Who’s the ideal Domino’s employee? What do consumers expect from the off-premise experience? Is the restaurant industry going to get an economic boost?
Nearly 2,000 restaurant leaders (and one NBA superstar-turned restaurant owner) converged in Phoenix on Monday for the first day of the 2019 Restaurant Leadership Conference. They answered those pressing industry questions and many more.
Here are some of their most surprising and impactful insights.
1. Cherish your competition
Los Angeles Lakers superstar Magic Johnson, who, over the past several decades, has owned a variety of foodservice operations, including Burger King and Starbucks units, explained how he became friends with his chief rival, Boston Celtics star Larry Bird.
“Your competitor can make you better,” Johnson told the crowd, in between selfies with audience members. “Larry Bird made me a better basketball player and a better man.”
2. Who does Domino’s want to hire?
About 40% of Domino’s Pizza employees have never held a job before, said John Richards, COO of Domino’s franchisor RPM Pizza. “We're employing a lot of people for whom this is their first job," Richards said. “It's not just how to put 40 pepperoni on a pizza.” With that in mind, the chain’s ideal employees are high school juniors. They stick with the chain for two years before starting college and, often, wind up delivering for Domino’s while they pursue their degree, he said.
3. Is an industry uptick on the way?
Kelli Valade, the former chief operating officer of Chili’s who earlier this year became CEO of TDn2K, provided some positive news for industry executives, citing improving same-store sales and traffic. She also said that chain restaurant unit growth is slowing, which is reducing competition. And the economy continues to perform well.
“There are signals that things are happening in a good way,” Valade said. “The resurgence is happening.”
4. Time to revamp training content and structure?
Employee retention is one of the biggest and most costly issues facing the restaurant industry. Golden Corral looked at how it retains high-potential workers who want a growth path and career with the brand. The chain adjusted its trainer and management education to teach them not just the tactical skills of running a restaurant, but also soft skills such as giving feedback, alerting a manager about a red flag, how to coach, etc., said John Aiken, senior director of learning and development. To do this, in part, the chain has started to incorporate in-person classroom learning, bringing GMs to its headquarters in Raleigh, N.C., for a week. “It’s meant to be facilitated, not taught,” Aiken said.
But it also adjusted its new-hire training format. Instead of having new employees sit in a back room for eight hours, Golden Corral switched to microlearning, breaking lessons into shifts. After a trainee watches a few of these 15-minute electronic “microbursts of learning,” the computer locks them out, forcing the new hire to go do hands-on training with a staffer.
5. Decision by data
With so much data and analytics in the restaurant space, is there still room for going with your gut when making big decisions for brands? “We don’t like to lean too much on that anymore,” said Darren Rebelez, president of IHOP. “But we’re leaning on experience. Interpreting that data is really where the experience comes in.” IHOP started its journey of investing in consumer insights and business analytics teams about two years ago. The teams work together to uncover insights, he said, allowing data to lead its ads and changes, such as the IHOB steakburger campaign. “Everything is informed by data,” he said. The question now is just how deep into the numbers the team goes, which is based on how big the decision is. “We went a little deeper for IHOB,” he added with a smile.