Analyzing Food Counter Attendants-booklet

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Analyzing Food Counter Attendants-booklet.inddExcerpts from the Final Report of the Occupational English Language
Requirements for Food Counter Attendants Project
A Research Study and Pilot Project for
Alberta Employment and Immigration Immigration Policy and Programs Branch
Conducted by Hammond & Associates Inc.
February 2010
All rights reserved.
Permission to Copy
The material in this book is protected by copyright. Permission is granted to users of this document to make copies of selected pages for not-for-sale educational purposes within their organizations. For any other copying or distribution, permission must be received in writing from:
Hammond & Associates Inc. 2812 – 49th St. S.W. Calgary, Alberta T3E 3Y2
Phone: 403-249-5244 Fax: 403-249-7832
Email: [email protected] Website: www.hammondassociatesinc.com
Analyzing the Language Demands of Food Counter Attendants


Many organizations and individuals contributed to this project. Special thanks to:
• Alberta Employment and Immigration and the Immigration Policy and Programs Branch for their financial support of this project.
• The members of the Industry Advisory Committee, who guided key decisions in the research and opened doors to critical information and individuals in the industry: Janice Beer, Vice President, People Potential, A&W Foodservices of Canada Inc. Louie Chong, HR Representative for Western Canada, Wendy’s Luma Hameed, International Staffing Consultant, McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada Trevor Jank, National Recruitment Manager, McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada Ltd. Chris Thomas, HR/Labour Strategies Manager, Tim Hortons (TDL Group) Mark von Schellwitz, VP Western Canada, Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices
Association Karina Crooks, Policy Analyst, Immigration Policy and Programs Branch, Alberta
Employment and Immigration Carolyn Dieleman, Manager, Language Training, Immigration Policy and Programs
Branch, Alberta Employment and Immigration David Loewen, Manager, Immigration Policy and Programs Branch, Alberta Employment
and Immigration Stephanie Peck, Policy Analyst, Temporary Foreign Worker Program, Human
Resources and Skills Development Canada Olga Rupil, Manager, Marketing and Program Development, Alberta Immigrant Nominee
Program Gayle Taylor, Settlement Officer, Citizenship and Immigration Canada Brad Trefan, Director, Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program
And most of all, thanks to the management and staff of the A&W, McDonald’s, Tim Hortons and Wendy’s restaurants who welcomed us to their places of work, participated in interviews and painted a clear picture of the work of food service counter attendants. This project would not have been possible without their cooperation.
Project Team (Hammond & Associates Inc.)
Karen Hammond Paul Holmes Lorene Anderson Tara Holmes
Analyzing the Language Demands of Food Counter Attendants

Workplace Communication – Key Contributing Factors .................................4
Speaking/Listening Tasks Analysis...................................................................6
Context and Interdependency .................................................... 22



