Efforts grow to boost staff morale amid tight economy

Efforts grow to boost staff morale amid tight economy

NASHVILLE TENN. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

“We don’t lose that much by doing it, and the employee is much happier,” said vice president George Green. “You cannot have a good employee if he is broke and poorly fed.” —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

Happy employees are better performers, and in today’s challenging economy, operators say they need everyone working to his or her fullest potential. Motivating and inspiring the workforce has become a priority, and so has relieving workers’ potential anxieties about stretched-thin paychecks and possible staff downsizings. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

Along with efforts to enhance benefits and perks, restaurant executives are hitting the road to meet face to face with front-line staffers. Chain leaders also are setting up weekly phone-ins, bringing top performers to headquarters for additional training and development, and promoting performance contests. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

Communication is an important tool to keep employees informed and motivated and feeling they are part of the solution in keeping restaurants operating successfully, said Jennifer Capler, vice president of training and development for 58-unit Fleming’s Prime Steak-house & Wine Bar. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

This month, Fleming’s president Skip Fox and vice president of operations Rick Scott began hosting weekly conference calls with general managers of the Newport Beach, Calif.-based steakhouse chain, a division of OSI Restaurant Partners [3] of Tampa, Fla. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

The call-ins are voluntary for the general managers, and after Fox or Scott gives an update on what’s going on in the company, the managers can ask any question or discuss whatever topics are on their minds, said Capler, who also participates in the calls. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

“We’re giving real-time, current-event updates, and then the floor is open to whatever they want to talk about,” Capler said. “It’s human nature to want to be involved and want to be a part of things and feel you have a say in your destiny and environment.” —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

The corporate staff at Fleming’s also has renewed its commitment to support the restaurant managers by sending out accurate information, kudos for those who meet various performance and sales goals, and avoiding last-minute directives that might bog down managers, Capler added. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

Face time with company executives also can help motivate employees, several operators say. For example, Hooters of America [4]. Inc. is sending top servers to the corporate office in Atlanta for additional training. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

“When times are tough and sales are down, the staff needs to be motivated and having fun, but still focused on how to make more money by giving better service,” said Kat Cole, vice president of human resources for the chain of more than 470 corporate and franchised Hooters restaurants. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

Cole and her department staff also have been traveling around the country conducting service-focused sessions with Hooters servers. The servers return to their restaurants and train their co-workers. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

“They go back in their restaurants and carry on that motivation,” Cole said. “They run the meetings in their own stores.” —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

Quarterly competitions for the Hooters Girl of the Year and Kitchen Staff of the Year recognitions have taken on added importance, Cole said. Quarterly winners compete at the end of the year for the top honor and prize money. The contest focuses on skills that lead to strong sales—secret-shopper scores, ticket times, health inspection scores, food safety and service goals. Regional managers also create their own contest focused on performance objectives. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

“With employees, you want to give them small wins to keep them encouraged,” Cole said. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

Big wins are also strong motivators in the restaurant industry. Some operators have been doing companywide competitions for years, and now those contests are taking on greater emphasis. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

Borrowing a page from the Olympics playbook to fire up its employees, Whataburger Restaurants LP of Corpus Christi, Texas, sponsors the WhataGames competition every other year. The 614-unit chain this month brought in more than 600 managers to separate events in Dallas and San Antonio to get them enthused about quality in the system and at the store level. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

The purpose of the biennial event is to get employees “excited and focused on the basics,” said Jack Sampson, Whataburger’s eastern-division group vice president, who attended a warm-up WhataGames rally in Dallas that hosted 320 managers and area directors. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

The WhataGames have been held since 1996, but Sampson said the heightened emphasis on quality that the program spotlights is even more important in challenging economic times. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

Leading up to the March 2009 event, at which 10-member teams from 16 Whataburger branches’ stores will compete for gold and silver medals, the company is conducting mystery-shopper visits and other tests to cull 38 semifinalists and, eventually, the final 16 competing teams. They are tested on skills, policies, procedures and other aspects of running a top-notch restaurant. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

“It really emphasizes what keeps Whataburger’s quality high,” Sampson said. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

The cash incentives are sizable for the 10-member teams. The gold-winning team gets $5,000 per participant; silver medalists get $2,500 per person. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

Like Hooters with its Kitchen Staff of the Year competition, other operators are offering incentives to back-of-the-house workers. Food Concepts International, based in Lubbock, Texas, held the finale of its “X Chef” competition this month—a “Final Four” cook-off from among employees who were regional recipe winners. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

“A lot of great ideas percolate up through the system,” said Bob Lin, president of Food Concepts, which owns the 40-unit Abuelo’s Mexican chain. “Normal types of recognition often focus on the front-of-the-house employees. Four years ago, we came up with an idea on how to leverage all this information in the back-of-the-house.” —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

The X Chef competition, which carries on the company’s employee motto of “Do Ordinary Things in Xtraordinary ways,” started with recipe suggestions that used ingredients already found in Abuelo’s kitchens. Eight regional winners were elevated to the Final Four, which was won by Tery Oldham of Tulsa, Okla., with his Pescado Tacos. He got a crystal trophy and a $500 gift card, and all four of the finalists gave video presentations and food samples to corporate staff and outside judges. —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.

“A restaurant career is not an easy one,” Lin said. “This is one way of keeping good employees motivated.” —Despite escalating wheat and dairy costs, the four-unit Bread and Company bakery-cafe chain here has eliminated its employee discount for food and now lets workers eat free.