How prompts helped a restaurant chain minimize training time while maximizing speed and accuracy

By Marisa Boevers

A few years ago, a busy and popular fast casual restaurant came to us with a tricky problem. They were adding a line of espresso beverages, an entirely new offering with new equipment, new workflows, even a new physical space in the restaurant. The new beverage line affected everything from the back-office supply chain to front of house opening and closing procedures, ordering, and assembling. The restaurant had been testing and prototyping for some time but was struggling with one key element: how could they teach tens of thousands of employees to make a dozen new products that had slight but meaningful variations?

The problem was complex: training time was limited, space around the machine was limited, and employees needed to produce the beverages lightening fast while still maintaining order accuracy and quality standards. The temptation to cut back on the number of variations was high, but rather than simplify, the client knew it had to find a way to make the complexity clear.

ThoughtForm helped the restaurant design and implement a “station guide,” a small, easy-to-reference recipe card that used pictures and short phrases like “pour it,” “stir it,” and “top it,” to remind employees about crucial variations.

The result was a highly successful launch for the company, with order-to-delivery time quickly rising to meet metrics. The design of the station guide was so well-received by employees that the style was adopted for other tasks and menu items across the restaurant.

Station guides, checklists, and even street signs are all examples of “prompts,” quick, often visual reminders that help you navigate a task. Prompts are not a stand-in for training or know-how. Although the buttons and controls in an airplane cockpit are labeled, we do not let just anyone fly a plane. Pilots must have many hours of instruction, drills, and tests before they can fly. The button labels are just there for reference.

Training and change management programs should be designed with prompts in mind. Sometimes people think prompts are a crutch or a stopgap measure to fill in for insufficient training or expertise. But even the best trained, most educated employees benefit from prompts. Our working memory can only hold so much — and when we are focused on remembering complex details, we can often miss big picture information.

In the case of the restaurant, having employees spend time and energy learning about minute variations didn’t make sense. Instead, management wanted them to focus on speed, up-selling, and answering customer questions about the new products. By giving employees a quick reference tool, the restaurant could refocus training to make time for more valuable information and skills.

When making a prompt, think about the following factors:

Make it short.
 
Remember, this isn’t training. You shouldn’t be conveying any new information. The point is to jog people’s memory about something they’ve already been taught, whether that’s the principles of good nutrition or emergency landing techniques.

Make it small.
 
Unless you’re reminding users that pulling the red wire defuses the bomb and pulling the blue wire sets it off, don’t design your prompt to stand out. A small talisman can make a recipe cheat sheet or customer service reminder feel both personal and discrete.

Make it unique.
 
Depending on the content, this might include an emotional appeal (i.e., construction signs that say “my daddy works here”), a humorous mnemonic, or a striking visual.

So, the next time you’re beginning a new training program or initiating a change management process, consider how prompts can ensure your success.

Marisa Boevers is a account manager at ThoughtForm. She has helped many clients, from Fortune 500 corporations to small start-ups, in knowledge building efforts both large and small.

http://thoughtformdesign.com/

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