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This report presents excerpts from the final report for a study that was originally called Occupational English Language Requirements for Food Counter Attendants. At the time, this study was the second of three pilots of a methodology being documented by Hammond & Associates Inc. under the title of Occupational English Language Requirements. The project was funded by Alberta Employment & Immigration and employer representatives and led by an Advisory Committee that included some of the primary employers of food counter attendants in Alberta: A&W; McDonald’s; Tim Hortons and Wendy’s.
Following the completion of three pilot projects in food processing, food services and construction, the title and the focus of this process changed to Analyzing the Language Demands of Occupations1. This title more appropriately represents the outcomes of the research: a summary and description of the language demands of the occupation, described in terms of the Canadian Language Benchmarks. What is “required” is a decision that will differ for every work context and every employer and depends on a range of supports that may be provided to mitigate the language demands. Defining requirements, then, is a decision that belongs to employers and other stakeholders, not to language consultants.
The objectives of this project were to: 1. analyze the English language demands of Food Counter Attendants working in an English
speaking environment 2. describe these requirements as a range of Canadian Language Benchmark levels for
reading, writing, speaking and listening skills; and 3. document the methodology and results of the research in a final report.
The methodology for this project may be summarized as follows: 1. Establish an Advisory Committee of key stakeholders from provincial and federal
departments and industry leaders to oversee the progress and outcomes of the project. 2. Consult with the Advisory Committee to confirm the objectives, resources, methodology and
deliverables of the project, review source documents and define the scope of the occupation.
3. Develop a workplan to define key milestones and deliverables. 4. Plan and develop data collection processes and tools. 5. Solicit and engage industry partners for worksite observation and data collection. 6. Analyze the English language demands of FCAs through five primary activities, providing
multiple reference points: a. Review and analyze existing occupational skills analyses for the occupation.
1 Analyzing the Language Demands of Occupations: A Guidebook, by Karen Hammond, 2011, © Hammond & Associates Inc., Funded by Alberta Employment & Immigration
Analyzing the Language Demands of Food Counter Attendants
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b. Review and analyze the written documentation, orientation procedures and training materials provided by Corporate Head Offices or branch offices of the participating companies.
c. Conduct on-site tours and data collection of speaking/listening/reading and writing tasks in four restaurants, one from each of the participating companies, in four locations: Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary and a rural Alberta community.
d. Conduct structured interviews with job incumbents and supervisors to define the communicative tasks of the occupation.
7. Review of a full draft of the report by the Advisory Committee. 8. Develop a final draft of the report. 9. Evaluate and report on the outcomes of the pilot project. 10. Apply lessons learned and best practices in the development of a guidebook for analyzing
the language demands of occupations.
Karen Hammond of Hammond & Associates Inc. of Calgary, Alberta led this project, assisted by a team of Paul Holmes serving as researcher and analyst and Lorene Anderson as researcher. In addition, Tara Holmes served as a consultant to the project in research design and analysis of the results.
The research sample was defined in consultation with the Advisory Committee. It was decided that:
• The research would focus on both food counter attendants and food preparers, as food counter attendants rarely work in just one role. They may start in one area and progress to another, or rotate through work stations.
• The research would focus on employees of fast food outlets, as the overwhelming majority of all FCAs coming to Alberta are employed in this type of work context.
• Four worksite visits, one in each restaurant chain, would suffice for data collection as strict standardization of products and processes mean that within one chain one restaurant would be virtually identical to the next.
• Site visits would be dispersed throughout the province, to include two large urban centres (Edmonton and Calgary); one smaller urban centre (Red Deer) and one rural location.


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According to NOC #6641 Food Counter Attendants, Kitchen Helpers and Related Workers, workers in this occupation
prepare, heat and finish cooking simple food items and serve customers at food counters…clear tables, clean kitchen areas, wash dishes, and perform various other activities to assist workers who prepare or serve food and beverages. They are employed by restaurants, cafes, hotels, fast food outlets, cafeterias, hospitals and other establishments.2
This definition applies well to the food counter attendants interviewed and observed for this research. In each worksite, food counter attendants might work at one of three general positions or work stations:
• Food Preparation: The main function is to prepare food to fill the orders, reading the on- screen order but also listening to the customer at the till – with mere seconds to fill an order, getting started on the order before it appears on screen is optimal. Speed, cleanliness and food safety are critical factors here.
• Food Counter: The main function of this position is to take the customers’ order and serve customers. Small talk with customers is part of the work but in moderation, as fast processing of orders and customers is important. They take payment, either cash, credit or debit. If cash, they may have to make change. They must stock the counter (e.g., creamers, napkins, cutlery) and make the coffee.
• Drive-Thru: Workers in the drive-thru area have the same responsibilities as those on the food counter (greeting customers; taking/confirming orders; processing payment) but communicate with customers via the headsets and intercom. This requirement, added to a heightened need for “speed” (drive-thru customers are often in a hurry, not wanting to come inside to wait for their order) makes the work somewhat more challenging.
Daily and weekly cleaning duties at the counter and public areas throughout the whole store (seating area, entry ways, washrooms) might be assigned to workers in any of these positions.



