Managing by Checklist: NASA Does It and So Can You!

By Jennifer Hoffman

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If you know about space shuttle launches, you know the importance of the checklist.

In what seems like a lifetime ago (1999 to be exact), a friend of mine was vacationing in Florida and witnessed a space shuttle launch. It was one of the most incredible experiences of her life, especially after the launch was scrapped twice—once for a hydrogen level issue and the other for weather. This particular launch was scheduled at night, which was stunning to view. But what stood out to her—and which she later shared when learning about Zenput—was the massive pre-flight checklist. As detailed by Wired, there are several components of the checklist with sub-components. Part 8 is its own step to confirm that the checklist has been completed. Seriously, can you imagine having the responsibility of checking off the fuel tanks of a space shuttle?

Now consider this: If a checklist is good enough for NASA, why can’t it be good enough for your retail operation? The best and the brightest minds, arguably in the U.S. and maybe even the world, use a checklist to get the job done. Checklists keep the mission on track. Checklists account for deficiencies. Checklists are smart!

However…

Not All Checklists are Created Equal

When NASA uncovers a problem during its pre-flight checklist, what follows is a predetermined sequence of events. The outcome is determined by the type of issue and its severity. The team knows how to respond accordingly. So must it be for the checklists you use in your restaurant or retail operation. Don’t send the results into outer space—follow up to keep your team accountable!

Go paperless with a process. Gone are the days of pencil and paper. The world moves at a digital pace, and no one has time to transcribe written survey responses. That time is better spent addressing the inefficiencies you and your team have uncovered.

All Systems Go

Check everything, but don’t make it overwhelming for any one manager. NASA scientists have specialties. Consider making your managers specialized. For instance, if you were to conduct a weekly retail audit of specific locations with a checklist, you could assign specific tasks to managers in the field. Have one manager check property, another check retail promotions, and a third check kitchen sanitation. Next month, switch responsibilities among managers to gain fresh perspectives and to compare previous results. This could also help with employee engagement. Managers will gain a more well-rounded view of your operation, and it will hopefully keep them engaged in the team’s efforts to identify and resolve problems.

The most effective checklists go beyond simple yes, no, or maybe answers. Take on the role of a survey, they garner actionable insights. You can optimize the fields of your checklist by using a sliding rating scale or requiring a photo. Senior management can also be alerted to exceptions, all on the same platform. For instance: “Rate the cleanliness of the floor from 1 (very poor) to 10 (very clean).” Anything falling under a 5 could alert senior management that there’s a cleanliness issue at that particular store. The visiting manager could use their smartphone to take a photo of what they see. Resolving this problem could drastically improve sales.

Blast Off!

Above all, let your imagination soar when brainstorming how to develop your checklist. A nimble platform like Zenput allows your management team to edit surveys and respond in real time from their preferred device. Zenput also provides a way to measure industry best practices and develop your own over time, all while improving operations and building your team’s confidence to respond to real-time challenges.  

Topics: Retail, Restaurants

Zenput Moment: Optimize Operations to Increase Sales, Save a Sandwich

By Brian Harris

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Yesterday, I attempted to eat a tuna sandwich that appeared as if it had been prepared by a blindfolded Kindergartener. Lettuce, tomato and onion were slapped together carelessly while the tuna was applied to everything but the bread. I had the misfortune of learning this as I unwrapped the sandwich at my computer and was rendered immobile with tuna salad hands. Through this experience, I’ve learned that when eating a tuna sandwich, it’s unnatural to feel like you’re consuming a Sloppy Joe worthy of five napkins. Overall, it was a gross experience, and it makes me want to take a break from that restaurant. I paid a good price for that half sandwich and side salad, so they’ve temporarily lost me as a customer.

To make matters worse, I had paid at an in-store kiosk intended for faster service and watched as everyone around me received their order before me. “Can we hurry up on order #30?” a manager asked. It was her job to check the contents of the plates and take-out bags to ensure that the kitchen was filling orders accurately. Perhaps the comment rushed the employee preparing the “tuna Picasso” because my order was a disaster. I was having a full-fledged “Zenput moment.”

Lesson Learned: Operations Come Down to the Basics

Here’s a quick way to lose a customer: Make them wait long only and deliver their food poorly. Without a solid grasp of basic operations, you’re at the risk of losing sales and damaging customer loyalty.

If a regional manager had walked into the restaurant (part of a major national chain) that day, I believe they would have been displeased with what I saw. One employee was frantically filling orders by herself and then had to pause because a side dish needed replenishment. She clearly didn’t have enough support. On multiple occasions, this restaurant has been low on iced tea in the beverage dispenser. I now always check before I order an iced tea and sometimes I don’t when it hasn’t been replenished—another lost sale.

