In an economically challenging year when many operators are pinching pennies and cutting back on training resources, Las Vegas-based Golden Gaming Inc. is taking the opposite approach by investing time and energy in its most valuable resource: its employees.
In January, Nevada’s largest tavern operator launched Golden Gaming University (GGU), an elective educational program designed to teach staff the skills needed to excel in the company workplace. The program evolved from top management’s desire to establish an exceptional staff, stabilize employee turnover, provide opportunities for growth and improve the quality of service at Golden Gaming’s 35 taverns in Southern Nevada.
“We felt that the University would be a great way to solidify standards and teach people skills in some areas they might not come into contact with on a daily basis, and to sharpen and develop them into assistant managers and regional managers for our company,” says COO Steve Arcana.
A full slate of weekly courses offered through GGU at the company’s Las Vegas home office’s 70-seat training room attract an average of 30 employees each session. A professional, experienced team of company directors and outside vendors lead the courses and include everyone from the group’s director of marketing to the director of security. Just as employees volunteer to take the classes, so does each instructor donate his or her time to prepare and teach the classes and make certain plenty of courses are available to the company’s nearly 700 team members.
Classes are open to all employees and course topics rotate weekly, ranging from the ins and outs of business software programs to lessons on how to read a profit and loss statement or better understand the group’s Micros point-of-sale system. One week an employee could sign up for a lesson in teamwork and communication and the next learn how to upsell the guest to increase his or her tips.
And then there are the ever-popular spirits, beer and wine sessions, says Golden Gaming Tavern Group’s director of operations Todd Parmelee. “We have had seminars on tequila, Scotch, whiskey and beer [and] presentations from Red Bull Energy Drink,” says Parmelee. Food and non-alcohol drinks also are hot topics. “We’ve also been on tours of Tyson [Food’s] chicken facility and the Pepsi plant.”
Whether the courses focus on profit or product, they give employees a deeper understanding of Golden Gaming operations and instill a sense of pride in the company, notes Arcana. Additionally, they give employees a desire to grow with the company and create a pool of well-educated, driven applicants whenever a management position opens up.
“It gives them confidence to look for more opportunity within the company,” Arcana says. “We want folks to apply for management positions who come up through the ranks as opposed to hiring from the outside. They know our customers, products, regulars and standards so it makes more sense to hire from within.” In fact, 95 percent of employees who’ve taken GCU classes have been promoted.
Additional GGU benefits quickly became clear. The courses have marked the company as a competitive industry employer, decreased employee turnover and helped develop a more educated, confident staff. The courses have also raised the bar for customer service in the taverns; in fact, company directors have noticed a direct correlation between GGU participants and staff members who consistently deliver high-quality customer service.
Payoffs like these are huge for Golden Gaming, especially because the sole program cost is time. “The cost of running this continued education program is zero,” Parmelee says. “This is all voluntary participation from the attendees to the subject presenter.” No worries about instructor fees, as company directors voluntarily teach the courses. Nor does Golden Gaming incur training wages when employees elect to take a course: Employees don’t take these courses to pad their paycheck, but rather to add to their skill set and increase their visibility in the company.
“The GGU classes have enabled me to grasp different dimensions of our industry,” says former bar host and newly minted tavern assistant manager Lucky Siddiqui. “Knowing how all the elements work together provides an edge, I have learned, that most bartenders do not possess. How else can we hope to procure more business, meet more people and open more doors if we have no idea how the clock works?”
As Siddiqui suggests, the opportunities afforded through GGU are empowering for any employee. And that empowerment directly benefits the company as well. “The employee feels like they are contributing. Most hired employees don’t understand that they can affect the overall profitability of the unit,” Arcana says. “When you are empowered, you become self-disciplined and hold yourself accountable to understanding the standards necessary in order to make the establishment profitable.”
It’s a win-win program for the company and for the 33 percent of staff who regularly enroll in courses, as well as a unique model that gives Golden Gaming an edge over its competition in more ways than one. “These classes have enabled us the option to advance and prepare for any obstacle we need to negotiate. Who else does that for their employees?” says Siddiqui. “This company cares so much about its people. That alone creates a great sense of security and support, which relieves a lot of pressure created by this volatile marketplace.” NCB