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Full-service restaurant owners can choose from many effective programs when they want to train staff. A number of the approaches are excellent at imparting needed restaurant skills, and the lessons they give pay off in better employee performance.

But few, if any, of these methods do much to help fledgling employees understand the full scope of restaurant operations. Let's face it: Your restaurant would run like a well-oiled machine if even just some of your help could grasp the big picture.

Few of them do, of course, and a startling number of them don't seem to be aware that a big picture even exists. If you employ some of the just-out-of-high-school crowd or their slightly older brethren, you know what you're up against.

There is no magic bullet that will transform these teens and post-teens into solid restaurant pros overnight. But almost inadvertently, developers in the multi-billion dollar gaming industry might be able to help you grab and hold employees' attention and teach them about the business. They've come up with popular computer games where sharp restaurant management skills are what it takes to prevail.

To be sure, these games aren't touted as training devices in any way. But because they focus on full-service restaurant operations from an owner's point of view, they just might work.

Which is where Diner Dash 2: Restaurant Rescue comes in. It was released just days ago by its creator, It's a sequel to the original Diner Dash, hundreds of thousands of copies of which have been sold worldwide.

The first edition enabled players to work their way through 50 levels, progressively growing their restaurant through four complete remodels. Restaurant Rescue begins when game heroine Flo gets back in the business to help save friends from the evil (although not particularly cleverly named) Mr. Big Corp. Mr. Big wants to demolish four local restaurants to make room for an enormous Mega Multiplex Food Plaza. Flo takes over to help her friends stay in business. If the whole enterprise can be made to run as smooth as silk, Mr. Big will be foiled.

In the game, players must manage a stream of customer types like the Family, the Bookworm, the Fitness Fanatic and the Cell Phone Addict. Obstacles on the restaurant floor range from crying babies to slippery spills. As players help Flo progress in the game, they can personalize the décor of each restaurant. "Powerups" add staff to the restaurant in the form of Busser, Drink Server, Hostess or Entertainer. The payoff for the player who masters the game? He or she gets to stick it to the (virtual) man while simultaneously seeming cool to their friends.

Interested? The game is free to try for 60 minutes at

Although it's most likely to appeal to employees who know their way around an Xbox or PlayStation 2, Diner Dash 2: Restaurant Rescue is not written for those platforms. You'll need either a PC or a Mac to play. It's $19.95 to buy.

But this is not the lone entrant in the restaurant management game. Restaurant Empire, released in 2004 by Enlight Interactive, is a business simulation game. Players have to build a restaurant from the ground up, get it open and then run it. This game, too, has an evil corporate villain ("OmniFood") that the player has to outwit and defeat if he's going to win. Check out its website at The best place to buy it might be, where new versions go for $17.99 and used ones start at $8.98. It's a PC-only game.

Will this training ploy turn your slackers into superstars overnight? Probably not. But you can be sure that employees who play these restaurant simulation games will be concentrating on the theory and practice of restaurant operations much more intently than they do during your regular training meetings. At 20 bucks a pop, what do you have to lose?

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