Who’s preparing my order? Have they received training on how to esthetically prepare food?  The kitchen staff seemed overwhelmed, yet I overheard a manager asking customers seated at a table if she could remove plates for them. There are no waiters or waitresses at this establishment, so you have to wonder if this employee’s time would have been better spent elsewhere. So who’s running the ship and how do we steer it back on the right course?

Documentation Increases Accountability & Sales

What if a store or regional manager, on their next visit, was charged with the task of filling out an operational checklist that could document inefficiencies? Imagine if that checklist existed on a digital, mobile platform that provided real-time feedback. The manager would report a critical shortage, maintenance problem, or another serious condition that is impacting sales. They could also have a checklist that accounts for best practices like organization and cleanliness. Through a digital platform, they could share these findings with senior management and discuss ways to improve various challenges that arise store to store.

At the end of the day, that’s what retail operations are about—optimizing efficiency to increase sales and profits.

The Takeaway

Even though I’m on a break from this particular brand, I will return. You may be wondering why I would do that when I noticed so many areas in need of improvement. If there’s one thing I’ve come to know by working at Zenput, it’s that imperfection in the convenience and foodservice industry exists. However, there are always opportunities to improve. This brand is at least trying, and I appreciate that effort.

For instance, the digital ordering kiosks and order accuracy manager are a step in the right  direction. The food always tastes good with fresh ingredients, and this location is convenient to where I work. And yes, last time I ordered a tuna sandwich, it was prepared normally.

That’s the opportunity for this franchise. They have a respected brand name and excellent customer volume during lunch hour. They shouldn’t take that for granted. Don’t just meet brand expectations—strive to exceed them. You can with the right tools.

Topics: Restaurants

Brand Auditing for Convenience Stores

By Brian Harris

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Previously, we’ve discussed the basics for building a brand audit for quick-service restaurants. While the same can be applied to convenience stores, we want to focus on a key aspect of brand auditing that’s especially relevant to convenience stores: brand identity.

How’s your identity these days? Is it strong and vibrant? Are you conveying to customers what makes you special? Better yet, are you wondering how on earth you can be expected to measure something like brand identity?

Well, there’s good news—it is possible to audit your c-store brand.

Consider this: QSRs have an advantage of being distinct from one another just by their signature food items. A customer isn’t going to McDonald’s because they have better ketchup than Burger King. They’re going because they have a craving for a Big Mac or a McFlurry. But it’s trickier for convenience stores that offer many of the same packaged goods and have a history centered around the gas island.

Fortunately, consumer perception of the industry—especially in terms of foodservice—is slowly changing. C-store retailers that are winning the brand identity game are those who have strong products and packaging. Think of the 7-Eleven Slurpee and Wawa Hoagie. Sheetz has branded its own Made to Order menu while QuikTrip offers QT Kitchens.

Promoting those unique products—whether it’s a fountain drink special or a proprietary snack—can be do wonders for brand identity in the short and long term.

However, clever marketing ideas are only as good as your ability to follow through and execute. So let’s revisit this idea of building a brand auditing survey, while taking a closer look at some areas a convenience store can check for compliance.

Brand Auditing with SWOT

You may already be familiar with SWOT, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Completing a SWOT analysis at the store level may be the answer to finding out how your network can reach the next level of success. Here’s an example of building a convenience store brand audit with SWOT:

Strength - Individually branded/proprietary products

  • Quantity of product
  • Date packaged
  • Price
  • Placement in the store (Verify your planogram.)
  • Promotional displays and/or signage

Weakness - Cleanliness

For now, assume this is a weakness because it is a classic thorn in the side for the industry. No one wants to buy your food when they’re grossed out.

  • Cleanliness of fuel islands
  • Cleanliness/clarity of windows
  • Condition of floor
  • Cleanliness of counters/customer food prep areas (coffee bar/beverage dispensers/grab-and-go islands)

Opportunity - Increased Exclusive Product Offerings

  • Inventory quantity (Do stores have more floor/shelf space for more proprietary products?)
  • Product quality (freshness, dates, price, etc.)
  • Effectiveness of retail promotions (Verify promotions. Are products, signage, and placement correct?)

Threats – Competitive Promotions

  • Category awareness
    Vendors are your retail partners, but they are also competitors in proprietary products. How are they pricing products and what kind of products do they offer?  Knowing this can help optimize sales. An example is the success of Wawa Iced Tea. Wawa chose not to complete with major soft drink manufacturers in the soft drink space. Rather, there was more opportunity to compete in proprietary iced tea.
  • C-store competitor awareness
    Do you know what promotions your competitor down the street is offering? If not, it’s time to find out. Make this a part of your regional manager’s routine store visit.

