When a restaurant decides to expand from a local chain to a regional or national footprint, it faces multiple challenges. As the workforce grows to accommodate new locations, it becomes increasingly difficult to efficiently train and enforce operational processes, recipe precision, and brand standards.
Most restaurants, even well-established national chains, combat this challenge by adding extensive layers of management, training staff, training programs, and training sites. These are often followed up by rigorous inspections to ensure compliance.
One well-known restaurant brand took a creative approach to this long-standing challenge by shifting their approach from the typical model of “train and inspect” to one that would be better described as “teach and certify.”
The restaurant? Zaxby’s. Here’s their story…
Zaxby’s launched in 1990 with a focused intent: to raise the expectations around fast food chicken and deliver above those expectations every time. They took on fast food industry giants by elevating their ingredients and recipes.
While their ingredients cost more to purchase and the menu required more skill to execute, the strategy worked amazingly well. Customers flocked (pun intended) to this fresh new restaurant. By 2015, Zaxby’s had over 700 stores in 18 states.
However, this growth brought on an age-old challenge. They needed to find ways to maintain their elevated standard in a cost-effective manner. Zaxby’s could not and would not cut corners on their two most important ingredients: people and product.
Zaxby’s original model for training was very similar to other national chains. Their licensees were able to train their own managers, but to achieve certification, trainees had to travel to a Certified Testing Location where the final manager certification test was administered.
“This approach was quite expensive,” said Lauren Heavern, Zaxby’s director of franchise training. “To take a single test, a manager would have to be out of their restaurant for at minimum, one day – sometimes two, depending on how far they had to travel. Then there were other costs: travel, lodging, increased labor costs, and the hidden costs of having a key member of a licensee’s team out of their restaurant. And, because the training restaurants were also real-world, working restaurants there to serve guests, we had to arrange the testing schedule around the store’s operations. None of this was practical, cost-effective, or employee-friendly. We had to find a way to lower the impact on our licensee’s operations, reduce their costs, and improve the experience for everyone.”
Customized service is the key to the partnership’s success: “The ProctorU team put together specific training manuals just for us,” says Gillick. “They re-trained their professional proctors to handle our testing the exact way we needed our testing handled. The proctors did so much more than simply proctor. Because most of Zaxby’s managers were not used to taking online exams, and because the exams were very high stakes, ProctorU added a higher level of test-taker support. Proctors helped Zaxby’s managers troubleshoot technical issues and did everything they could to put managers at ease so they could perform their best on the tests. It was like we asked for proctoring and got a healthy dose of individualized IT support thrown in for free.”
Zaxby’s goals were to increase operational efficiency, reduce the test taking burden on employees, and lower costs. With the “old way” of testing, they were able to certify about 400-500 managers a year. With the “new way” and partnership with ProctorU, Zaxby’s was able to administer 2,662 certifying exams in 2017 – a 400% increase.
Zaxby’s has grown from 700 stores in 2015 to 878 stores at the beginning of 2018. Through the partnership with ProctorU, Zaxby’s has also been able to greatly reduce the budget needed to train and maintain certified managers by eliminating the need to cover travel costs, meals, per diem, and time reimbursements. According to Renee Gillick, “The cost advantage of working with ProctorU is not even comparable to the expenses we had to budget for with the old way of certifying. What once took a day or two to complete is now a two-hour process or less.”
One unexpected, yet important, outcome was having ProctorU as an independent, third-party administrator of the exams. Their unbiased and detailed reporting of the testing has taken the pressure off of Zaxby’s LMS administrator who no longer has to address disagreements and test protocol discrepancies. Managers now have a transparent view of infractions that occur during the testing process.