Half of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers’ corporate team members, about 250 headquarters employees, have for the past week been volunteering to work in restaurant units to pick up the slack in staffing and help reach a goal of recruiting 10,000 new workers in 50 days.
“This is obviously a very tough time, so it was a joint idea of everybody volunteering together to go out there and be recruiters, fry cooks and cashiers —whatever it takes,” said AJ Kumaran, co-CEO and chief operating officer for the Baton Rouge, La.-based quick-service company, from a restaurant in Las Vegas, where he had deployed himself.
Kumaran, who usually is at the Plano, Texas-based support center, said the idea surfaced during a team-member conference call.
“We share a detailed systemwide call on our priorities every week,” he recalled, “and in one of those calls our restaurants support office crew members said, ‘How can we help?’
“It started about a week ago,” he said, “and it is going to go through as long as it takes to hire 10,000 more crew members in 50 days.” The company has about 40,000 employees systemwide now.
Raising Cane’s has more than 580 units in 31 states, and it plans to open 35 more restaurants this year and as many as 100 in 2022, so an employee pipeline has become even more crucial for the company, Kumaran noted.
Kumaran estimated Raising Cane’s units are running at about 15% to 20% below full-staffing levels at its units across the system.
In Las Vegas, which has 20 Raising Canes units, the job market is less tight, but about three units could use more employees, he said. In addition, the company in December will open a Flagship location on the Las Vegas Strip.
That Flagship location will have a 55-foot LED screen and mezzanine and cover nearly 5,000 square feet.
“We're looking for about a dozen managers — we found most of them — and we will need about 150 crew members to open that location,” Kumaran said. Every crewmember at Cane’s, including founder Todd Graves and co-CEO Kumaran, already has “Fry Cook & Cashier” in the job title, so the volunteer in-store work fits into the job description as well.
Here are some highlights of Kumaran's conversation with Nation's Restaurant News:
Are you noticing any geographic differences in recruiting staff?
It is across the board. … We're growing, so staffing is equally challenging across the board, all across the country.
Besides working in the units, what is the corporate staff doing?
In some cases, where you don't have enough applicant flow, they are trying to drum up applicants —holding job fairs and interviewing people and helping recruit and helping on-board and orientation and all that stuff. In some other cases, they simply need to give a break to the shift manager who's now being stuck on the fire.
What have you seen as the impact of the volunteering?
People are inspired. There is a sense of family getting even stronger. There are lots of cool stories that people are sharing on their personal LinkedIn and social media. I'm not asking for anything. They're doing it on their own. There’s a lot of positivity in a time when the world really needs it
What has been the impact of the labor squeeze?
Opportunity costs more than anything else. We're not able to serve our customers fully about 150 of our restaurants, which have limited hours or have shut down dining rooms or have had to shut down mobile ordering platforms just to accommodate the crew shortage.
What challenges do you see besides labor?
This is a tough time to be a restaurateur. It is an incredibly hard thing right now.
The chicken prices are through the roof. Logistics are very hard. Shipping is difficult. Simple things cups and paper napkins — everything is in shortage right Some are overseas suppliers and others domestic suppliers. Just in poultry alone, we have taken significant inflation.
Have you had to raise prices?
Not yet, but I will say we are about to increase our crew wages by an additional $70 million in the next three weeks that's about a 20% wage increase across the board. … More than 90% of our market will see wages go up significantly.
What has been the most heartening result of this volunteer effort so far?
I go back to that family feeling. … It is pretty inspiring to watch what happens when teams come together toward a common purpose, just like we did during COVID.
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