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Resuscitating restaurants: What drives performance culture today

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Image source: Elle Hughes | Pexels

The restaurant industry was hit hard by the pandemic. It has to manage many changes, and the most challenging one is retaining talent. According to the National Restaurant Association’s State of the Restaurant Industry (2022) report, more than one million jobs in the hospitality and restaurant industries remain unfilled, and 78 percent of restaurant operators lack the staff to meet customer demand. Data also shows that three out of every four employees intend to quit their jobs within the next year.

In order to mitigate talent management concerns, Chipotle, an American fast-casual restaurant chain with a presence in the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and France, developed new strategies and launched programs that are focused on meeting employee expectations and boosting employee experience.

Retention strategies

Chipotle’s benefits program, Cultivate Me, provides its employees with a best-in-class benefits and perks package. It includes bonuses (annual and quarterly), education assistance and debt-free degrees, free meals (one free meal per day), paid time off, assistance program (free access to counselling), 401(k) retirement savings, healthcare services and advocacy,  and benefits in Chipotle partners (discounts in big brands and gyms).

Observing that the turnover rate raised continually in the industry, Chipotle launched learning and upskilling programs. Employees are given multiple options, ranging from high school diploma programs and college classes to courses teaching high-end computer networking skills. The company also introduced a mentoring program for future executives.

Another initiative to boost employee retention was asking employees about the tasks they want automated. The restaurant chain started its automation efforts by developing together with Miso Robotics an autonomous kitchen assistant that makes tortilla chips. The robot called Chippy is already being tested and is soon to be integrated into restaurants, leaving employees to focus on more important tasks. The company also started implementing a new digital scheduling program and upgrading its learning portal. As stated by Brian Niccol, CEO of Chipotle for QSR magazine, the brand’s automatization’s radar scans for those “jobs people don’t love doing.”

The restaurant chain also launched a new Learning Management System, the Spice Hub, where restaurant employees can enhance their skills through gamification, social learning, personalized learning paths, and instructor-led training. 

Chipotle ended 2021 in need of 20,000 employees, who should fill its 200 restaurants. Like most of its competitors, Chipotle raised wages as the first step in employee attraction. But that is an initiative that only makes the company keep up with the market. Since the entire restaurant industry is struggling, Chipotle needed to do something more for its employees. That is how Chipotle promotes its differentiator: equitable access to education and mobility. 

Chipotle partnered with Guild Education, a private company that helps companies manage their education assistance benefits, to carry out a national Back-to-School campaign. It aims to attract and maintain interest in school for those employees that can either balance work and online schooling or decide to follow a path of on-campus education. Leveraging its educational benefits in the national campaign, Chipotle’s recruiting team has received 7,500 total applications.

Evaluating employee performance

Broadly, an employee’s performance is periodically evaluated by a representative of the company. The evaluation should result in new goals for improvement and rewards for desirable results.

Chipotle replaced its annual performance review with more regular review sessions. Its performance review now comprises at least four meetings per year. During these sessions, managers ask employees four questions. The so-called 4×4 conversation contains the following questions:

  1. What are your most significant accomplishments since we last met?
  2. What are the most important things you will focus on before meeting next?
  3. What obstacles are you encountering right now?
  4. What can I do better or differently as your manager to support you?

This type of review and the questions themselves consider the employee as the owner of the evaluation. Employees give feedback to the company and challenge themselves with new objectives.

The employees’ performance can be acknowledged through benefits, recognition, compensation, and rewards. Since the beginning, Chipotle has rewarded its employees with prizes. If prior, the employees were rewarded with free menu entrees, now, Chipotle employees can win multiple Chipotle goods and a variety of discounts from Chipotle Partners.

As a result of all Chipotle restaurant chain’s efforts to retain employees in 2021, they managed to:

  • Internally promote 90% of restaurant management roles 
  • Promote almost 19,000 team members
  • Offer free and confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services to all Chipotle Employees in need of mental and emotional support
  • Achieve a Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index score of 100
  • Establish an inclusive, award-winning culture

At Chipotle, the company’s values have been agreed upon altogether with employees. The leadership team defined an initial set of values that were later discussed with employees. The fact that the leadership team involved all employees in such a decision empowers them and increases their loyalty.

Culture is from the beginning communicated and present in all interactions inside a team. One of the first ingredients of culture reinforcement is investing in people. Increasing communication within all organizational levels and enhancing collaboration can strengthen teams, leading to an increased retention level and a high-performance culture.

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