Rethinking Restaurant Training to Better Manage Operations

task management app screenshot on phones along side restaurant workers, one man with short black hair with facial hair, a woman with thick tall black curly hair smiling, serving food

A closer look at how multiple internal teams joined forces to reimagine training while working closely with 25 locations across the country

young male restaurant worker, wearing a hat, folding arms, posing in kitchen


Many knew the existing restaurant training system was overly complicated, difficult to use, and a mismatch for the unique needs of its restaurant training teams. Store leadership complained that the existing tool actually made things more difficult. Leaders needed the ability to quickly and reliably find training and procedural information at a moment’s notice, yet doing so was both time consuming and incredibly frustrating because of a few, critical missteps.

Created an MVP that was instantly scalable for the restaurant (up to 100,000 users)
More than 500 active pilot participants from 25-30  restaurant locations
150 monthly active users among Operators and Training Directors




technical architecture icon

Technical Architecture

Product Development

man with glasses smiling

Restaurant leadership was frustrated with the existing training system. The switch they had recently made to a new LMS was a gigantic step backwards. So, a lot of them actually reverted to pen, paper, or older analog methods. In fact, in one instance, we talked to a leader who said he had four, three-ring binders full of printed procedures. And he sits there in the restaurant with his team members and goes through training that way. Not because he wants to, but because the digital tools just weren’t working for him.

— Tiernan McGrath, Director of Client Experience, RevUnit

The Challenge
What We Were Up Against
restaurant worker with a headset, packing food

The existing system didn’t meet the needs of its staff

Many knew the existing restaurant training system was overly complicated, difficult to use, and a mismatch for the unique needs of its restaurant training teams. Leaders complained that the existing tool actually made things more difficult. Leaders needed the ability to quickly find training and procedural information at a moment’s notice, yet doing so was next to impossible because of a few, critical missteps.

Most critically, back-end information architecture wasn’t structured properly, which made browsing or searching for specific information incredibly difficult. If a question or need popped up in the middle of a shift, for example, accurate information was hard to come by. Turning to existing tools didn’t provide much help either, as relevant instructional, procedural, or training information took too long to find, trapped behind hidden menus and a faulty search experience. 

In theory, the existing tools made sense, enabling leaders and team members to quickly grab helpful, bite-sized content at a moment’s notice. In practice, however, the execution fell short. In fact, left with no other alternative, restaurant leaders often decided to print the procedures and tape them to the wall rather than using the broken search and browse features.

Spotlight ———

For all involved, the challenge was difficult: How do we design an entirely new, restaurant training tool when: (1) the majority of the restaurant team members aren’t allowed to use their own mobile devices on the job, (2) there are only a few, shared training devices for each restaurant, and (3) Leaders across the country reported a mostly positive experience with printable materials?

Any solution had to meet the unique needs of the brand

This is a quick-serve brand that has largely become a poster child for positive guest experience; they invest a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money into training their team members to ensure a consistent guest experience. In order to achieve this kind of consistency, they rely heavily on “home grown” talent. It’s incredibly common (and preferred, actually) to have hourly team members advance into restaurant and/or organizational leadership positions over the course of their careers. Thus, there’s always a need to find more engaging, effective ways to upskill team members at scale, providing valuable skills training and career opportunities that feed directly into the continued growth of both individual team members and the business.

Spotlight ———

Our client’s business typically grows at a rate somewhere between 15-25% each year, so designing a system that can scale at such an incredible rate is seriously difficult. Most restaurant leaders are running 24-hour operations just to take orders and keep up with demand. As one individual put it, “As we keep growing, there’s just no more time to waste simply trying to find things … it just has to be there.”

We noticed a few other critical issues, too
Leaders relied on a number of disparate systems to run their restaurants

Restaurant training and operations are directly attached at the hip; in fact, a typical restaurant uses somewhere between 5-10 different systems or apps to power its back-of-house (BoH) operations. Not surprisingly then, in our field research (countless restaurant visits and interviews with leaders across the country), it became evident that adding yet another system to an already cluttered digital environment could cause more confusion.

System constraints were a real thing, regardless of the directive to “start from scratch”

Constraints are a reality in any enterprise environment, so bumping into a few wasn’t necessarily a surprise. Still, no matter how many times we were directed to “think big picture” or “imagine constraints aren’t an issue,” we quickly ran up against a few that simply couldn’t be removed. Namely, technical system constraints that couldn’t be removed given previous platform and investment decisions that were out of our control.

The notion of operating in a truly agile format was still fairly uncommon

While internal teams had made impressive strides pushing forward with an agile-first operating mentality, much of the organization hadn’t yet adopted agile as a day-to-day operating structure. Thus, there was extra “leg work” that had to be done—both at headquarters and in the field—in order to set correct expectations, working agreements, and clearly define core artifacts, ceremonies, minimum viable product requirements.

man with glasses smiling

Collectively, our number one priority was to create something that was custom tailored for the brand. So, when we first started we said, ‘Hey we're going to start mostly from a blank slate and we're going to do a lot of design thinking and iteration very quickly.’ And so we sat down and enlisted the help of about 25 different restaurants—including restaurant leaders from each—who participated in the pilot. We basically said, ‘Hey we're going to be asking a little bit of your time and feedback as we push out these prototypes … we really want you to honestly tell us what’s working and what’s not.’

