More engaged and happier employees will lead to a better dining experience, the company says.

Brinker International, parent company of Chili’s Grill & Bar and Maggiano’s Little Italy, launched an educational program for employees Monday called “Best You EDU.” The program, developed in partnership with Pearson, provides opportunities for Brinker employees, ranging from hourly to management, the company said.

The program is free and available for any employee who works at least 24 hours per week with a minimum tenure of 90 days.

“We firmly believe that education is the single best benefit we can provide to our team members. The confidence that education provides is what encourages our Team Members to achieve the next step in their career,” says Rick Badgley, Brinker’s chief people officer, in a statement. “Best You EDU is personal to me and the larger Brinker leadership team as many of us started our careers as a cook, dishwasher or host at a restaurant. Through education, we gained the confidence necessary to further pursue our careers.”

The Best You EDU program is presented in three components: Foundational, GED, and associate degrees. Here’s how it breaks down:

No cost Foundational Program: Provides language, skills development, and bilingual coaching in a mobile-first environment.

No cost GED Program: Provides online GED prep curriculum, bilingual advisory support, and unlimited test-pass GED credential guarantees.

No cost associate degree: Provides an online pathway to an associate degree in business or general studies through a regionally accredited college, including all courses, text and study materials, advising, and coaching support.

“Pearson is proud to partner with Brinker to develop a custom education program,” added Kevin Capitani, president of Pearson North America, in a statement. “Only 2–3 percent of workers are in a position to use employer-tuition programs because of upfront costs, difficulty fitting education into their busy lives, or a lack of foundational skills. Brinker is one of the few companies addressing this range of barriers to a better job and to a better life.”

Brinker is also offering a coach specific to each education pathway to interested employees. These coaches will “provide help with everything from gaining Internet access and encouraging participation and persistence to navigating work and school simultaneously and defining a career path,” Brinker said.

For those looking to earn associate degrees, Brinker said the coaches would assist with college applications, course selections, and academic struggles while in school.

Brinker believes the program will reap company-wide benefits as well. More engaged and happier employees will lead to better service and an enhanced dining experience.

“When you feel supported and understood by your employer, you are more likely to go above and beyond,” Badgley said in a statement. “We would much rather search and promote within our existing talent pool to find our next managers and general managers. Through great training and exceptional growth opportunities, we are using Best You EDU as a launching pad to expand our benefits offerings and this is just the beginning of what’s to come.”

Chili’s is coming off a first quarter where traffic fell nearly 8 percent and same-store sales declined 3.4 percent. But there were some signs of optimism related to the chain’s new streamlined menu, which is 40 percent smaller than it used to be. “We have seen our traffic trends turn and we’re going to use that momentum to continue to focus on building traffic at Chili’s,” Brinker CEO Wyman Roberts said in a conference call, adding that tickets taking longer than 15 minutes have dropped by 40 percent since the new menu launch.

At Maggiano’s, same-store sales fell by 2.6 percent and traffic fell by 2.8 percent, compared to declines of 0.6 percent and 1.6 percent a year ago, respectively.

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Feature, Labor & Employees, Chili's