Franchisors are courting veterans

Meet Rita DeSanno. For 25 years she’s served in the Marines, feeding troops for three wars. Now the master sergeant is leaving the Corps and wondering where she’ll find a foodservice job in a private sector where roughly one out of 10 people is out of work. We decided to help Rita by calling attention to her and the 200,000 other veterans who’ll leave the service this year. Next year, with the step-down in Afghanistan, the number jumps to 300,000.

But we may really be doing a favor for you. Chains have learned that veterans, with their military grounding in discipline, leadership and a resourcefulness forged by live-or-die situations, harbor an unusually sharp aptitude for running restaurants.

“They have skills and training that most people [you] are looking to hire cannot even imagine,” Jim Amos, CEO of the Tasti D-Lite frozen-treats chain, told a roomful of peers this spring. “They have a discipline and character that are part of who they are, and what is needed at any company.”

That’s particularly true when the restaurant is their own, as Amos and other franchisors are discovering when they dip into that pool for new franchisees. 

The skills just need to be adapted to a business setting. The International Franchise Association, for instance, provided an internship in its Washington headquarters to a young Marine as an education opportunity for both parties.

“For Ray, the young Marine, just wearing a suit was different,” Beth Solomon, the IFA’s vice president of strategic initiatives and industry relations, recounted at the event where Amos spoke. “Calling people by their first name was different. I think he was surprised by how meetings happened—people were disagreeing with each other.”

And the learning definitely goes the other way. In an industry where 100 percent turnover is cause for chest thumping, service personnel bring an unfamiliar loyalty and devotion.

“They’re the only people who can say on their resume that they were willing to take a bullet for their previous employer,” Mary Kennedy-Thompson, president of the Mr. Rooter franchise chain, quipped at the event, a National Restaurant Association education session. “They really, really understand what it means to handle responsibility.”

It should be a no-brainer, for restaurant employers and vets alike. But as Solomon notes, there are two factors that keep the parties apart.

One is an understanding gap. Employers shrug and say, what experience do these former troops have baking donuts, managing 16-year-olds or marketing an LTO?

At the NRA education session, a vet in the audience took it upon himself to slay that elephant in the room. He had served as an airplane mechanic on a carrier. Now he’s selling coffee. What do grinding beans and fixing jets have in common?

Plenty, he explained. Take inventory management. The principles aren’t much different.

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