2 NOC #6641, Food Counter Attendants, Kitchen Helpers and Related Workers
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The job tasks assigned to a food counter attendant are not overly complicated. They are learned in a fairly short period, and, once mastered, are marked by repetition within routine. However, the straightforwardness of the work does not automatically imply that the daily language demands of the occupation are also simple. Due to the high customer service orientation of the work, food counter service attendants are not only required to work safely, but also with speed, as a fluid team, and in alignment with high service expectations. This requires the ability to use language to deal with unpredictable situations or problems, with diplomacy. These elements make the language demands higher than one might expect from a simple review of the job tasks alone.
Safety Safety is a key focus of orientation and training in all of the worksites. An employee must be able to listen and confirm understanding of standards and policies regarding health and safety. Especially for workers from countries where the same standards may not apply, it is essential that they can understand and meet these expectations from “day one” on the job.
How is this critical information communicated to workers? Printed materials with an overview of key points by the manager appears to be standard practice in all worksites. Two of the participating companies also present this information through online learning. The sessions feature video, a narrator and interviews with employees to coach new employees on everything from safety and policies to the main work stations and to the correct ways to prepare certain food items. The researchers were able to view one of these sessions. The season featured speakers using a slow to normal rate of speech with strategic use of pause, repetition, and review to emphasize main ideas and details. The learner had the ability to go back and check details. The food counter attendant needed to learn the content well enough to pass a quiz at the end of each of 18 modules.
Speed Speed, a vital element to the success of fast food restaurants, generates corresponding language demands. Being able to serve the customers’ food orders quickly and efficiently within set time spans especially during peak times (breakfast, lunch and dinner) allows little time for translation, explanation, repetition, or mispronunciation. Speed is a constraining factor that can complicate simple routine tasks. The only means of mitigating this is to ensure non-native speakers have above average clarification strategies that are congruent with customer service language. This skill applies to all workers – even though workers in the food preparation area do not generally converse with customers, they are in constant dialogue with their counterparts serving customers at the drive-thru and front counter to confirm or clarify orders or replenish stock, all within very tight time limits.
Work Rotation All managers indicated that while they may try to accommodate an employee’s preference to work in food preparation and avoid direct customer service, this is not always possible or optimal. Staff shortages, peak periods, the desire to keep staff engaged and motivated by rotating them into other positions or the opportunity to pick up an extra shift when a co-worker is absent all mean that a food counter attendant cannot easily avoid dealing with customers.
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Teamwork Teamwork, another vital element to the success of fast food restaurants, also generates corresponding language demands. Speed and excellent customer service are founded on a team effort and therefore building rapport among members of the team is essential. In this context, “small talk” is no small matter after all. Skills in social interaction are required to build and maintain relationships, earn trust and reduce friction in a high-paced environment. Employees and supervisors interviewed reported very few staff meetings, formal or informal. This means that positive team dynamics need to be built one-on-one.
Workplace Culture The “culture” of the workplace always plays a role in defining the communication requirements for an occupation or for an entire team. While the researchers were only onsite for a very limited time, differences in workplace culture were a certain factor in workplace communication. The restaurant in the rural setting, for example, placed a high value on rapport with customers as having “regulars” is a more common and important mark of success in a small town.
Conversely, in the urban restaurants the emphasis was more on speed. This is not to say that speed is not vital in a rural context or building customer loyalty is not important in an urban setting, but it does demonstrate a difference in values that will have implications for language proficiency. Workplace cultures are often unique to each restaurant and flow down from the senior management. For example, in one urban restaurant, the emphasis was on limiting small talk on the floor. In the other, small talk was encouraged as a means to increase team cohesion and make the work more enjoyable. The culture of a workplace is never neutral and has implications for the success of non-native employees.
Customer Service Customer service is central to the success of fast food restaurants and it, too, serves to raise the bar for language demands. Workers at the food counter need to be able to generate and maintain rapport with customers, especially the “regulars”. Where there are complaints or “difficult” customers, food counter attendants may not have the option of calling in an English- speaking manager, especially on the night shift. Moreover, food counter attendants often have to provide this customer service without the benefit of a “visual” – taking orders via headset or, in the case of one restaurant, over the phone, means the listener does not have the benefit of non-verbal cues, body language or facial expression to support the communicative task, making it considerably more difficult.