The Takeaway

If you’re going to devote time to creating a brand audit survey, at least make sure it will provide actionable insights. Keep in mind it’s not about the quantity of questions you ask—it’s about the quality. Importantly, create a survey that goes beyond “yes” and “no” answers. Go in with the mindset that you want to fix any problem that may be uncovered. Ask for photos, gather data by scanning barcodes, and evaluate store conditions on a sliding 1-10 scale. Following this process over a period of time will reveal both exceptions and successes you may not have initially recognized.

Topics: C-store

Your Sales Are Falling: What Next?

By Brian Harris

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Marketing and operations: In your organization, do they work together like peanut butter and jelly? Or are they more like oil and water?

If they’re the latter, you could have a problem on your hands when your sales fall or when they “hiccup.” A hiccup is temporary. You make an adjustment—drink some water, hold your hands above your head—and it eventually it goes away. But a persistent hiccup is a more serious condition that may require medical attention. In the world of sales, this attention may come in the form of a retail sales audit. Or, it may just be a matter of looking at both marketing and operations at the store level.

The “Dos” and “Don’ts” of Diagnosing the Problem

DON’T throw more money at a program without a way of measuring ROI

What change did you make in marketing? Look at changes in your loyalty programs or couponing. Although this may seem like backdoor data analysis, the success of marketing programs is very much tied to store-level processes. For instance, a change in your marketing program must be communicated at the store level in order to be successful.

DO make adjustments in the field

Once it rolls out across your network, a marketing program isn’t a framed portrait hanging on a wall. It’s living, breathing, and changing. Gathering store-level insights helps you respond to real-time challenges. Communicating those challenges to staff in a timely way is just as critical.

DON’T mistake an operations problem for a marketing problem

Let’s reconsider the hypothetical loyalty program rollout. Have your employees received proper training to explain the new program to a customer who has questions? Preparedness doesn’t have to involve a face-to-face customer interaction. With the arrival of warm weather, many convenience stores are rolling out fountain drink beverage programs. If those machines aren’t prepped and ready for higher volume, the results of that program could be disastrous. C-store shoppers pair snacks with beverage purchases, so the loss can be felt across multiple categories.

DON’T blame your staff

True, some employees are prone to underperformance. But preparation, training, and accountability are on their managers. Employees will become disenfranchised when they aren’t given feedback or if they don’t think a manager is responding to their specific needs. Listen to your staff—they’re your eyes and ears in the store.

DO audit your staff

You’ve heard the saying that your team is only as strong as its weakest link. Your regional manager doesn’t have to interrogate staff on his/her next visit to the store. But asking employees a few questions at the point-of-sale, observing their ability to assist a customer, and generally noting their whereabouts in the store (staffing behind registers, at the food ordering counter, etc.), can be helpful in understanding sales performance.

DON’T blame outside competition for stagnating sales

It could be that there’s a new competitor in the market, but their presence shouldn’t sabotage your business suddenly. Strive to perfect your greatest strengths, but also address your weaknesses. With the rise of channel blurring and added competition from quick-service restaurants and drug stores, there’s little room for error in providing “the basics”—a clean, inviting store with friendly staff.

DO create checklists to make sure the basics are being met

Use a checklist to ensure that daily operational tasks are met. Also note where expectations are exceeded. Reward managers and employees for a job well done. These recognitions incentivize employees and can do wonders for morale.

“There’s an App for That”

DO look at how technology can help your network improve.

A mobile solution like Zenput provides store-level insights and accountability. Track the progress of a marketing program rollout. Create checklists to strengthen your core operations and identify weaknesses. Upload a photo or video to get the point across faster and with clarity.

We started out with a basic question: What do you do next when sales are falling? Well, where do most people turn when they have a question or need? Nowadays, a lot of them reach for their mobile device to look up an answer! That’s what Zenput provides—real-time answers at your fingertips, readily accessible through a user-friendly platform.

Topics: Retail

Time to Reject the Status Quo in the C-store Workforce

By Brian Harris

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Now in its eighth year, Convenience Store Decisions and Humetrics Human Resources Benchmarking Survey identifies the key employee issues affecting convenience store retailers and what they can do to overcome them.

Respondents represented chains of varying sizes with varying annual revenue. About 45% were corporate personnel, and store managers and human resource professionals represented another 23% each. Below, we’ve summarized some of the report’s key findings, and offered our own analysis on what can improve.

