The COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 one of the most challenging years ever to run a restaurant, which Raising Cane’s co-CEOs said made their ranking on the Glassdoor “2021 Best Places to Work” even more rewarding.
The Baton Rouge, La.-based chicken-tenders brand joined three other restaurant companies on this year’s “Best Places to Work” Glassdoor list, which the employee-review website produces annually.
Irvine, Calif.-based In-N-Out was ranked No. 3, New York-based Restaurant Associates was No. 66 and LongHorn Steakhouse, a division of Orlando, Fla.-based Darden Restaurants Inc., was no. 76. Bain & Co. was No. 1.
Todd Graves, Raising Cane’s co-CEO and founder, said in a phone interview that this year’s designation made him especially proud, given the tough working environment of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was declared in March.
The brand has earned spots on the Glassdoor list in prior years, ranking No. 96 in 2019 and No. 43 in 2017. The ranking was based on about 1,300 reviews.
“To get that kind of recognition from our crew, which voluntarily submitted and talked about us unsolicited, just really makes me proud,” Graves said. “I’m a fry cook-cashier. If you work at Cane’s, everybody has that title.”
The esprit de corps has been especially appreciated during 2020’s restrictions on restaurants because of the coronavirus, he added.
“This year, getting this recognition is so much more amplified to me — and gives me so much pride — in that it was during a pandemic year,” Graves said. “We all know how hard it is to operate restaurants during COVID-19. Our managers are leadlng quad shifts throughout the day with four distinct groups of crew members so they are not crossing each other to make sure we don’t spread COVID. … It’s hard to manage that way.” Managers basically do not see 75% of the team.
Raising Cane’s, which now has 540 restaurants and about 34,000 crew members nationwide, was among the first restaurants to install plastic dividers at the drive-thru — which was the sole contact with customers — to protect workers. Those protective drive-thru-window dividers were rolled out to the entire system within five days.
Raising Cane’s, because of its drive-thru, opened 65 new restaurants in 2020 and ended the year in a good financial position, said AJ Kumaran, and the company provide about $6 million in year-end thank-you bonuses for team members.
“People who gave up hours got paid back,” said AJ Kumaran, Raising Cane’s co-CEO, from the company’s Plano, Texas-based operations center. “Our restaurant leaders got paid back. Honestly, when we closed out 2020, no crew one was left behind. Everybody was made whole.”
The "thank you bonuses" were a lagniappe, or little something extra, for everyone, Kumaran said.
Graves said he thinks the brand’s success relies on his approach to hiring, developed with the opening of his first restaurant — called the “mothership” — 25 years ago as well as a stringent interview process.
“It’s picking that right restaurant leader at each restaurant who has the same values that I had when I opened that first restaurant,” Graves said.
As the quick-service company grows, Graves added, “As we grow, I have nothing but confidence that not only will our culture be maintained and our values maintained but they will grow with the leaders we bring in, because they will have picked up things from other places.”
The Glassdoor ranking gives restaurant leaders validation for the hard work they do, he added.
Kumaran added the safety during the pandemic was the result of the crew members’ work. “Our restaurant leaders put blood, sweat and tears into making it happen every day,” he said.
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