Ideas to drive culture

Why is there a luxury car on the cover of this month's Restaurant Business magazine?

Often when we hear about successful ideas rolled out by restaurant brands, we take note because they’ve gone viral. But the buzzworthiness of those ideas is often, at least in part, due to luck. The best ideas aren’t always the ones that get noticed.

This month, Restaurant Business brings you our annual 50 Great Ideas feature. Each year, our editors compile a list of innovations that we think operators should know about—ideas we think are transferrable, if not downright stealable, to other concepts.

One that resonated with me actually made the cover of our August print edition. As Executive Editor Jonathan Maze reported earlier this summer, Josh Esquivel, the general manager of Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants location in St. Charles, Ill., didn’t think much of it when a few area directors showed up at his restaurant for a “meeting” in February. He didn’t even question the meeting when Jason Plutz, the chain’s SVP of operations, joined them. Instead of gathering in the office, the traveling team asked Esquivel to come out back. There, surrounded by much of his team, he was presented with a black BMW 300 Series, topped with a big, red bow.

In today’s labor climate, where turnover, especially at the manager level, is both high and costly, Cooper’s Hawk is showing its high-performing GMs just how important they are to the brand. But the incentive program, called the Driving Development Program, goes beyond GMs and executive kitchen managers hitting financial goals. This program was created as a way to develop new leaders and foster mentorship of quality employees. “We looked at some of the growth and started looking at the importance of developing people internally, and how team members reach full potential,” said Kristen Zagozdon, VP of human resources for the upscale-casual chain. “The thing that’s the biggest driver of success for people’s development is leaders.”

Knowing that it’s difficult to develop future leaders and run a busy restaurant at the same time, the thought was that the incentive program would keep it top of mind, encouraging managers to take workers under their wing and help them advance. Why a three-year lease of a BMW? “We wanted it to be a luxury car, one that our general managers might not spend their money on themselves, but something that would make them proud of what they do every day,” Zagozdon said.

When it comes to thinking up and examining ideas that impact the workforce, operators should think beyond ideas that’ll ease the day-to-day job for staffers (though that’s important, too). In addition, think about asking, “Does this idea create an opportunity for employees? or “Does this support our culture?” Just like Cooper’s Hawk did.

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