A new VR training platform seeks to improve employee engagement and retention while helping operators build the businesses they’ve always wanted.
NIDUM, a Calgary-based company, engineers immersive VR training modules to prepare new hires for their first days on the job. The employee trains inside a realistic digital rendering of the venue. Better still, they go through training with an actual team member (or several team members), learning exactly what leadership and management want from them from day one.
Whether an operator has decades or just months of experience running a venue—bar, restaurant, nightclub, hotel, cruise ship, etc.—they know recruiting, onboarding and training are major pain points in the hospitality industry. Jose Azares, founder of NIDUM, has reimagined onboarding and training, taking it from “primitive” (as he describes it) to digitalized.
Azares isn’t a tech entrepreneur with a grand idea to “fix” an industry in which he has little to no real-world experience. He graduated from Concordia University in Montreal with a master’s in engineering, and from McCombs School of Business in Texas and McGill University in Montreal with an MBA focused on entrepreneurship, and then proceeded to jump feet-first into the restaurant business. Azares had never worked a day in hospitality before opening a boutique burger joint called Re:grub and was given an education in restaurant operation from the proverbial School of Hard Knocks.
“I came in very green and very naive,” said Azares during an informative Zoom call and NIDUM demo.
After six months of struggling with Re:grub—receiving a reality check about the challenges of the hospitality industry in general and the restaurant business in particular—Azares started to see growth. But he couldn’t shake the need to try to find a solution to the challenges mentioned above.
A New Way to Onboard and Train
Training manuals, Azares has decided, are outdated. Often well over 100 pages, they suck up resources (time and money) that can be used more effectively elsewhere. And most new hires just skim through them, if they bother cracking them open at all. Videos are expensive to produce and not much better than training manuals when it comes to engaging new hires.
During our conversation, Azares said he estimated that traditional methods of training—like manuals and videos—enjoy only about a 50 percent rate of engagement. NIDUM, according to the tech and restaurant entrepreneur, boasts an engagement rate of 80-85 percent through job stimulation.
Boosting engagement during the onboarding and training processes equates to more confidence and empowerment. A more confident, empowered employee is a more satisfied team member. And satisfied team members tend to be more loyal, leading to a reduction in turnover. Losing a single employee can cost an operator thousands of dollars.
The term “VR” can conjure the image of a person wielding large goggles on their face, navigating a world nobody else can see. And, as the image at the top of this article makes evident, NIDUM can be used with VR goggles. However, NIDUM is more flexible that that.
A new hire can also navigate a training module via the touchscreen, gyroscope or keyboard on a tablet, smartphone or computer. Depending on rules and regulations, a new hire can move through training modules from the comfort of their own home or a designated area inside the business.
When a person begins a module, instructions are provided in a casual way intended to put them at ease. Since this is a new method of training, some people may find it intimidating. NIDUM aims to remove that feeling so the focus remains solely on getting the most from each module and preparing new hires for their jobs. Of course, a client could also create modules to train current team members on new tasks or prepare them to take on different roles.
One thing NIDUM does not want to do is completely replace in-person training. NIDUM is meant as an enhancement, an advanced training method that places a trainee into a fully realized simulation of their job. After completing the VR simulation, a new hire can be onboarded by management in-person. They can also be taught things like recipes and more hands-on elements of their job after completing VR training.
Another benefit relates to the current situation gripping the globe: COVID-19, diminished dining room traffic, and closures. Hospitality industry professionals can see the benefit of VR training while dealing with the coronavirus and social distancing: Many new hires may feel more at ease about starting a job dependent on in-person interactions if they can train online.
After checking out the module for a Re:grub location, I feel confident in saying I’d recognize stepping through the front doors and approaching the counter. And I’d expect to be greeted a particular way now that I’ve experienced what Azares expects from his team: the module included the required welcome, asking if the guest had been to Re:grub before, and a follow-up based on the answer to that question. And that was just one component of the training module.
The Societal Benefit
There’s more to NIDUM than combating the costs associated with training, onboarding and employee turnover. Azares told me on our call that the driving ambition behind the platform is “democratizing employment opportunities.” NIDUM aims to foster diversity and inclusivity.