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Speaking and listening tasks were derived from interviews with supervisors and employees, along with workplace observations. They were then summarized in a chart under the four major competencies of the CLB Speaking and Listening framework:
1. Social Interaction 2. Instructions 3. Suasion (getting things done) 4. Information
Similar tasks were clustered together and analyzed as to what level of English would be required to complete this task adequately. A core set of common tasks was identified, along with descriptive/contextual information and sample tasks or verbatim phrases drawn from the interviews and observations in the workplace. Each task and each example was assigned a Canadian Language Benchmark or range of benchmarks, taking into account such factors as the complexity of the task, the level of detail required, the familiarity of the speakers and the risk of miscommunication. In assigning a benchmark level, it is important to note that any one task may be accomplished at many levels of proficiency: for example, the task of making a request may be accomplished with the words “(Please) give me …” (CLB 2) or “Would you mind giving me…” (CLB 5) or “I would like to discuss the options I have for taking an extended absence from work because...”(CLB 8). Similarly, a short phrase that might be at a CLB 2 level such as “Sorry, no” would be insufficient in responding to a request from a customer, for example. In this case an explanation would be required but likely not possible without greater language proficiency. Context is therefore critical, as is the expertise of the consultants, in assigning the appropriate benchmark level. Sixteen core speaking and listening tasks were identified, as follows:
Social Interaction
Task #1: Understand routine communication for routinely building rapport with customers and team members. Listening/Speaking CLB 3-5
Description/Context: Social interaction tasks build the employee’s relationships with co- workers, supervisors, trainers and customers. There is minimal interaction between non- management team members and delivery personnel, health inspectors etc. Social interaction consists mostly of becoming acquainted with team members and maintaining that rapport. It also implies building familiarity with regular customers through recognition of their order patterns or other rapport-building strategies. In addition, social interaction requires giving and receiving recognition and praise during shifts to maintain team momentum, enhance team efficiency and foster fluid teamwork. Most listening involves either team members or customers. (Certain socio-cultural competencies may need to be explained to ensure customer-service expectations are met such as how much eye contact to use, or the implications of smiling, the use of tone and inflection etc.)
• CLB 3: Identify verbal and non-verbal details of social exchanges, including styles of greetings, leave-taking and introductions (CLB 2000, pg. 11) E.g., daily greetings and exchanges with co-workers and customers
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• CLB 3: Identify verbal and non-verbal details of social exchanges, including styles of greetings, leave-taking and introductions (CLB 2000, pg.23). E.g., interactions with customers and co-workers.
• CLB 4: Identify specific factual details and inferred meaning in dialogues of casual small talk, introductions, leave-taking and in short phone calls (CLB 2000, pg.25). E.g., small talk with customers and co-workers or phoning in sick or late.
• CLB 4: Open, close and respond to short, casual small talk (Companion Tables to the CLB 2000 - Speaking: Features of Social Tasks in a One-on-one Setting). E.g., greet and recognize regular customers and take their orders. Discuss recent weekend or previous evening events to build rapport with colleagues and maintain existing work relations. This might include a discussion about an interesting customer or extending or accepting an invitation to team members for an off-site team dinner.
o Hi, how are you? o Here, Henry. o Have a good day. o Good afternoon, welcome to A&W. o Hi George, you want a coffee? o Are you going to sit with Mr. Ford? o There you go, ma’am. Have a great day! o Are you hungry? (to a child) o Thank you.
• CLB 4: Identify specific factual details and inferred meanings in dialogues of casual small talk, introductions, leave-taking and in short phone calls (CLB 2000, pg. 13) E.g., small talk with co-workers on breaks, at staff Christmas party, summer barbeque, and pot lucks.
• CLB 5: Take turns to express and respond to compliments, congratulations (recognition) and small talk comments (Companion Tables to the CLB 2000 Speaking: Features of Social Tasks in a One-on-one Setting). E.g., discuss daily sales and efficiency targets with supervisors and team members during peak operational times such as lunch and dinner to encourage productivity and foster team cohesion. This might include recognizing a team member who completed a drive thru order in less then a minute-and-a-half.
o “You guys are up at 27 seconds. Good job guys!” o “Thanks. That is better than yesterday. That was crazy.” o “When are you going to Vegas?”…