Success happens when you put in the effort to create a collaborative and caring team environment.
We had a lot of response to a recent blog post, Five Steps to Planning for Effortless Birthday Party Check-Ins at Your FEC, which sparked one of our outstanding clients, Karen Hubbard from Stonefire Pizza Company in New Berlin, WI, to offer to share some of the tricks of the party host training trade that she’s learned in her 10 years making memories with the company.
Hired initially as the front of the house manager, Karen now serves as the Sales and Marketing Manager, and she heads up the birthday party program from sales to the execution of events.
When speaking with Karen, her passion for mentoring young people is obvious when she explains that the best part of her day is watching young people grow up and develop into the workers they’re going to be in the future. Her training philosophy is a marriage between structure, genuine care and continual assessment and feedback. That process actually begins before hiring even happens.
#1 Hire Great People
“A great party program starts by hiring the right people,” says Karen. “First, I’m going to call to set up an interview with a potential party host. Most people don’t answer their phones these days, so I leave a lot of voicemail messages. I’ll only consider candidates who call me back right away, because it shows initiative and eagerness.”
During the interview, Karen carefully assesses each candidate while interacting with them in a genuine and authentic way. She believes that putting them at ease right away helps her get a candidate’s best self to shine through. Many candidates naturally feel nervous in an interview, so helping them relax is worth the extra time and effort. Karen strives to promote an open, fun and inviting atmosphere with hosts, who will in turn show the same care with guests. She also looks for good eye contact (at least 80% of the interview!) and a good handshake from candidates.
Some topics she includes in an interview are learning if candidates have experience with children and if they’re active in any groups in or outside of school. Karen explains that the more active a young person is, the more disciplined they’ll be on the job, and the more comfortable they’ll be with children – AND with parents. She also makes it a point to hire candidates as young as 16. While that’s not always a popular starting age in the industry, Karen feels that it helps her facility build a strong team and reduce turnover. She always leaves the door open when a host goes off to college; many return to Stonefire when they’re home on break.
#2 Train Them Well
Once hired, new hosts shadow a high performing party host for two days straight so they can learn firsthand what it takes to run a successful party. TIP: Give new team members an observation form with actions, behaviors and steps to look for when shadowing someone. This provides them with the opportunity to think critically and helps to reinforce what they are learning. For a downloadable form (.docx), click here.
New hosts at Stonefire don’t just learn tips to succeed, they’re also provided with a “magic kit.” These kits help hosts create world-class parties and are filled with a balloon pump, games, face painting supplies and a magic coloring book. On the cover of the box is a party flyer, so they’re always ready for any party question. Through this blended approach of observation, attractions and systems training, hosts learn about the entire facility in addition to party processes so they can become true ambassadors for the company.
#3 Let Them Fly Solo (With Support)
How do party hosts know they’re ready to fly solo? First they’re assessed after shadowing. They must meet with Karen and demonstrate the ability to make at least three balloon animals and to tell her a story using the Magic Coloring Book. “Storytelling using The Magic Coloring Book is a terrific activity. Every host’s story is different and party parents and kids alike get really into them.”
After passing the skills test, new hosts will be the lead host for five to ten parties with an experienced host present to assist and offer support. For new hosts, Karen explains that this part of the process is critical. She assures them they won’t be alone, and to come tell her when they’re ready to fly solo.
This approach gives team members the support they need as they’re building crucial hosting skills, plus it builds trust with both their teammates and their managers, which helps them feel confident in their new roles. The seasoned hosts reap the additional benefit of serving as mentors for the new staff.
#4 Keep Communication Flowing
Yes but, how do they keep the momentum going? Karen laughs and says, “It all comes down to structure, training and communication.” Structure in party planning and communication with team members and parents, walkie talkies in party rooms and a strict party timetable make all the difference for their business.
Regular quarterly (or even monthly) meetings with hosts give everyone an opportunity to share successes, challenges and new ideas with each other. It also gives managers the chance redirect behaviors as necessary. These meetings should be positive, structured and motivating. (Karen also recommends donuts to increase morale).
In her role as Brand Engagement Director for CenterEdge Software, Sherry is responsible for developing and presenting tools and training materials to improve the day-to-day operations of clients in the amusement and family entertainment center industries, in areas including leadership, service, motivation, training, software best practices, sales, birthday parties, and more.