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How Enlightened Brands Are Transforming Their Teams


RFDC Panelists Nick Sarillo, Fred LeFranc and Erik Oberholtzer.

Every employer wants his employees present, i.e. at their desk or workstation, and he, or she, also wants them engaged (in their work, not to another employee). But it’s not enough in the hospitality industry to just show up to work, Fred LeFranc, CEO of Results Thru Strategy, said during his panel at the Restaurant Finance & Development Conference in Las Vegas earlier in November. Which is why an employer needs to be innovative in order to get their employees to be present in more than the physical sense.

“All the rules are broken,” LeFranc cautioned. “White water rafting is what business is right now. Your raft better be rubber (to bounce off obstacles). Get a helmet and strap it on.”

Business owners should be scared right now, LeFranc said, continuing with his fast-moving white water rafting analogy. “If you fall out, will others help you back in (the boat)? If you have a bad culture, employees will merely wave to you as the tide carries you out to sea, he added. Which is why if you want employees to save you from drowning, you better be thinking of a triple bottom line (people, planet, profit). 

For the new breed of employees, it’s not about having a place to work, but a place of dignity where one can grow both personally and professional, LeFranc said.

One way to engage employees, panelist Nick Sarillo of Nick’s Pizza said, is to lay out a clear pathway to both raises and promotions. “We don’t give raises based on tenure, it’s all about performance,” he said. Sarillo believes in transparency, including everyone knowing what everyone in the company earns. He’s created a system where employees can take it upon themselves to earn certifications in various aspects of the restaurant’s business, thereby making themselves more valuable to the organization, while taking charge of their pay increases.

Erik Oberholtzer, whose restaurant concept Tender Greens just welcomed restaurateur Danny Meyers of Shake Shack fame as an investor, believes in serving a healthy locally sourced menu, and a company culture that provides not only continual growth opportunities, but a higher purpose. “We have this luxury of influence and to look at the world’s problems and offer a solution,” he told the audience. One way is to be a friend to the planet, another is to help end hunger.

“A couple of years ago we started getting involved with groups doing outreach for hunger,” he said. “I have a problem with not treating symptoms.” One of the symptoms he found were that kids getting out of foster care at 18 often didn’t have many options. Oberholtzer started a culinary-style program. Currently, it’s one kid per restaurant (22 so far), but as the chain grows, so will the program. “Kids who six months before were without options, now have some skills and money in the bank,” he said. They're also learning to eat better food.

All good, LeFranc, said, but “this is a finance conference, so are you making money?”

Sarillo, whose pizza restaurants are located in the suburbs of Chicago, said he had less than 25 percent turnover and profitable restaurants where he is the employer of choice for high schoolers. For Tender Greens, Danny Meyers as an investor is a solid up-and-down nod to the question.

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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at




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