Our weekly roundup of the industry’s aha moments is usually packed with developments more worthy of puzzlement than praise. What could restaurateurs have been thinking when they made moves like those? Were they hoping to snag the attention of Ripley’s?
This installment is a marked departure. A business routinely bashed by the public took actions that merited admiration more than head scratching. The high road, it seems, features a few drive-thrus along the way.
Read on to see what we mean.
1. McDonald’s makes a business case for higher wages
Social critics scoffed at McDonald’s announcement early in its turnaround drive that wages would be raised across the board for the chain’s army-sized workforce. It was all show, said the critics. Raising the rate by about a dollar an hour just wouldn’t make a difference.
Other restaurateurs, meanwhile, shook their heads in bewilderment. Why take a rising-tide approach, instead of increasing pay on a more selective basis?
Disclosures this week indicate both groups of critics were off base. McDonald’s U.S.A. President Mike Andres informed financial analysts, not the media or the usual social scolds, that a roughly 10 percent raise in workers’ pay had slowed turnover, indicating that the hike was meaningful enough to change behavior. And, he added, the higher retention had spared the chain the usual high cost of turnover while improving service, one of the turnaround program’s prime objectives.
“It was a significant investment, obviously, but it’s working well,” Andres said at the UBS Consumer Conference in Boston.
Then he demonstrated superhero strength by not yelling, “Booyah!”
2. Starbucks tries to foster better citizens
The coffee giant’s chairman, former housing-project resident Howard Schultz, sent a letter this week to all 114,000 people employed by Starbucks, encouraging them to vote in November’s presidential election. The unabashed Democrat didn’t make a case for any particular candidate, but for each recipient to participate in the electoral process.
"Our intention is nonpartisan, and it is simple: By helping to increase voter registration and participation, we believe more people will have an opportunity to make their voices count," Schultz wrote.
He also revealed that Starbucks is providing every employee with access to online voter registration.
It was all done without showboating. Indeed, the letter might not have snared attention if Politico hadn't intercepted a copy.
3. ‘Can’t abide differences? Eat elsewhere.’
A restaurateur in the United Kingdom has become an international hero because of the way he handled customers’ objections to a new waiter. The 45-year-old server is autistic, and some patrons apparently asked not to be seated in his station. Others flat-out questioned Mike Jennings about why he’d add such a person to the staff of his Grenache restaurant.
Jennings responded publicly in a blistering Facebook post, pointing out that service standards at his establishment hadn’t been lowered; the waiter, Andy Foster, was doing the job well. But some people couldn’t see it because of their preconceived notions.
“Here at Grenache, we employ staff based on experience, knowledge and passion for the job,” Jennings wrote. “We do not discriminate. If you do then please don’t book a table at Grenache. You do not deserve our time, effort or respect!”
4. Chipotle sets an example on food safety
After bumbling for months, the burrito chain proved this week that it’s going to treat any threat to customer or employee health as a four-alarm matter, cost be damned. Headlines (including ours, we admit) blared the message that another Chipotle was closed because of concerns about norovirus. Authorities confirmed that an employee had been sickened by the germ, and three co-workers may have been infected as well.
For the record: The employees did not come to work. As per Chipotle’s new protocol, they stayed home and alerted their managers.
Nonetheless, the restaurant was closed for about two days while added precautions were taken, including the disposal of any food that could pose a risk. Under a new policy, the employees will be paid for the time they were not working because they were sick.
This was not a Band-Aid of a response. The laggard on food safety is emerging as the standard setter.
5. Chick-fil-A’s experiments
The high-flying chicken chain may not change the world with the initiatives that were disclosed this week, but they were a reminder to the industry that it takes courage to fix something that most operators wouldn’t diagnose as broken.
Later this year, the chain intends to outfit staffers with remote-ordering tablets and have them walk down the drive-thru queue, dispatching orders to the kitchen. The move is intended to shorten drive-thru lines and wait times.
Part B is busting the line by having other staffers carry the orders to patrons’ cars. That element is also being tested.
The innovations came to light in a rare peek inside the chain’s innovation center, where employees use bicycles and electric cars to test drive-thru possibilities.