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Restaurants as learning organizations: A multiple-site case study of U.S. non-chain restaurants Open Access

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This study investigated the construct of the learning organization in the restaurant industry. Descriptive accounts of learning were gleaned from face-to-face interviews, focus groups, observations, document analysis, and data from the Dimensions of the Learning Organization Questionnaire (DLOQ) from 52 participants employed in three US non-national chain restaurants in the Suburban Maryland / Washington D.C. area. This multiple-site case study extends the conversation of the learning organization by focusing on an industry that was not previously explored and offers new insight by providing a qualitative picture of how learning occurs in restaurants. Five overall themes emerged from the data. Participants cobble together learning experiences from pre-shift meetings, formal training, learning from mistakes, and being thrown into the fire. Participants learn from customers through conversation and through trial and error as they adapt their service behaviors. Managers at each restaurant served as a learning champion by promoting dialog and prompting questions often in conjunction with food and beverage tastings. Informal and incidental learning was ever-present as participants naturally shared bits of knowledge through everyday interactions. Learning also took place off-the-clock as participants discussed their personal learning pursuits, such as accessing mobile apps or websites related to food and beverage, going to wineries, breweries, and specialty food markets, as well as reading cookbooks and magazines. Lastly, job rotation is a frequent learning practice during new hire training to expose individuals to the various roles within the restaurant. Cooks often rotate through different stations as they acquire and build up their technical skills. In consideration of the evidence gathered, three conclusions are offered: (1) collaborative, informal learning practices are well pronounced learning strategies in restaurants; (2) leaders encouraging the development of new products (e.g., beverage / food) facilitate learning and experimentation in restaurants; and (3) a climate of consistent learning practices and procedures exist in restaurants. Overall, Watkins and Marsick’s (1993; 2003) learning organization model did not fully depict the learning culture in restaurants. Future learning organization research is needed to better capture the unique workplace realities of high employee turnover, tip-based compensation, and more narrowly defined jobs (e.g., bartender, cook, server) that comprise the occupational culture of restaurant workers.

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