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Training For the Fast Food Workers

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Fast food workers are not trained in any one particular way. Some workers receive very formal training in which each step in the training process is spelled out in a manual. Other workers receive casual on-the-job training. They are shown what to do, and then attempt to do it themselves. How formal a training program is seems to depend on who owns the restaurant.

Restaurants that are owned by well-known chains or a franchise that has a large number of units usually give new workers well-organized standardized training. For example, the training in a White Castle restaurant will be much the same no matter where a new worker starts because all the stores are company owned. However, training in a restaurant owned by an individual can be quite casual even if the restaurant is part of a large chain.

Whether training is formal or casual, one thing is certain: There will be considerable hands-on training for the new worker. At many restaurants, training also consists of reading materials, listening to tapes, and watching slide shows or films. Recently, videos have become popular as an instructional aide along with other materials and hands-on training. Pizza Hut, McDonald's, Burger King, Jack in the Box, and many of the other large chains use videotapes in their training programs. Different chains will use different training aids.

Who trains a new fast food worker depends on the size of the restaurant. When a restaurant has as many as 50 to 70 hourly workers, the training will probably be done by a crew leader or trainer who has that specific responsibility. In smaller restaurants, the training is more likely to be done by managers, assistant managers, or coworkers.

In Fast Food Jobs, fast food restaurant workers were asked about how much training was received from 10 different sources. As the results of this study show, on-the-job experience was the number one source of training for the majority of the workers. It was also considered to be the most helpful source of training.

How long the training of a fast food worker takes depends on such things as a trainee's prior work experience, hours on the job, aptitude for the work, and eagerness to learn. Usually, a new employee will learn how to do one or more tasks on the first day and by the end of the shift will be working at them with some supervision. The employee will continue to learn new tasks until she or he is able to handle every position in the store. This training may be jammed into a few days, but it usually extends over a month or longer.

Most fast food workers will eventually learn how to handle all of the jobs assigned to hourly workers in a restaurant. In fact, there are usually incentives to do so. Furthermore, some chains insist that a certain number of workers in each store be able to handle the different tasks. Some workers, especially summer employees, may only master one task, such as busboy or pizza maker. Still, even these workers will be called upon from time to time to do other tasks.

The Actual Training

Throughout the training of fast food workers in every chain, there is one thing that is always stressed: being courteous to customers. In almost every company's orientation materials and training program, considerable attention is devoted to the idea that a customer is to be treated as the workers themselves would like to be treated. Furthermore, part of the training time is normally spent in telling the new workers how to greet customers and how to handle problems with customers.

Because most fast food restaurants are parts of large chains, workers need to maintain the same product quality in each restaurant. All drink cups must be filled to the same level, whether workers are in Kalamazoo, Michigan, or Portland, Oregon. Sandwiches must have the same condiments on them, shakes must be of the same thickness, and French fries need to be cooked the same amount of time. In order to produce this consistency of product, new workers need to know precisely how such items as Whalers, Blizzards, Arby's Roast Beef sandwiches, or Chicken Mc-Nuggets are prepared. Even if new workers have read about how to make an item or seen slides or a video of all the steps involved in making it, they will still receive hands-on instruction.

Usually, trainers begin by demonstrating the making of an item. A task will be broken down into small steps, and the "how" and "why" of each step will be explained. The key points involved in making the item will be stressed. Then the new worker will make the item. When both the worker and the trainer are satisfied that the new worker can make an item, the worker will do the job alone. However, the trainer and coworkers will be hovering in the background, ready to help if any problems develop. Some fast food restaurants require their employees to take one or more written tests to show that they have mastered the material in the training program.

Training at White Castle

By looking at how new hourly workers are typically trained at White Castle, you will be able to get a good idea of not only what training is like in that fast food chain but also in other major chains. Training at White Castle is handled by people who are called Castle instructors. These instructors follow a definite program which is broken down into four phases. The entire program can usually be completed by a new worker in four weeks.

In phase one of this training, a worker learns how to draw drinks and starts working on the fryer. The trainee will also learn how to do light cleanup work, which includes such things as learning how to clean tables, take out trash, and clean small parts of equipment. As soon as a task is mastered, trainees begin to perform that task during their shifts.

In phase two, White Castle trainees master the fryer and are then able to cook such things as onion chips, French fries, chicken, and fish. When work is slow, they start to learn how to work the burger griddle. They also begin to do heavier cleaning plus stocking.

Phases three and four of training run together. In phase three, the griddle is mastered, and trainees begin to start running the cash register. At this point, the new worker can do any type of cleaning and stocking needed in the store. When phase four is completed, the worker will be able to handle any position in the store. The cash register will be mastered by this time and so will the operation of the drive-thru.
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