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Why restaurants give more than they get

And why that’s good business

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.

I recently heard Tom Krouse, president and CEO of Donatos Pizza, address a conference of his franchise partners and general managers in Columbus, Ohio.

In his presentation, Krouse reminded the audience that we in the restaurant industry are not merely in the business of transacting food and beverage sales; we are first and foremost stewards of special moments in people’s lives. As proof, he made the point that our industry is unique in that we give much more than we get. 

“On average, we get about $13.89 for a pizza from our customers,” Krouse said. “But consider all that we give in return: quality and value, to be sure. But we also give hospitality, smiles, training, development, careers, first jobs, second chances, family connections, and a strong and valuable community connection, too.”

He's so right. Consider all that we give our customers and communities in exchange for the hard-earned money they impart for the food, beverage and experience we offer:

· The restaurant industry provides employment not only for our team members and support staff, but also local contractors, realtors, heath inspectors, advertisers, software sellers, vendors, distributors, brokers and manufacturers.
· The taxes we pay help fund civic improvements, infrastructure repair, hospitals, fire departments, police departments, greenspace, parks and community development.
· The paychecks we distribute allow our employees to buy houses, start families, raise families, improve their education, bridge financial challenges and support community charities.
· Perhaps most importantly, the foodservice industry trains America’s future workforce, deploying valuable job skills, life skills and leadership skills to the young, the eager, the undecided and the uninitiated.

While they may not stay in the foodservice industry forever, the skills they learn here — teamwork, service, selling, quality, patience – are all marketable skills that have direct application to whatever they do after.

Whether a customer pays $5 or $50 for a meal, that’s a pretty good cost/benefit ratio for every guest. It serves to remind you and me that every operator has an obligation to invest as much in improving the quality of the customer experience and team development as they are investing in improving food and beverage. Customer value is not bracketed solely by how much they spend and what’s on the menu. It extends to the “give-to-get” ratio outlined above. Here are a few checkpoints to help you assess your company’s progress:

Transform, don’t just transact. Success is traditionally measured by sales and transactions, but the best restaurants and their leaders focus on a transformational experience with customers and communities, not merely a transactional one. How do we make our crew and customer experience both better and customized? (One size fits all means one size fits nobody.)

Preach what you practice. Share this column with your hourly team workers and managers. Incorporate the concept of how we give more than we get into your training materials, videos and pre-shift meetings. Align the awareness into your onboarding process, career path and recruiting.

Benchmark. One of your strongest resources is identifying how your company’s people practices and community connection stack up against competitors, both inside and outside the industry. Since you compete with retailers for team members, the better you connect to the community, the more likely you are to attract better employees. The goal of benchmarking is to evaluate whether your internal processes are above or below external industry standards. Examine company-to-company comparisons of daily functions and overall performance. If you want to be different, you’re going to have to be different.

Change. Change is inevitable; growth is a choice. The first step in embracing change is recognizing the internal and environmental factors that made your company, crew, customers and community successful partners in the first place. Are those factors still relevant and being applied? How do they align with or support your “give-to-get” ratio?  If, after benchmarking industry best practices and comparing them to yours, you decide there’s room for improvement and change is necessary, then change you must, and the quicker the better.

This will mean doing things differently, and that’s when process and initiative cause stress fractures in organizations. Everybody wants to make a difference, but few companies are willing to be different. Those that decided to be different in key areas like employee recruiting, retention and development — like Chick-fil-A, In-N-Out and Starbucks — are playing the team-member game at a different level than the rest of the industry.

Key learning? Compete on a level where the competition doesn’t even know there is a game. Great teams have superb situational awareness, meaning they understand the factors that truly affect performance and are open to changing their approach to remain successful.

While our industry isn’t perfect, it is both democratic and opportunistic for everyone it employs and serves. The underlying operating philosophy of the restaurant industry may well be these words: “When you give more than you get, you get more than you give.”

Jim Sullivan is a keynote speaker at GM, franchisee and leadership conferences. The fourth edition of his bestselling book, “Multiunit Leadership,” has just been published and is available at Amazon, or bookstores. Follow Sullivan on LinkedIn, YouTube or Twitter @Sullivision.

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