Talent Management
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Submitted by the Metro Toronto Convention Centre


The Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC)’s recent $29-million modernization project gave one of its senior executives the chance to revisit his roots – in the kitchen.


Richard Willett, vice president of Food and Beverage, hit the front line, cooking alongside the centre’s chefs and shadowing stewarding staff; he rolled up his sleeves to better understand the day-to-day challenges employees faced when carrying out their duties.

“Our staff is truly the centre of everything we do, and can make or break a client experience,” said Willett. “I wanted to experience what was working well in our kitchen and what needed to be improved so we could make our associates’ lives a little easier and our high-demand systems a little better.”

Having one of the highest staff retention rates in Canada’s hospitality industry, the senior team at MTCC – a venue approaching its 30th anniversary – also understood the challenges this achievement presented when major changes were in the works.

“While we were proud of the loyalty and staying power of MTCC’s long service staff, we also knew that new systems, new equipment and new approaches to customer service could appear daunting for some staff,” said Esther Lee, MTCC’s vice president, Human Resources. “In some cases, it could promote resistance to change. We determined that training support was a critical part of the blueprint for modernization success.”

Developing thorough training
Willett and his team worked closely with the venue’s human resources department to ensure staff received the support needed to be successful and that a substantial training budget was protected within the overall renovation expenditures. His time back in the kitchen proved invaluable. But Willett was no ‘Undercover Boss.’

“We started the conversation really early in the process, explaining that the transition was necessary in order to stay market competitive,” said Willett. “Working in the kitchen and being transparent about the impending improvements helped me develop stronger relationships with staff. Believe me, they didn’t hold back when they thought I wasn’t washing the dishes fast enough.”

Simple measures helped: in the new ware washing area, moving a dish rack a few inches higher made stacking easier, especially for an older staff member. “I could see –and feel – the difference a small change like that made to an employee’s back so it was easy to say, ‘Hey, let’s change this.’”

Workers’ needs, first and foremost
Ergonomics were key considerations when deciding which new equipment to purchase. Much of the high-tech equipment now features automated accessories that assist with functions such as pouring and lifting, making it not only easier for staff to operate, but safer, too.

While staff were at first concerned that automated systems may negatively impact head count, Willett says the senior team was quick to allay any fears about possible layoffs or staff’s fear about being unable to operate the new equipment.

“We were upfront from the beginning, reassuring staff that MTCC was prepared to invest in their success.”

Successful changes
MTCC brought in field expert William Caruso and Associates to introduce staff to the new service models. Moving from French-style to plated service shifted emphasis to kitchen assembly, allowing chef teams to be much more creative with its food presentations. It also has allowed more efficient table service so guests’ meals are served quicker and hotter or colder depending on the item.

“MTCC now ranks among the best of the best,” said Bill Caruso, president of William Caruso & Associates. “Culinary staff members are able to create restaurant-style recipes that they can produce with high quality consistently in high volumes because they now have the very best equipment and systems in place. Today, MTCC is most definitely a culinary leader in Canada.”

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