In December, 15-year-old Sydney Raley, an employee of a McDonald’s in suburban Minneapolis, jumped through the restaurant’s drive-thru window to save a woman choking on a Chicken McNugget.
The feat earned Raley national notoriety. Less well-known is that it also earned her a MacBook from her employer, who wanted to recognize the extraordinary effort she made on behalf of a customer.
Now, McDonald’s is formalizing such rewards. The Chicago-based burger giant on Wednesday announced a new “Thank You Crew” initiative, funded both on a local and a national level, that rewards employees based on shout-outs from customers. The company has set up a website where customers can praise an employee for everything from good service to giving the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge a nugget.
“There are lots of stories in between,” Tiffanie Boyd, chief people officer for McDonald’s USA, said in an interview. “We’re really taking a page from the book of owner-operators who are doing fun, surprise-and-delight recognitions every day. We’re empowering all franchisees to provide that kind of recognition.”
Kris Genck, a franchisee who operates 16 restaurants in Minnesota, recently arrived at one of her locations to award a store manager with flowers—“she has a green thumb”—and balloons along with $500. Genck and her son, who operates the locations with her, did this during a busy lunch rush in front of the entire crew to reward her for winning an outstanding store manager award.
But Genck does small things, too, such as giving every employee a birthday card with a free meal. And they recently bought a bike for an employee whose bicycle was stolen. “We believe in McFamily,” Genck said. “It’s not just a word we say. It’s how we care for our employees.”
Restaurant companies have been increasing pay to overcome one of the worst labor shortages in modern industry history and adding benefits such as retirement accounts, childcare, paid time off and tuition reimbursement.
But little things matter, too, including recognizing employees for going above and beyond their job requirements. It makes a difference. “The restaurants with the best people metrics also have the best business performance,” Boyd said. “Coming out of the pandemic, one of the things we learned across the industry is that while wages and benefits are important, people have changed their mindset on how they spend their time.
“People don’t have time for places they don’t feel cared for and valued or don’t belong.”
As stories of crew members’ performance come in, local franchisees will recognize the crew with a personalized thank you. That could be anything from a MacBook or an iPhone, flowers, tickets to sporting events or concerts. One employee in Atlanta received a visit from the rapper Lil Yachty, who shared a McChicken and fries with the employees.
For the company, the Thank You Crew can also help encourage improved service. For a quick-service chain, improving service can generate more repeat sales.
Boyd relayed a story of a visit she made to a restaurant in a Minneapolis suburb just after Christmas. Customers kept presenting an employee there with gifts. “She kept getting presents from customers,” Boyd said. “It was like leftover from Christmas. They’d give her money. Buy her gifts. She had made such a big difference for them. She was so service oriented and cared so much.”
Operators in Minnesota have some of the least turnover in the country, Genck said. She believes a big reason is operators’ willingness to recognize employees for good work and take extra steps to make them feel included. Customers, for instance, can call an 800 number when they want to recognize an employee. Those employees get a card and a $25 gift card to Target.
“This is the secret sauce,” she said. “We have to make sure that our employees understand they are appreciated. That surprise-and-delight is the way we are going to keep employees.”
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