Published On: March 5, 2018By
In franchise training, what's the role of learning management systems? Lessons from bloomin brands

If you’ve ever dined at an Outback Steakhouse, you’ve probably tasted its popular appetizer, the Bloomin’ Onion.  But did you know that Outback is a franchise?  It’s part of the Bloomin’ Brands restaurant family, which also includes Bonefish Grill, Carrabba’s Italian Grill and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse.

With more than 100,000 employees, and 1,500 restaurants in the U.S. and 19 other countries, Bloomin’ Brands is one of the world’s largest casual dining companies.  And as you can imagine, in an industry where turnover averages nearly 70%, educating employees across this franchise network is no easy task.

Franchise Training By The Numbers

Although Bloomin’ Brands is larger than most franchising companies, it faces a universal franchise training challenge.  Let’s start with some quick math.  On average, each franchisee employs about 60 people in a variety of roles:

  • Front-of-the-house employees – servers, hosts, bartenders
  • Back-of-the-house employees – cooks, prep staff, bussers, dishwashers
  • Administrative staff – marketing, catering, finance
  • Leadership – franchise owner, regional manager and general manager

In addition, another 1000 Bloomin’ Brands corporate employees are involved in centralized operations and executive management, finance and human resources, sales and marketing and other business functions.

Franchises like Bloomin’ Brands must train their corporate employees and also ensure that individual franchise units receive the education and support they need to run a successful business.  This includes managers, as well as front-line employees who are integral to the customer experience.

In short, effective training is a franchise business imperative.  Why?  For any franchise model to succeed, its customer experience must be consistent.  For Outback Steakhouse, this ensures that when diners eat at any location around the world, they’ll enjoy the same delicious steak and Bloomin’ Onion, exactly the way they like it.

Now, multiply those training requirements by four brands — each with its own unique concepts, menus and business processes.  Suddenly, the complexity of this learning challenge becomes mind-numbing for any large franchise, not to mention a smaller one.

Of course, franchisees face formidable challenges, too.  These entrepreneurs invest heavily upfront to purchase a franchise.  (For example, Outback requires a franchise fee of $10,000 and $500,000 in startup costs, with an estimated total investment of $1.6 million.)  Franchisees expect a reasonable ROI, so the strength of a franchise training and support package is a key factor when choosing a partner.

How Learning Systems Support Franchise Training

One of the best ways franchises can leverage a franchisee’s investment is by relying on a specialized learning management system (LMS) to deliver training at scale.  As I’ve noted in the past, an LMS is not a one-size-fits-all commodity.  Historically, learning systems were designed for internal workforce compliance training and performance management.  But over the past decade, the dawn of cloud computing has opened the door to hundreds of solutions that serve the specialized needs of external learning audiences.

Franchise training is actually a hybrid model, combining some functionality from both employee-focused and extended enterprise learning systems.  For example, extended enterprise features make it possible to segment learners across multiple dimensions (brands, roles, geographies) for easy access to the most relevant, timely instructional content.

What kind of benefits do franchise businesses gain by relying on a specialized franchise training solution?  These four advantages immediately come to mind:

1) Brand Consistency

Successful brands are built on multiple elements — quality, service and customer experience.  But a brand is only as strong as its weakest link.  Consistency is the thread that ties these critical elements together.  When an established franchise entrusts a new, untested organization with its reputation, a well-designed training program, backed by an “always on” LMS, can be highly effective for onboarding as well as ongoing education.  This ensures that new franchise units consistently deliver on the brand promise while accelerating their path to profitability.

2) Compliance

Global businesses in every sector must grapple with laws and regulations in their respective jurisdictions.  This challenge is magnified for franchises where employees work in hundreds or even thousands of locations with unique regulations — even across county lines.  Alcohol service laws are a good example.  In the U.S., local jurisdictions can regulate alcohol age requirements, even at the municipal level.  An extended enterprise LMS reduces the risk of regulatory non-compliance by delivering targeted, time-sensitive training that addresses specific, local requirements.

3) Employee Engagement and Retention

Employees are strongly motivated by knowing that employers value their contributions and care about their professional development.  From the moment a new hire walks in a franchisee’s door, an LMS can reinforce the employee experience by supporting onboarding, ongoing training, knowledge sharing and performance support.  Also, franchise units can create personalized learning paths that reflect employees’ desired skills and competencies.

4) Cost Savings and Efficiency

Any franchise organization that still delivers training to hundreds of locations via printed manuals or CDs is not only wasting money, but is also missing the ability to track and measure the business impact of training.  A modern LMS streamlines content development and delivery, while eliminating print production and distribution costs.  Also, rather than wondering if training is actually being used, franchisors can track how often and how deeply franchisee employees engage with content.  What’s more, they can analyze individual and unit-level performance, to determine related business impact.


Much like the Bloomin’ Onion itself, the franchise business model is multi-layered and complex.  Although franchisors and franchisees work together toward mutual profit, franchisors are ultimately responsible for delivering the knowledge, tools and best practices franchise units need to succeed.

What else is essential to know about the connection between training and franchise success, and the role of specialized learning systems in making this model work?  We’re exploring this topic in more detail over the next month.  So I invite you to join our email list, or register for our March 21st webinar featuring training experts from Hooters and Dairy Queen, and we’ll peel back more layers surrounding the challenge of franchise learning.

Thanks for reading!


Want more insights? Replay this webinar:

Franchise Performance and the Modern LMS

How can training innovation elevate franchise business performance?  Learn from real-world examples!

Training plays a central role in the world’s most successful franchise organizations.  But what does it take to deliver effective learning programs to a network of independent partners?

Join John Leh, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning as he hosts a special panel discussion with franchise learning experts:

  • Trista Kimber, Director of Training & Design at Hooters of America
  • Christine Shanks, LMS Administrator at International Dairy Queen

In this dynamic one-hour session, you’ll get practical, proven advice about training best practices that lead to franchise business success. For example, you’ll learn how to:

  • Balance your organization’s learning objectives with those of franchisees
  • Leverage your LMS as a marketing and demand generation tool to recruit new partners
  • Engage learners in onboarding and ongoing experiences that ensure compliance
  • Streamline content development, delivery and other operational tasks
  • Identify key LMS features that drive franchise partner performance
  • Measure learning progress and tie metrics to business results


Feature photo credit: Ume-y via Flickr 

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About the Author: John Leh

John Leh is Founder, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning and the Talented Learning Center. John is a fiercely independent consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and educator who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies, primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based upon more than 25+years of learning-tech industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to hundreds of learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $100+ million and growing. John would love to connect with you on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

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