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How to build a more growth-minded restaurant team

As brands grow from small operations into larger chains, investments in the home office team become critical.

As restaurants grow from a few units into regional chains and then national brands, needs at the home office change and expand. Across the C-suite, new demands require different hires for the changing business. When Zoes Kitchen went public, for example, “There were the natural additions and need for growth in our areas of accounting and finance,” says CEO Kevin Miles. “But in addition, with our focus on workplace culture, differentiation and innovation, it was important to me that we invested in our HR, operations and IT departments so that we could not only execute operationally with excellence but also innovate around the needs of our guests more quickly and efficiently.” 

The key is to have a clear business model, says Tom Ryan, co-founder and CEO of Smashburger. Without one, he says, businesses will fail as they expand. “Anticipate inflection points at 10 units, 30 units and 100 units. Understanding these inflection points is where leadership counts the most,” he says. For Smashburger, that means having a team that is agile and can move with the market, examining its menu, music, lighting, design and more every two years to stay relevant with what Ryan calls its “tonal target,” a 32-year-old consumer.

Align top talent with brand needs.

“Sometimes the best talent you think you can afford isn’t the right talent,” says Miles.  “Never compromise on talent. Find the person with the talent and hunger and who believes in the mission of the brand.”

Pay where it matters. 

“We try to make sure that the dollars we spend are dollars that will grow the business. We have to have a common language, and we invest time and money building that language for the team. If that means building one less store that year, so be it,” says Miles.

Grow where it makes sense. 

“Establish yourself and build a critical mass in key markets. Focus on strategic growth,” says Ryan. Culver’s has learned that it’s easiest to grow where folks are familiar with the chain, says Joe Koss, CEO of Culver Franchising System. Growth in Texas was difficult because locals didn’t know the burger brand. 

Emphasize culture, no matter the size of the operation. 

Culver’s cultivates its culture by requiring its franchisees to be owner-operators.  Owners are awarded only one franchise at a time. Then, franchisees are required to attend a 16-week training program, says Koss. “That’s where they pick up the culture. It’s a culture we’ve spread across all 645 locations.”

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