Driver Training to Optimize Good Fit, Accuracy, and Customer Service

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By Caroline Perkins, 07/30/2014

This is the third in a series of articles that provide insights from thought leaders to help other distributors meet challenges in driver recruitment and retention. In this article, Maines Paper & Food Service and Ben E. Keith Foods share some of their successful training strategies.


A foodservice delivery driver commonly makes 15 stops on a daily route, lifts hundreds of cases of product during that route, rotates inventory at customer locations, adheres to rules of the cold chain, interfaces with restaurant staff — and yes — drives a truck. The training for becoming a professional foodservice delivery driver is very different from that of becoming an over-the-road trucker. In the case of foodservice drivers, this add-on training is key to maintaining exceptional customer service.


Maines, headquartered in Conklin, NY, operates a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) school as well as a customer-service driver training program. Ben E. Keith’s Dallas-Fort Worth  Division, has a new program that was designed in response to a hiring crisis in the spring of 2013. While the approaches to training have some differences, the end goal of both is to train drivers to execute the company’s customer service strategy.

Maines Offers Two Types of Driver Training

Located about a mile and a half from the company’s headquarters, the Maines Driver Training Institute is a separate division of Maines Paper & Food Service. The Institute is open to anyone who wishes to earn their CDL certification. Some graduates go on to work for Maines, while some move on to other companies or other industries. The program has placement assistance for those who pursue other opportunities. Training covers all topics and practice necessary for CDL certification, including education in areas like delivery accuracy and advanced driving skills.


Information on the Maines Driver Institute is available on the Maines website under Careers > Driver Training or directly at


Stephanie Wyatt, vice president of human resources for Maines explains that the Institute is a good pipeline for hiring delivery drivers. “We have a rigorous hiring process and we have high standards for the individuals we bring on board,” she says. Once hired, drivers go through six weeks of further training to educate them in the Maines way of doing things.


Of Maines’ 2,500 employees, 750 are drivers. The company’s territory includes 35 states in the eastern half of the U.S. and Maines operates 13 distribution centers (DCs) in addition to its headquarters. “The customer base can be a little different in different areas,” Wyatt says, so training is tailored to the region and is done at each DC.


The new hirees “spend some time in the office and some time on the road with a driver trainer,” Wyatt explains. These driver trainers are experienced drivers who not only do their job well, but are interested in transferring that knowledge over to new hires. They also help if an existing driver needs remedial help, for instance in the case of difficulty with accurate deliveries or safety concerns.


Those experienced drivers also receive training so they can effectively train others. They are not only excellent drivers that know all of Maines’ processes and procedures, but are also taught how to transfer that knowledge, said Wyatt.


“Some people can be fantastic drivers, but that doesn’t mean they are fantastic trainers. They have to have patience and learn to communicate each step along the way to someone who’s never learned it before,” said Wyatt.


During the in office training, new drivers learn about Maines’ onboard computer system, how to drive safely on a foodservice route, and how DOT hours are handled, among other topics. Once they go on the road, they work directly with the driver trainer, learning all the elements that make up customer service.


Since Maines’ has significant chain operator business, many deliveries are key drops, happening in the early morning hours before the restaurant opens. “A lot of what they learn are proper safety protocols for putting away the order,” said Wyatt. “Some of the products are temperature sensitive or time sensitive, so they need to know how to rotate product.


The driver trainer handles evaluation of the trainees. After the first three weeks, the evaluation will identify any concerns that may require additional educational support. Once they pass the final evaluation, hirees become route delivery drivers for the company.

Ben E. Keith’s Newly Designed Training Program

The DFW division of Ben E. Keith Foods had a hiring crisis in May of 2013. A number of drivers were hired away by the competition and the division was having difficulty filling the positions satisfactorily.


“We were getting leftovers, people who were not aware that the job is to service customers,” says David Castillo, manager of administrative services at the branch. So he turned to the Safety Department, made up of Jeff Abram, safety manager, and teammates Kym Caddell and Diana Guitierrez, to devise a new training plan that would ensure that drivers learned the “Ben E. Keith Way.”


The revised strategy was twofold: First, start growing their own drivers within the company from warehouse employees who wanted a change, and second, work to attract driver applicants from the outside who had no bad habits. In this case, the ‘bad habits’ were those developed by over-the-road drivers whose work style differs greatly from route drivers. “We decided to invest in a program and train them from the ground up,” Castillo says.


Safety Manager Jeff Abram is a veteran driver, with 24 years of driving experience under his belt. He now puts his experience to work overseeing training at the DFW Division. The program he and his team created includes four phases.

Phase One. Like Maines, some of BEK’s deliveries are key drops, which they call “unattended deliveries.” Some drivers on the night shift, all experienced, have helpers. The new program turns the helper role into a training opportunity.


“This is an entry-level phase,” explains Abrams. “We take individuals that might have a permit or a license but not a lot of experience or they may not have a license at all. They act as a helper on the truck and are learning the process.” Individuals work at their own pace, but the hard deadline to complete this session is 60 days.


This phase acts as an early evaluation tool for both sides. The trainers validate that the trainees are right for the job and the trainees make sure it is the job for them. “We have to make sure they can handle the intense physical labor that the job requires,” Abram says.

Phase Two. After trainees have proven they are good candidates to continue and have earned a CDL A permit or license, they start learning how to drive the equipment while still working as a helper with experienced driver trainers. This phase can take anywhere from three to six months.

Phase Three. This phase is a combination of on-the-job training with the experienced driver and literature explaining the BEK delivery method.


Each route is confined to six stops. Drivers put the trainees through mock scenarios of every possible event they could run across, from CODs to correcting invoices. This is all done at night, so the driver acts the part of the customer and puts the trainee through his or her paces.


In the mock scenarios, each stop may have one or two customer service challenges. For example:


Stop 1: A cash customer has no money. Manager is at the bank and will be there shortly. Once there, customer is short $100.

Stop 2: Credit. Returns – Case of product has two damaged cans.

Stop 3: Returns – Produce is wilted. DSR ordered the wrong item.

Stop 4: COD customer has money order #6709, but order is short two items.


The trainee experiences the actual issues and learns all the necessary responses. This phase takes from two to four weeks to complete.

Phase Four. The final phase focuses on preventing what Abram believes is the biggest accident problem in the industry — hitting fixed objects in the restaurant parking lot. Trainees now drive with an experienced day driver who watches and analyzes all the decisions about parking in unfamiliar lots. If a trainee passes muster in this phase, the final step is a trip with Kym Caddell, training supervisor. Once she gives her okay, the trainee is ready to take on his own route.    


The new program has proved so successful that BEK will expand it to its other divisions. There are close to 800 drivers companywide.


“There is no magic bullet for driver training,” says Dr. Elliott Stephenson, vice president of human resources for the company. “It’s a constant process of tweaking to optimize the outcome, but this approach at DFW is really working. All of our divisions have training, but DFW is doing the best job of sharing the wisdom.”

DO’S and DON’T’S


• Do look for potential hires that have not developed bad habits relative to interacting with customers.

• Do cover all the possible scenarios that can arise during deliveries so the trainees will be prepared.

• Do include all aspects of safe driving – and parking – specific to customer locations.

• Do confirm early on that the trainee is up to the physical demands of the job.


• Don’t expect that an over-the-road driver understands the food delivery process.

• Don’t appoint drivers as trainers without educating them about how to communicate the necessary knowledge.

• Don’t rush the training process. Let each trainee complete each stage at his or her own pace.

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