— Tiernan McGrath, Director of Client Experience, RevUnit

The Partnership

How We Tackled the Challenge, Together
Phase 01: Research, Prototyping, & MVP Build
a couple of people sitting at a table, laptop on the table, talking
Timeline: 4-6 Weeks
Key Activities:

→ Participated in a variety restaurant visits across the Midwest and Southeast over the course of several weeks, including interviews with leaders and team members in order to better understand their roles, responsibilities, and existing training processes

→ Created a prototype that could be used to test initial hypotheses, elicit additional user feedback, and drive more meaningful conversations between the various internal teams; the prototype formed the foundations of our MVP build.

→ Worked with the internal Support Center and field leadership to outline all requirements necessary to build MVP, identifying critical dependencies, technical requirements, architectural considerations, and potential blockers along the way

→ Built an MVP as a functional, scalable prototype that was deployed to all pilot participants (25 locations); our collective goal was to design and push a functional MVP as quickly as possible

Phase 02: User Testing & Product Development
two quick-serve restaurant workers standing and smiling behind the check-out/order counter
Timeline: 6 Months
Key Activities:

→ Worked in two-week sprints, working collaboratively with a variety of internal teams to determine build priorities, remove blockers, and show quick progress (continuous release cycles)

→ Deployed critical functionality often, soliciting feedback from both leadership and team members that was used to validate or invalidate core features, help prioritize the backlog for continued development

→ Met frequently with leaders in the field (restaurants) and at the Support Center where we held in-depth user testing sessions to inform feature development

young guy with short light stubble and short combed over brown hair

I’m just sitting down with one of our restaurant leaders and going through the test you sent and showing him all the functionality. We’re really excited about what we are seeing! I feel honored to be a part of this process. Keep up the great work!

— Program Lead

The Solution

What We Created Together
A single platform to power both training and BoH operations

Together, we designed a single platform to power both restaurant training and operations, starting with a digital task management system as MVP. The end result was a dynamic, centralized digital platform that made it much easier for restaurant leaders and team members to manage their day-to-day- BoH operations, including the ability to create and assign task lists, quickly view critical training content, and access quick tooltips needed in order to run a high-performing restaurant each day. 

We first designed and built the MVP infrastructure needed to allow restaurant team members to create and assign personalized training checklists. These checklists gave training leads the ability to create and assign tasks or mandatory training to their team members in real-time, giving all team members a clear, accurate, and up-to-date view of exactly which tasks needed to be completed in order to keep the restaurant running efficiently throughout the day. Most importantly, it made the assignment and completion of those tasks much simpler, effectively creating an activity trail which was both documented and trackable at the restaurant level. 

phone screens displaying task management app with a young black male and young white female servers and a restaurant counter taking orders

The task-based MVP also gave team members the ability to quickly access critical training content in a way that matched the realities of the fast-paced restaurant environment (quick search, FAQs, etc). No more fumbling for loose sheets of paper or flipping through pages in a three-ring binder to find important information. Doing so created significant time savings for both leaders and team members while providing more autonomy and relief for most team members. The introduction of these features laid the groundwork for other feature enhancements (SSO, Accounts, Ops Checklists, Training Plans, Training Reports, etc , almost all of which came as direct asks from Operators and TDs themselves.

Additionally, in designing a new system architecture from the ground up, we created a more flexible, “free-standing” platform, untethering the existing tools from the dependencies and limitations of other existing systems. Doing so made it possible for other, critical operational and training systems to connect to this new tool (and vice versa) in a more useful and secure fashion. This flexible architecture paved the way for a more significant exploration — the idea that our MVP would become the single platform to power all BoH operations for all restaurants across the country, replacing a number of legacy systems and as many as 15 existing, disparate applications.

young female POC with long hair and beautiful thick brows with big a big smile

This is legit! You guys listened to everything we said in our meetings. This feels so on brand. This not only saves me time, but will also be great for the team. This is game-changing.

— Training Lead

New Capabilities

Gave Team Members the ability to quickly access on-demand training for the first time

Allowed Team Members to complete facilities and individual training in self-serve format

Allowed Team Members to easily access both critical operational and training checklists

Gave Training Leads access to restaurant-level views of training progress for their team

Created shared accountability to routine tasks critical to normal restaurant operations

Enabled Leaders to better monitor total restaurant health in real-time, everyday

Introduced a single platform where Leaders could manage all aspects of the restaurant

phone screens of restaurant task management app
Spotlight ———

Many Leaders and Training Leads who participated in the pilot actually began to use the newly-built MVP to manage day-to-day training in their restaurants, all but abandoning the existing tools in favor of a solution that was more uniquely suited to their individual needs.

female POC with dark long hair with a slight smile

I've worked with dozens and dozens of shops, and RevUnit is one of the most authentic and transparent that I’ve worked with. What I really appreciated about RevUnit’s approach was their ability to get from an idea or a theory to a working prototype really quickly. They took a genuine interest in both our frontline team members and our leaders who own our restaurants. They really wanted to walk in their shoes. So, it was a really powerful experience to be able to bring our leaders and team members along as a part of the process.

— Sr. Principal Program Lead

The Results

What We Accomplished Together
Created an MVP that was instantly scalable for the restaurant (up to 100,000 users)
More than 500 active pilot participants from 25-30  restaurant locations
150 monthly active users among Operators and Training Directors

Get more information on our on-demand training case study.

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