4 ways to take employee training to the next level

“All training is a recipe,” said Rick Strutz, partner at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Mich., as he relayed the story behind the deli’s success. Zingerman’s was founded in 1982 and has since expanded in size and scope, now employing 254 workers at the original deli and 900 companywide.

Twelve chefs and other participants who attended FoodService Director’s second annual FSD’s Culinary Council Summit at the University of Michigan stopped at Zingerman’s for a tour and lunch. During the visit, Strutz shared his tips for improving workplace culture, retaining staff and more.

1. Passport to advancement

Zingerman’s employees are given a passport upon hiring. They have to work their way through each specialty—American cheeses, chocolates, European cheeses, etc.—before advancing to the next. Along the way, they are trained by seasoned managers. With each advancement, an employee earns a raise of 50 cents to $1 per hour. Passport steps can run anywhere from 30 days to four months; mastering bread slicing alone usually takes two months, said Strutz.

2. Focus on vision

The company’s culture emphasizes developing a vision in addition to buying into its mission. “Pick a point in the future and envision how you will feel when you get there,” Strutz instructs employees. He has team members ask themselves what will it look like when they successfully arrive. “A mission has no end date, while a vision has an end date and mile markers along the way. It’s more important than a strategic plan,” Strutz told the attendees.

3. Treat customers like royalty

While learning the food is important, service training is the lifeblood of Zingerman’s. To teach good service, Strutz outlined a three-step teaching tool: Find out what the customer wants; get it for them; and go the extra mile by offering a taste, helping with packages or adding something extra to the order. Training reinforces the fact that good service and customer satisfaction bolster the bottom line—a win for everyone.

4. Treat employees to good service, too

Zingerman’s trains its employees to provide the same great service to each other. Managers set the tone, creating a culture that reinforces politeness, respect, consideration and mutual support among staff members. The way people treat their peers and value each other has a huge impact on the quality of the workplace, the company believes. Tangible rewards are also important. Strutz has lobbied in Washington, D.C., three times for a $15 minimum wage; Zingerman’s workers start at $11 an hour and the average pay is $15.85 with full benefits, he said.

Photograph: Shutterstock



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