Stagnate Employment Indicates Stagnant Employees

It’s the perennial trend of the convenience store industry: The biggest human resources challenge in 2015 was keeping good people. Among respondents, 71% expect that to be the same case for 2016. While 26.5% expect to add more staff this year, 60% expect they will not change significantly in 2016. In terms of employee turnover, 28.3% of respondents saw an increase in 2015, but experienced an hourly employee turnover of just 55%, which is lower than what NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, reported (77%).

Analysis: CSD points out that few retailers are taking any proactive measures or doing anything differently to meet this challenge. They also point out the fact that when employees are fired, it’s mostly due to attitude issues. For this reason, pre-employment attitude screening tools can help.

We see another opportunity in increasing employee accountability in a way that keeps employees engaged. This needs to be a wake-up call for the industry. We’re not advocates of micro-managing—in fact, that’s counterproductive and quells innovation. Rather, we advocate for the clear assignment of roles and the ability of the employer to follow up on whether or not tasks are completed.

Increasing the productivity of your staff will help your bottom line, and it can also make employees more engaged. No staff member should feel they’re picking up the slack for someone else on the team. When good employees believe they are heard and treated equally, they are more likely to stay. Ideally, these good employees will advance into management roles—a win for everyone!

Training on the Upswing

Whereas in 2015, 70% of respondents reported that training programs stayed about the same, 44% expect them to stay the same in 2016. Retailers who plan to increase training will put the greatest emphasis on customer service skills (78%), followed by foodservice safety/sanitation (44%), manager/district training and teamwork (43% each).

Analysis: These stats are definitely a silver lining. It tells us that retailers are realizing the benefit of increased attention to new employee on-boarding, and perhaps they’re learning the hard lessons of the food industry over the past year. While foodborne pathogens in the supply chain may be difficult to control, retailers must do everything in their power to maintain sanitary conditions in food preparation areas. It’s no longer acceptable just to “wing it”—they must follow a checklist to ensure all appropriate measures are taken.

Missed Opportunity Through Technology

When asked about new technologies acquired to improve the hiring process and/or increase productivity, nearly 60% of retailers reported no additions in 2015 and 50% have nothing planned in 2016. The other 35% mostly mentioned new systems of payroll, recruiting and scheduling.

Analysis: What about task management through mobile technology?  The best part about implementation of mobile technology is that it doesn’t require a large investment in new equipment. Rather, it’s a matter of employees downloading an app onto their smartphones. Create a checklist for your managers, assign specific tasks to specific stores, and monitor completion of critical tasks. In the convenience industry, a real-time solution—one that includes GPS locator and the ability to attach a photo—just makes sense.

It’s time to stop settling for the status quo in the convenience store workforce. From retailers to technology providers, let’s make it a goal to work together to increase productivity and improve the adaptability of this ever-changing industry.

Read CSD’s full report

Topics: C-store

McD's Channel Blurring with All-You-Can Eat Fries

By Brian Harris

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Let’s all take a moment to consider two facts about McDonald’s:

  1. Seventy percent of business comes through the drive-thru window. (Bloomberg, Nov. 15)
  2. A franchisee in Missouri is about to test a McDonald’s sit-down restaurant prototype. (St. Joseph Press-News)

Both are true—and truly opposite!  What gives?

It’s not exactly news that channel blurring has been on the rise for the past few years. Dubbed the “McDonald’s of the Future,” the restaurant will combine everything customers enjoy about modern, convenient dining. Earthy tones will evoke the feeling of a fast-casual dining atmosphere (think Panera) complete with couches, arm chairs and self-order kiosks. Touchscreen menus are not a new concept either. In another show of channel blurring with convenience stores, McDonald’s has expanded its “Create Your Taste” concept, featuring self-ordering kiosks, across the country.

While the minimum wage debate continues, self-ordering kiosks are not designed to replace employees. Rather, they are designed to enhance customer service by allowing patrons to personalize their orders, from burgers and sandwiches to desserts. But the most “restaurant-y” features of them all in the McDonald’s of the Future? All-you-can-eat french fries and tableside service!

Convenience stores have worked hard to shake their old “cokes and smokes” image. It seems that McDonald’s is also trying to reinvent itself from “fry and fly.” Indeed, the futuristic McDonald’s restaurant will encourage customers to come in and take their time. Kiosks can actually slow down the ordering process as customers select more fresh ingredients, customers can linger with a McCafé in the lounge area, and kids won’t want to leave the revamped play area, complete with digital play and tabletop video games. A separate party room with a dedicated staff will allow families to have birthdays and special occasions.

The Importance of the Other 30 Percent

Let’s revisit the first fact we shared about McDonald’s. While the 70% of customers visiting the drive-thru are crucial to success, the company is very wisely not overlooking the other 30% of its business.

