staff. More manager trainees are expected to join the team next year.
To supplement the classroom training for frontline staff, the restaurant chain focuses also on equipping its frontline supervisors and managers with managerial skills so that they are capable of coaching new recruits.
Specially tailored training workshops concentrating on management skills are constantly reviewed and modified as the industry changes. "Every member of staff exhibits different levels of competence and commitment, a one-size-fits-all model doesn't work," Mr Leung points out.
In a bid to drive optimum practicality, Délifrance recently incorporated new modules on situational leadership and stress management into its management training programme.
Situational leadership training helps restaurant managers explore employees' individual levels of motivation and skills in order to coach them accordingly. "Some staff like to take the initiative and we encourage them to go the extra mile. Others prefer to follow instructions and need to be motivated," he explains.
Meanwhile, the stress management module equips managers with tools to keep composure and conduct themselves in a professional manner in difficult situations. "Simple techniques such as deep breathing and positive reinforcement can help ease stress, which sometimes arises from handling customer complaints," Mr Leung notes.
As Hong Kong's largest casual French-style dining chain, Délifrance believes that minimising complaints not only helps staff to reduce stress, but also boosts business prospects. To this end, the restaurant recently launched a new training programme which aims specifically at the frontline crew. Using real-life complaints as case studies, the programme immerses staff in discussions and role-play sessions, effectively honing problem-solving techniques.
To gauge training results, Délifrance has in place a "refresher assessment" for frontline managers. Mr Leung emphasises, "It is not strictly an exam, but a relaxed approach to refresh managers' knowledge on the chain's latest food products, service standards and other issues. The highest-scoring manager receives a reward."
Keeping up standards
To stay ahead of the game, Délifrance has invested heavily in staff development over the years. "We now offer more than 40 training programmes, of which 90 per cent are developed internally," says Mr Leung. "We recorded more than 3,000 training attendances last year. This number is expected to increase by 20 per cent this year."
Since a number of Délifrance outlets are located in tourist hotspots, it is important for restaurant employees to be equipped with English and Mandarin skills so as to communicate effectively with both local and overseas customers. Mr Leung says, "As a member of the Quality Tourism Services Association (QTSA), we can take advantage of the association's English language classes for staff."
New training programmes are also regularly introduced. "For instance, since business ethnics recently emerged as a popular topic, we invited a representative from the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) to address one of our training seminars," Mr Leung adds.
Faced with growing competition, it is a Délifrance priority that service levels across all outlets are aligned and that all frontline staff receives stringent service guidelines and detailed instructions.
Mr Leung expands, "We set standards to ensure across-the-board consistency. Among other measures, we circulate product manuals with standard and photographs, as well as video clips of food production and preparation processes to all outlets. Aside from monitoring operations internally, an external consultant has also been brought in to implement a fortnightly mystery shopper scheme."
Mr Leung points out that training programmes are effective in the short term, but that additional tools, such as incentive awards, are necessary in the longer term. As such, the restaurant complements cash incentives with awards to help boost morale.