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Wendy’s top general manager shares leadership advice

Carteina Riddick of Calhoun Management talks strong teams, smart hiring and her 3 biggest challenges as a GM

Jim Sullivan is a popular keynote speaker at leadership, franchisee and GM conferences worldwide. This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation’s Restaurant News. 

Great general managers are the face, heart and soul of any foodservice brand. A restaurant’s menu and systems may comprise the engine of success, but the GM is the driver.

GMs recognize that the restaurant is the place where the company meets the customer and is therefore the most important juncture in the service-profit chain. Great GMs are the leadership conduit between customer trial and customer loyalty. By shaping, influencing and guiding the behaviors of their front-of-the-house and the back-of-the-house teams, GMs simultaneously shape, influence and guide the behavior of their guests, helping them evolve from brand samplers to brand apostles.

The best GMs know that their central responsibilities revolve around two objectives: driving repeat business and expanding leadership capacity. GMs are builders. They build businesses, build patronage, build teams, and ultimately, build their own replacements.

Todd Penegor, president and CEO of The Wendy’s Company in Dublin, Ohio, concurs: "Restaurant general managers play one of the most important roles in our system and are the face of the Wendy's brand to our customers." 

Each year Wendy’s, which is 95% franchise-owned and operated, evaluates general managers throughout its global network of more than 6,700 restaurants against criteria like customer satisfaction scores and customer count growth. IN 2019, a total of 537 Wendy’s GMs met the initial criteria, and from that group the top 200 were selected by a committee comprised of franchisee and company leadership.  

Geographically speaking, Wendy’s top 200 GMs included 175 from the United States, 15 from Canada and 10 from other international locations. From this group of 200, ten individuals were selected as the "best of the best" and received special honors, and one is chosen as the system’s Top GM.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Wendy’s 2019 Top GM, Carteina Riddick with Calhoun Management in Covington, Ga. She been a member of the Wendy's family for eight years and has been named a top Wendy’s GM each year since the program's inception. Carteina serves as a training buddy and mentor for newly promoted GMs in the Atlanta area, and is also a mother of two college students. Her youngest is preparing to enroll in the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Get highlights from my conversation with her below. And then remember to thank your GMs daily for what they do day in and day out. Because if you don’t recognize your best people, somebody else will.

What behaviors helped you earn this recognition? 

I believe it starts with dedication to my restaurant, my team and my job. And I’m willing to work hard to get the job done well. Daily communication is the key. I set very clear expectations with my managers and team members, and I consistently check-in with them to make sure the restaurant is running smoothly and that they have what they need to do their jobs well.

What kinds of things do you teach your team to help them be successful?

I encourage my team members to utilize our training systems, and I also make sure everyone has, and understands, their personal development track that details the opportunities that each person has to grow in the company.  I also teach my team to always say “please” and “thank you” to all of our customers and fellow team members. It’s important to me that my team respects each other and every customer who walks through the door.

What’s the best way to communicate with younger restaurant team members?

Connect with them. I have teenage daughters, so I understand that with younger team members, it’s important to get to know them both at work and in their personal/school life. To do that, I try to form a relationship with their parents, and the parents seem to appreciate the positive environment I’ve created at my restaurant. Daily huddle sessions (“pre-shift meetings”) are also a great tool to share our shift goals and reinforce our expectations.

What are the biggest obstacles you face as a Wendy’s GM in 2019?

Three things: attracting talent, continuously maintaining the culture in the restaurant so that I can retain my employees, and competition from the many different QSR brands in our area. I want my restaurant to be both a place in which people want to work, and a place people want to bring their families and friends to for a meal. That means having the right team in place.

What does it take to build the right team?

There isn’t “one thing” that works; it takes a variety of skills. I depend on referrals from my employees to attract top talent, and during the hiring interview. I look for a positive attitude, great smile, eye contact and high energy. Then I make sure every new hire has a high-quality orientation to the job and team using our checklist for structure as well as to set expectations. I let every new hire know about the advancement opportunities that we have at Wendy’s and the process involved for moving up the ladder.

It’s also critical that the training is effective and complete. I use a weekly training plan to set the path for development, and the buddy system and certified trainers to assist with new hire training.

To create and maintain a great culture I believe that meetings and frequent huddles are important to keep the crew engaged and involved. My crew members conduct the huddles everyday which allows them to take ownership of the shift, build their leadership skills and ensure that everyone is on the same page communication-wise and treated with respect.

Who inspires you to be a better leader?

My franchise organization’s director of operations, Antoine Tucker. Antoine has always been there side-by-side with me in the trenches, through the good and bad. He has helped me understand and apply situational leadership to better align and manage my people in relation to their current skill level. He has helps me grow as a leader, particularly in the areas of patience and understanding. He coaches me that everyone can play a unique role and add value to our organization, and we are stronger as one team.

Jim Sullivan is a keynote speaker at foodservice conferences and the bestselling author of Fundamentals and Multiunit Leadership, two books that have sold over 330,000 copies worldwide. He has over 400,000 social media followers and you can engage in daily insight with Jim at LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and

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