Trip to Mexico Gives Margaritas' Staff Their Shot at Authenticity
Margaritas Mexican Restaurant GM Shawn Barton used to watch guests as they enjoyed a video playing over and over again on the casual-dining chain’s TVs, but after returning from a management-paid trip to Mexico he now can narrate the travelog.
Barton is one of 180 employees over the past 30 years who has been hosted in Mexico by the owners of Margaritas. Stops on his recent trip included the tile, furniture and glass-blowing factories where the Northeastern-based franchise sources its décor, plus scenic tours and food, lots of food.
A highlight of the trip, Barton says, was visiting the town where tequila is made. Just as champagne can only come from Champagne, France, true tequila is only from Tequila, Mexico — and blue agave, Barton was quick to add. The 15 people on tour did a tequila tasting, before sitting down to tequila pairings with food.
Since the 25 restaurants are based in the Northeast region of the U.S., the trip serves as cultural training, and to help employees “understand what Mexican hospitality is really like, compared to American style,” said founder, John Pelletier. In Mexico, he explained, service jobs are well regarded and workers are proud of their chosen career. The U.S. is catching up to Mexico in that regard, he added, but that wasn’t the case 10 or 20 years ago.
The cost of the trip comes out of the training budget. Participants are chosen on their “longevity (with the company), curiosity and leadership skills, since one of the aims of the adventure is to bring back ideas to share with the rest of the staff, Pelletier said. It also adds to the authenticity of the brand for both the guests and the workers.
The trip is also a perk that can help retain employees in a field with high turnover. When asked if he’d feel cheated if an employee went on the trip and then left, Pelletier said he follows restaurant service guru Jim Sullivan’s adage: Don't worry about spending money on people who don't stay, worry about what would happen if you don’t spend the money (on training) and they stay.