Questionmark Dishes Up Results for Cheesecake Factory

California-based Chain Initiated Training Early

In 1972 Evelyn and Oscar Overton opened a 700-square foot store to produce and distribute high-quality cheesecakes and other baked desserts. Today, the Cheesecake Factory, Inc. operates more than 93 full-service, casual dining restaurants under The Cheesecake Factory® and Grand Lux Cafe® brand names, a foodservice operation known as The Cheesecake Factory Express®, and a 45,000 square foot bakery production facility.

After opening its first restaurant in 1978, The Cheesecake Factory recognized the need for formalized training. Attrition is a fact of life in every business—especially in the restaurant industry, where turnover rates often exceed 100%. They developed programs to support the success of new hires, help improve retention and ensure future growth so that each new restaurant operated as consistently as the first with the same standards of excellence.

The Cheesecake Factory currently employs 22,000 people and continues to demonstrate a strong commitment to training through one of its core values. All newly hired hourly staff members receive on-the-job training and some staff receive classroom training as well. Everyone goes through a quizzing and certification process. Managers are trained, quizzed and certified in all areas of the restaurant—both front-of-house and kitchen. They are then brought to the company’s corporate center in Los Angeles for leadership, food sensitivity, and other “soft skills training” at the Cheesecake Factory Institute.

Paper-based Training

The Cheesecake Factory delivers most of its training via paper—this includes station-specific booklets, quizzes and certifications for staff, and training binders with modules and certifications for managers. Because of its commitment to work-life balance, the company requests that trainees read material during designated study time while in the restaurant. Some locations have training rooms used for reading, group training, and staff meetings.

Computerized Assessment

As The Cheesecake Factory sought ways to continuously improve its training programs and systems, they made the decision to use Questionmark's computerized assessment tool for manager training and development. They found that using a computerized assessment has many benefits:

  • Fair and accurate quiz scoring—systems no longer depend on the accuracy of the mentor while we maintain a secure quizzing environment.
  • Improved learning tools for trainees enable them to conduct a self-paced review of incorrectly answered questions.
  • Time savings to restaurant managers who no longer have to score quizzes manually.
  • Greater accuracy and efficiency with a streamlined process for creating and maintaining numerous quizzes and a shared question bank.
  • Improved ability to track training and development with Questionmark’s link to an internal database. Weekly tracking reports are published on the company intranet to show manager “progress at-a-glance.”
  • Updates to quizzes are immediate. In the past frequent changes involving menu items had a direct impact on question validity. Quiz questions can now be revised and quizzes republished to reflect the “latest and greatest” information.

The Cheesecake Factory, Inc. currently employs over 1000 managers and hires as many as 500 new managers each year. According to Management and Technology Specialist Darrin Cockle, “As we continue to grow, we must ensure our training process is accurate and consistent.” Managers and other key staff, such as lead trainers, take quizzes on computer terminals in each restaurant location via the company intranet. Although most members of our hourly staff don’t use computers to take their quizzes, The Cheesecake Factory, Inc. uses Questionmark's question bank to create conventional quizzes for all staff, which are scored with traditional bubble sheet scanning technology or graded manually.

High Stakes Certification using Questionmark

The Cheesecake Factory certifies its managers using on-the-job demonstration—performance. These elements are recorded on paper. As part of the certification process, managers must also take “high stakes” quizzes and pass within two attempts. When a manager fails the first attempt, he or she is coached and reviews missed questions. The mentor then tracks the individual’s completed certification in Questionmark.

In addition, all managers complete ongoing quizzing and certification as part of their continuing development—either Career Roadmap development for front-of-house managers, or Kitchen Toolbox development for kitchen managers. These ongoing development programs are self-paced and considered “low stakes,” therefore managers have multiple opportunities to pass.

Cockle says the Company is now beginning to use Questionmark to deliver staff surveys and plans to use it in other innovative ways in the near future. Why did the Cheesecake Factory select Questionmark?  Service and cost. “They provided the initial service and answered all of our questions,” he said. “Their pricing was reasonable and it was a natural fit for our Company. It has worked out very well.”