Many of today’s quick-service restaurants employ a large number of Spanish-speaking workers. In fact, according to the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) 2008 Restaurant Industry Forecast, 40 percent of quick-service restaurant operators employ more foreign-born workers than they did two years ago. Furthermore, the report states, three in 20 first-line supervisors of food-preparation-and-service workers in 2006 were of Hispanic origin. With the NRA projecting that restaurant-and-foodservice employment will increase to 13.1 million in 2008, up from an estimated 12.9 million in 2007, it is likely these numbers will increase as well.
While these workers exhibit a willingness to learn and improve on the job, there is one drawback: effective communication. A large number of Hispanic workers in restaurant kitchens are not fluent in English; likewise, many restaurant managers are not fluent in Spanish. As a result, time is wasted trying to convey instructions between staff members. The fallout is more than just inefficiency; it also poses a potential safety hazard.
To combat this situation, there is a growing number of tools available to help both kitchen managers and staff members learn to better communicate with one another. For instance, there are several books aimed at educating all levels of a kitchen or restaurant staff in the Spanish language as it relates specifically to the industry.
Examples include: Kitchen Spanish, a pocket guide filled with kitchen and culinary terms, simple instructions, and weights and measurements; Workplace Spanish for Restaurant & Food Service,which includes a spiral-bound manual of terms, expressions, keywords, plus an audio CD; Stainless Steel Translations: English to Spanish for Restaurants and Commercial Kitchens, featuring more than 1,600 words and phrases specific to the foodservice and restaurant industry; and Spanish for Hospitality and Foodservice has industry-specific vocabulary and pictures, common dialogues, and role play/oral exercises.
For those who want to go a step further, GigaChef.com introduced The Kitchen Spanish Talking Dictionary, an online resource available for free through GigaChef.com. Created by GigaChef.com CEO Lisa Brefere, a certified executive chef, the dictionary includes about 500 words and terms ranging from kitchen equipment to ingredients.
Users simply look up the word they want translated, which is shown in English and Spanish, and then click on the audio button to hear it correctly pronounced. “You can imitate it until you hear it enough so it becomes somewhat natural,” Brefere says.
Brefere says having such a tool allows kitchen and restaurant management to not only communicate with their staff, but also to do so efficiently without the need for a translator. “I think things get lost when you have to wait for it to get translated,” she says. “It also takes time for translations.” Furthermore, Brefere says, it’s a great tool for both employer and employee. “[Workers] want to move up the career ladder,” she says.
Because The Kitchen Spanish Talking Dictionary is included on the GigaChef.com Web site, users can access it anywhere at any time. Also, it doesn’t have to be downloaded for use, and, therefore, is not limited to one computer. “It’s very simple,” Brefere says. “We designed it that way on purpose because time is so important.”
Brefere says she expects to add more words in the near future. “We’re comfortable for the next launch that we can build on it,” she says.
Michael Garbin, executive chef for the Union League Club of Chicago, has used The Kitchen Spanish Talking Dictionary for the last few of months and is pleased with the results. “This allows you to look at all different types of words and phrases related to the industry,” he says. “It really helps.” Garbin has shown the dictionary to some of his Hispanic culinary team so they can start to use and interact with it as well.
As a more in-depth language solution, Rosetta Stone offers both CD-ROM software and online products to help users learn Spanish from the most basic comprehension to advanced communication. These are available to personal users interested in learning and improving their skills with the Spanish language. However, the company also creates self-paced online and portable solutions for businesses through Rosetta Stone Enterprise.
“It provides the ability to come in through a Web browser, and is designed to graduate up from the basics,” says Chris Britton, director of sales for Rosetta Stone Limited. “It is complete immersion with pictures and sound.” The program relies on learning through behavior and daily use rather than memorization, he says.
Specific features include speech-recognition technology; interactive, lifelike conversations; periodic reviews and language skills tests; as well as a selection of management tools allowing employers to track learner progress and compile comprehensive information to confirm return-on-language investment.
Britton says several quick-serves are using Rosetta Stone products to improve communications for a variety of reasons. First, it promotes safety by avoiding accidents. Second, it provides a way to promote workers who are doing a good job but need language skills. And, third, it reduces turnover because communication is more effective. “Companies see [learning other languages] as a strategic advantage in where they are going, both externally and internally,” Britton says. “They’re looking for an edge in retaining employees.”
This third reason resonates with many quick-service restaurant operators, with 24 percent stating that recruiting and retaining employees was their No. 1 challenge in 2008, according to the NRA.
As the foodservice industry becomes more diverse, expect more emphasis on learning effective and efficient communication. “We’re trying to impress the importance to speak multiple languages,” Garbin says. “I think it’s important that everyone advance the communications.”