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CREATE took place this year from Oct. 4-6 in Denver, Colo.

Here’s why having a people-first mentality is the most important takeaway from the CREATE conference

From labor retention solutions to creating a diverse leadership pipeline, putting your team first was a major theme of the first Informa CREATE conference in Denver

The first annual Informa CREATE conference — which celebrates the future of foodservice — just wrapped up in Denver, Colo. on Oct. 6, capping off three days of in-person education, networking and celebration of the restaurant industry’s perseverance.

The event attracted hundreds of restaurant industry professionals from across the country — from big chain executives to emerging restaurant leaders and vendor representatives — who gathered in person (many for the first time since the pandemic began) to gain inspiration and insights from their peers.

The running theme throughout dozens of keynote speeches, breakout sessions and awards presentations was the importance of people. Though the restaurant industry has struggled over the past 18 months, the key to making out onto the other side has been — and will continue to be — supporting your team.

Here are some labor, diversity, and leadership-related takeaways from CREATE.

Focus on leadership, not management

When it comes to creating a successful and inspired team, the key, CREATE keynote speaker and former Chipotle co-CEO said, is to understand the differences between managing and leading your employees.

“Management is about getting someone to do something you want them to do,” Moran said on Monday’s keynote talk at CREATE. “Leadership is about getting someone to do something they want to do.”

Leadership does not look like threatening or coercing your staff to comply with your rules and standards. Instead, leadership is about letting go of controlling every top-down task and sharing your vision with them.

“Should we be so surprised [that people are quitting] when mostly what we’re trying to do is manipulate them?” he said.

Leadership is not necessarily about hoarding power and distributing tasks, he said. It’s about taking a leap of faith to give your power away and trust that your employees will be inspired and empowered to share in your company’s success.

Higher wages are crucial, but they’re not the only retention solution

According to CREATE keynote speaker and Black Box Intelligence chief revenue officer Greg Kingen, the number one reason restaurant employees leave the industry is higher wages in other industries. But it’s not the only thing restaurant employees are looking for.

 Black Box Intelligence data shows that people are also looking for promotion opportunities, flexible schedules, health benefits, PTO and a supportive company culture. In fact, 77% of employees said they’d return to the restaurant industry if these needs were met. Clearly restaurants are listening to these needs because data shows that flexible scheduling — in order to take care of children and sick loved ones — is up 54% this year.

In a similar takeaway, Stephan Harman, cofounder of custom sushi restaurant chain Fusian said in his CREATE session on Emerging Brand Insights, “I don’t think the restaurant industry has a high turnover rate. People leave your business to go to another restaurant, not leave the industry. So, we just have to be the best employer.”

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and compassionate

In his keynote, Monty Moran wondered why feelings of love and compassion are so often absent or thought not to belong in the business world. But encouraging genuine connection and honesty in your company was a theme we saw quite a lot at CREATE.

“When it comes to business, we don’t think about love, we think about making some […] money,” Moran said. “But love as much a place in business as much as it does in the home. […] loving your people causes them to blossom.”

One aspect of emotional vulnerability is honesty, especially when it comes to having genuine conversations about race and equity in the business world. In the “Widening the Talent Pipeline: Positioning Brands for the Future” panel sponsored by Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola senior vice president and chief of staff, customer office Tanika Cabral said that people — especially white men in positions of power — are afraid to offend people when being honest and vulnerable.

“It’s okay to be uncomfortable and it’s okay to want to say the right thing,” Cabral said.

Be sensitive to burnout

With the pandemic stretching on for more than 18 months, hospitality industry burnout is on the rise. According to data shared by Black Box Intelligence at CREATE, 62% of restaurant employees say that they suffer emotional/verbal abuse from customers and 49% say they get that from managers. But there are ways to go above and beyond for hospitality employees that are feeling wary of their career.

For example, Jane Abell, founding member and chairwoman of Donatos Pizza, said at CREATE that their company offers a sabbatical for all general managers, district managers and vice presidents of operations, which has become especially important as operators as a whole face industry-wide burnout.

When it comes to diversity: make sure you walk the walk

Employees won’t be fooled by a company that just publishes statements in support of Black Lives Matter but doesn’t do anything to change their own company.  According to James Fripp, chief equity and inclusion officer for Yum Brands Inc., it’s crucial to make your company attractive to the best and brightest candidates:

“People are choosing,” Fripp said in a panel discussion with the winners of the Informa CREATOR awards. “And they won’t choose your company and they won’t choose us if we don’t look like them.”

Come up with unique ways to inspire teamwork

At Zalat Pizza, not only do they offer stock options for employees, but they also offer a free corporate tattoo for workers that have been with the company for a year or more and have created a comic book starring real Zalat Pizza employees.

“To have everybody care about every pizza, they have to feel part of an organization,” Khanh Nguyen, founder of Zalat Pizza said during the panel discussion with Hot Concepts winners.

Contact Joanna at [email protected]

Find her on Twitter: @JoannaFantozzi


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