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How Pizza Hut is creating a culture of belonging to help with turnover rates

Pizza Hut COO Chequan Lewis on why restaurants need to completely refocus their labor issues on supporting their employees and providing opportunities

As the restaurant industry still struggles with employee recruitment and retention, Pizza Hut chief operating officer Chequan Lewis thinks that it’s time to completely rethink the labor issues as a human problem with a personalized solution.

Lewis spoke on Wednesday during an Informa CREATE Digital Deep Dive Session on “Why Now is the Time to Double Down on People” about how to provide support and opportunities for employees and treat all positions as careers with a possible upward trajectory, rather than temporary cogs in a wheel.

“We sit at intersection of a lot of strife and challenge and [the restaurant industry] can be a beacon of light for folks if we’re honest about the role we play,” Lewis said. “If we can take a step back and imagine ourselves as pathways for something more for people that work here, now is the time to do it. People are looking for a pathway, not just a paycheck.”

Lewis said he is “under no illusion” that it’s easy to work in restaurants, which is why it’s so important for Pizza Hut to use technology to make the jobs of store employees easier. Technology for technology’s sake is never the answer, he said, and that “the technology should always support the employee experience,” whether it’s the way pizzas are made, orders are dispatched, or shifts are managed. Even though investing in robotics and automation is tempting, it’s important to put the “human touch first” and that in the future, “cobotics” are robots and people working side by side, might be a more on-brand solution.

Once strife and friction are mitigated or eliminated from the everyday pains of a store employee’s work day, they might be more likely to seek bigger opportunities with the company. These pathways have always been a part of Pizza Hut culture: For example, Lewis recounted the time he was in a room full of franchisees and area directors and asked how many in the room started out as a driver or line cook, and 80% of the room raised their hands.  

“Our restaurants do more than just produce the best pizza in the world, they have to be cultures of belonging,” Lewis said. “I can talk about processes and products as much as I want, but if I forget that operations starts and ends with people, then that’s my loss.”

To create that culture of belonging, Lewis says, it starts with training. A good onboarding experience that communicates readily the speed and ease of an employees’ tasks is crucial. He also said it’s important to remember who their audience is. The majority of Pizza Hut store-level employees are people of color, and you can’t go in with a colorblind attitude.

“We have to be very intentional in how we proclaim things or name things,” Lewis said. “The way that equity works is that we have to see, honor and dignify all people and make sure our restaurants are safe spaces for folks.”

Contact Joanna at [email protected]

Find her on Twitter: @JoannaFantozzi


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