One goal NIDUM is working toward is partnering with non-profit groups throughout North America (and given Azares’ ambitions, across the entire globe) to provide VR training to remove traditional barriers to employment. Azares’ mission would make finding employment more equitable and improve the lives of veterans, people with disabilities, and people with intellectual challenges, to provide just a handful of examples.
The vision is to train people on different roles in the hospitality industry so they can nail job interviews, show that they’re well qualified for different positions throughout the industry, and perform well from the day they start work.
The Process of Creating a Module
Training modules, as mentioned previously, are created using the actual venue and its team. When they work their first real-world shift they’ll bring with them a degree of familiarity with the business. They’ll recognize the faces of team members who trained them in the VR environment which translates to real-world camaraderie and an elevated level of comfort.
Creating an immersive, digital world a person can move through that delivers all of the above and more seems complex. And I’m sure it is—for the engineers involved. NIDUM is a fully customizable and flexible platform but developing a module isn’t taxing for the client.
Azares himself is a restaurant operator and it’s apparent he doesn’t want the process of working with NIDUM to be another pain point impacting operators. The process takes just four to six weeks and clients aren’t subjected to endless phone conversations—they just need to carve out one hour per week for a call until their module is completed.
The script and audio for a module are provided by the client. That gives them full control over their training. As Azares explained, the training content can include anything: core values, mission, using a business’ chosen POS system, how orders are to be delivered to guests, and even drug and alcohol policies. If a client wants something addressed in training, it will be included.
Once the module is approved by the client, it goes live on NIDUM’s platform. New hire credentials are uploaded and, upon logging in, are only granted access to the module or modules assigned to them. Operators and hospitality groups concerned about proprietary training and company information need not worry: NIDUM is well encrypted and they sign non-disclosure agreements with each client. In fact, Azares received permission to show me a brewery’s module during our call. Had he not been granted that permission, I never would have seen it or known it existed.
Brass Tacks: The Cost of Innovation
NIDUM launched in October of 2019 and, much like Re:grub, is seeing growth after less than a year of operation. The platform is signing new clients throughout North America, and it’s not just restaurant chains or nightlife groups that are getting into VR onboarding and training.
I’ve addressed in the past the “tech drought” that has long plagued this business. Compared to many other industries, hospitality has been slow to develop and adopt advancements in technology. One contributing factor has been the intimidation some feel when encountering new tech. But the biggest barrier has been price and the costs associated with adding a new technology to a business, from purchasing hardware to staff training to alienating some guests.
So, let’s get down to it: a NIDUM module comes with an upfront cost of $500. Once the module goes live on the NIDUM platform, the client pays a monthly fee of $150. Additional modules carry the $500 upfront cost but the monthly fee doesn’t increase, so a year of NIDUM is just $1,800.
However, the platform is currently offering a Stronger Together promotion. At the moment, NIDUM is waiving the $500 upfront fee for a client’s first module—they just pay $150 per month once it’s approved and live. (Contact NIDUM for questions regarding how long this promo will be valid.)
The words “groundbreaking” and “revolutionary” are often bandied about by technophiles when a new platform, app or bit of kit is launched. When it comes to NIDUM, those superlatives appear well deserved. This platform isn’t new for the sake of being new, and it appears it’s positioned to deliver on several promises technology often makes: easing pain points, saving time and money, and making life easier.
Neither the author nor Hospitality Villains received compensation, monetary or otherwise, from NIDUM, Re:grub or any other entity in exchange for this post.
I’ve been studying and writing about the hospitality industry since 2006. Like so many people, I started my journey in this business by working as a host, server and bartender. I was introduced to nightlife in Chicago, learning the ins and outs of nightclubs and after-hours hot spots.
After moving to Las Vegas nearly 20 years ago, I both co-owned a valet company and helped promote the club it serviced. That led to me taking on the role of editor for a Las Vegas hospitality industry publication.
A few short years later, I continued along my journey of hospitality industry reporting. I went from contributing to a major industry outlet to taking on the role of editor and content curator.