There are many reasons why foodservice establishments are successful. Certainly one aspect is the food – it is hard to have a dynamic restaurant or cafe without food that is good enough for people to come back for and even crave as part of their daily routine. Décor is important, sure, but how many of us have had the most amazing fish taco from a roadside stand in some small town in Baja or incredible barbecue from a shack off a dirt road in North Carolina, or from a trailer under an overpass in Austin, Texas (Franklin Barbecue anyone. . . ) ? For most people, great food trumps décor and comfort any day. But there is another factor in foodservice success that is slightly less tangible. I would suggest that this “X factor” must be service and overall experience – and that begins and ends with the people on both sides of the equation.
I had the pleasure of spending several days last week at an incredible conference at my alma mater the Culinary Institute of America called Worlds of Flavor®. What it really should be called is Worlds of Foodservice Experience since it is about so much more than flavor. The folks who come from around the world to present and attend are the most successful and dynamic in the industry. Among this industry “who’s who,” I spent three days taking in presentations, demos, tasting, and experiencing an in-depth look at what is happening in the food world right now.
There were many themes and patterns that emerged from the experience which I will touch on in future posts but in relation to foodservice success one thing stood out to me above all. More than the food being presented and ingredients being ogled over and the constant obsession with pork belly and anything related to seafood ceviche, I saw a trend emerge. The presenting chefs and restauranteurs kept harking back to the fact that much of their success is due to the people they hire, how they treat them, and, in turn, how the employees treat their guests.
It comes down to building a family. To paraphrase Renee Erickson, a well know humanist chef from Seattle who owns some of the hottest restaurants in the city:
“… it is really about chefs being community builders. Bringing people together and really doing God’s work. In the modern restaurant, there is no door on the kitchen. There is no barrier between cook and customer. We have to bring so much more to the table than just food. Anyone can do that.”
Okay, maybe not anyone. But her point is that in this day and age, in this hyper-competitive market, guests’ expectations go way beyond the old mindset of, “I am so lucky just to be eating here.” No longer is the chef’s reputation enough to fill the seats night after night. Today foodservice success is about so much more than just the food.
Call it the humanization of the industry if you will. We see a shift in mentality — even in full service “fancy” restaurants — from hiring a lot of less skilled, cheaper labor to a growing desire to pay good, skilled workers more to keep them longer and build a community, a family around the restaurant.
Just last week, the day I flew to California for the CIA conference, our CEO Mike Ferretti reiterated a point many of us out in the field have been hammering home for a while now: It is no longer enough to hire a minimum wage employee and expect them to perform at the level of competency that we expect from customer service or production employees. It is preferable to hire better, pay more, and do a better job of retaining those high caliber employees. Less turnover, less training costs, and a better customer experience are the result.
We see a move towards higher minimum wages in cities and states where we do business. $15 an hour in some cases. Political opinion aside, if that is the case then make sure you are getting $15 an hour worth of work out of an employee. I have opened many Great Harvest bakeries around the country in the last five years, and there are many times when I’ve seen an individual who is easily worth twice the amount per hour of some other workers. The key is to reward your stars and keep them happy.
As one of our Great Harvest franchisees often explains when he’s helping us train a new store owner:
“I don’t hire a single person I don’t want to hang out with when I am in the bakery. By the same token, I don’t hire a single person I don’t think I can trust to be there when I am not in the bakery.”
Powerful words to run your business by.
More thoughts from the Worlds of Flavor International Conference & Festival in the next post. Stay tuned!
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