Employee Appreciation Day, March 3, is a day that carries more weight than ever before — especially in the foodservice industry, where frontline workers have made countless sacrifices to keep restaurants afloat over the last three years. Although we’ve all been on the frontlines in some capacity leading our teams, it’s hard to imagine where we might be if it weren’t for our team members and their commitment to show up every day for the last few years.
As we all know, the restaurant industry has been hit especially hard in recent years, and with the rising cost of food, systemwide inflation, and supply chain shortages, restaurants have had to stay agile to maintain operations. Amid these industry challenges that are impacting corporations and consumers alike, restaurant workers have been the heart and soul keeping operations going. Restaurant workers are at the center of what makes hospitality so special. So many of the important events in our lives, from celebrations of milestones to gaining comfort in difficult times to just connecting with our families and loved ones, occur around a meal. Our lives are better because of these hundreds of thousands of individuals, and they have worked tirelessly over the past few years to ensure that enjoying a favorite meal from a favorite restaurant is one thing that stays consistent for guests. Their jobs are challenging, and they deserve to be celebrated not only on Employee Appreciation Day, but every day.
On this Employee Appreciation Day, I encourage all employers to continue putting people first. I challenge employers — including myself and my own team — to constantly re-evaluate their employee benefits and perks and consider how they can be enhanced. Are your benefits industry-leading, or could efforts be maximized to showcase your commitment to your employees, their well-being, and livelihood? Are you investing in inclusion and diversity efforts that make your teams feel supported, safe, and heard? Are we supporting one another and looking out for the future of this industry together? These are the questions we must challenge ourselves to answer to truly put employees first and create a tidal wave of positive change in this industry.
We’re living in a time when nearly a third of young people ages 18 to 29 years old experience some sort of mental health challenge and 90% of Americans agree that the country is facing a mental health crisis. This age demographic is particularly important considering the nationwide average age of a restaurant worker is 24. The mental health epidemic we see today was intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s our duty as employers and business leaders to ensure the mental health of our team members is prioritized year-round. What does this look like? Revamping employee benefits to ensure mental health resources are covered through mental health access and guidance. Prioritizing mental health also means providing your team with adequate time off so employees can maintain a healthy work-life balance.
At Noodles and Company, we’ve also acted by enacting programs such as our resource groups specifically designed to support our LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC team members. We provide free LifeWorks mental health counseling for all team members and offer extensive leave programs. We’ve also added a new comprehensive financial wellness program to our lineup of benefits so team members can plan their financial future, set financial goals, and speak one-on-one with financial experts. And while I’m proud of what we’ve done, both at Noodles & Company and in the industry, I also recognize that there is always more we can do, and we are constantly listening to our team members and looking for ways to do more.
At Noodles & Company, we believe in something called Uncommon Goodness. And while industry challenges have become far too common, we decided it was time to do something uncommon. On March 2, in anticipation of Employee Appreciation Day, we are inviting restaurant workers from all restaurant brands across the country to come enjoy a free bowl at Noodles. It’s our way to give back to all those who make good food moments possible. It doesn’t matter if you work at a big restaurant or small, or in the front or back of house, we’re offering free bowls of noodles for all to take a break and come in. We have the highest regard for the mental well-being of our team members, and we want to extend that mission to our communities as well.
I have spent nearly two decades working in this industry and I truly believe that there is no better place than the restaurant industry. We are an entire industry built on the act of serving one another, and together we’ve made a place for millions to achieve their dreams and grow their careers. This Employee Appreciation Day, I call on all of us to reflect on the state of our team members and make the commitment to create the changes necessary to put employees first, prioritize their well-being in and out of the workplace, and create that necessary tidal wave of change that will keep this industry thriving.
If you’re a foodservice worker, stop by Noodles on March 2 in uniform from 1-5 p.m., for a free bowl on us. This is our way of thanking you for your tremendous hard work and share some wholesome comradery. It’s only when we all come together that we can forge real systemic change that will improve the lives of workers and people everywhere.
Dave Boennighausen has been CEO of Noodles & Company since 2017.