Relevant Development: How California Pizza Kitchen Seizes Learning Opportunities

You don’t need a background in design to reimagine your company’s LMS. One option is to work through the five steps of design thinking.

By Jason Bacaj | 4 min read

One of the constant challenges learning and development professionals face is finding time for their learners to actually, you know, learn.

The good people at California Pizza Kitchen recognized this. Kirby Lottman, Senior Director of Training and Development, and Veronica Gempis, Operations and Training Systems Specialist, and their team saw the value of occasions for learning — times when learning is a necessary part of the day-to-day — and they built CPK’s learning management system (LMS) to take advantage of those opportunities to offer employees development and growth.

In a webinar with us, Kirby and Veronica walked through one of their main learning opportunities: new menu rollouts.

Browser Windowcpk

How They Do It

Each new menu rollout gets its own page in the CPK LMS, named The Proof. A quick video featuring the Sr. VP of Culinary Innovation introduces learners to the seasonal items before they dive into the learning material. But the true centerpiece to the page is the regularly updated rollout calendar and accompanying countdown clock.

“The bare minimum is we want to make sure everyone knows what is going live and when,” Kirby says. “If everyone knows what’s going live when, you know, we’re in okay shape.”

Beyond the rolling calendar, a CPK menu rollout gets broken down into its component parts. There’s an ‘Essentials’ module in both English and Spanish that’s a simple overview of the new items. It’s intended mostly for hosts, bussers, and those in the corporate office, so everyone in the company knows what’s going on.

From there, more in-depth training is assigned to the front of house and back of house. FOH work focuses more on ingredients, garnishes, pairings, and foodie facts so they can answer any guest questions. BOH gets assigned recipes, along with video walk-throughs for each new dish, and an in-person assessment to make sure the knowledge was absorbed.

Managers have perhaps the heaviest workload among the rollout modules. They’re required to complete all the hourly training before it’s released. This way managers know exactly what their people are learning and how, so they can answer questions and hiccups as they inevitably arise.

Relevant Development

Menu rollouts are such a clear opportunity for learning that initially CPK tacked any other brand-wide topic that needed focus onto the rollout page. It made sense. People were required to learn the new menu, so why not include things like alcohol awareness or food safety?

Since then, those peripheral pieces have been grouped under a separate section, called KnowlEDGE. Every role in the organization has access to KnowlEDGE, though the scope widens with each role’s responsibilities.

Hourly employees, for instance, have about five minutes a month of this relevant development, as Kirby calls it. General managers have about 40 minutes each month, which takes a wider view and often includes topics like labor.

“Part of why we created KnowlEDGE and this monthly development is so that people who were really excited about learning and development had a place to go every month to feel like they were learning and growing,” Kirby says.

Building value

Of course, none of that matters unless people actually absorb the information, work it into their everyday responsibilities, and change their behaviors. California Pizza Kitchen has more than 10,000 employees though. It’s a challenge for general managers or regional partners to keep tabs on how each restaurant under their purview does in training.

Kirby and Veronica and their team work to provide the GMs and RPs with information about how the various locations perform when trying to master menu rollouts. They pull a report from The Proof that covers all modules associated with a menu rollout and color code them. People who haven’t viewed it yet get marked orange, while those who’ve viewed but not completed the material are marked yellow.

Kirby and Veronica are mindful of the possibility that GMs could push locations to meet their metrics without absorbing the material. The approach they take with the reports is to identify those with more orange and yellow and see what sort of additional help might be warranted so that brand standards are met and maintain the high level customers have come to expect from CPK.

“It’s really been a great way for us to see who’s engaged in the heartbeat of the brand. Who’s keeping their finger on the pulse and who’s not,” Kirby says. “We are doing it with a lot of partnership and a lot of care and it’s not about the report. The report is a reflection of the restaurant’s engagement in learning and development, from our perspective.”

Wisetail LMS content creator, Jason Bacaj.


Jason is a content creator with Wisetail. Through research and interviews, he works to help L&D pros grow the breadth of their knowledge. He’s a recovering journalist fascinated with learning.