Customized menu options tend to have higher prices, so the opportunity is to upsell on menu items. It’s also about brand-building and creating more loyalty with a better restaurant environment. When the foot traffic segment increases in value, the business benefits as a whole.

That’s an interesting proposition, whether you operate in the convenience store or QSR space. It’s smart to take the strongest area of your business and strive to become the best at it. But it’s just as wise to look at other areas where you can better serve your core customer. In this case, it seems McDonald’s is taking steps to appeal to Millennial parents, the upcoming generation of big spenders.

Testing these concepts at the store level will only broaden McDonald’s horizons. As a brand, these are the kinds of insights they’ll need if the restaurant of the future is to become a reality nationwide.

Topics: Restaurants

Bottom Line: Car Washes Increase Revenue

By Jennifer Hoffman

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With convenience stores selling an estimated 80% of the gasoline purchased in the U.S., adding a car wash may seem like a good idea. It gets even more promising when 86% of U.S. car wash equipment manufacturers reported a collective revenue increasing of 20% last year, according to a 2015 industry survey.

The study appeared in a Convenience Store Decisions article about car washes becoming a high-margin opportunity for convenience stores. “Presuming there is a market to be served and the site has the ability to process the demand, the car wash can contribute significantly to the bottom line,” Eric Wulf, CEO of the International Carwash Association, told CSD. He added that convenience store operators have more options than ever before due to new models and technologies. From mini-tunnels that minimize land usage to RFID technology that automates payment, more retailers are having success by increasing their throughput of cars per hour.

Car Wash Fundamentals

Like the convenience store or gas island, a car wash must be clean and functional, and offer a positive customer service experience. Car wash promotions are connected to the store’s marketing efforts and can tie into loyalty programs; the profit margins are intertwined.

CSD profiles Idaho-based Stinker Stores, which operates two touchless and eight soft-touch car washes. The select number of stores offering those services is notable, considering Stinker Stores operates 65 locations throughout the state. All of the systems have upgraded equipment to maximize efficiency and ensure that customers are getting the best experience.

Remember the Nationwide insurance commercial which depicted a rather large human baby as a car? Don’t mess with your customer’s baby! They will take to social media to complain, including on platforms like Yelp, and this can damage your brand.

Honk if You Have a Process

Whether installing or maintaining a car wash operation, it’s essential that you audit your operations both for functionality and marketing program compliance.

Sample audit questions:

  1. On average how long does it take a car to be washed, from the time it arrives at the terminal to the time the customer is ready to leave?
  2. Is equipment operational? (Can be more specific: brushes, rinsers, wipers, blow dryers, etc.)
  3. Is the car wash terminal an inviting, well-lit environment?

If the survey was built with Zenput, an answer of “no” to questions 2 and 3 would elicit a photo or explanation that could alert senior management that service is needed. Senior management could also set the average service time for Question 1. Therefore, they would receive an alert when the service time was taking too long. There might be a malfunction inside the tunnel or simply a traffic jam on a bright, sunny day when everyone wants a wash.

We usually say Zenput provides store-level insights. In this case, wash-level insights—down to a lack of soap—could be accounted for during an audit. It’s yet another example of how mobile technology can empower business operators to explore profit-building opportunities—without the fear of losing your shirt in the wash!

Topics: C-store

FDA’s New Rule on Sanitary Transportation Drives Home Importance of Technology

By Brian Harris

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On April 5, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finalized the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food rule. This is the sixth rule of seven that implement FDA’s landmark Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). According to FDA, “the rule will require those involved in transporting human and animal food by motor or rail vehicle to follow recognized best practices for sanitary transportation, such as properly refrigerating food, adequately cleaning vehicles between loads, and properly protecting food during transportation.”

Quick History

The rule implements the Sanitary Food Transportation Act of 2005 (SFTA) as well as the requirement in section 111 of FSMA. The rule was proposed in February 2014 and builds on the transportation industry’s best practices for cleaning, inspecting, maintaining, loading and unloading, and operating vehicles and transportation equipment.

What/Who is Impacted

The sanitary food transportation rule establishes requirements for shippers, loaders, carriers by motor or rail vehicle, and receivers. Limitations in the law exempt transportation by ship or air. The rule does not apply to companies who ship food through the United States by motor or rail vehicle if the food does not enter U.S. distribution. However, companies involved in the transportation of food intended for export are covered by the rule until the shipment reaches a port or U.S. border.

Key Requirements

There are four key requirements of the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food rule.

  1. Vehicles and transportation equipment must be suitable for the task. They must be able to maintain temperatures necessary for the safe transport of food.
  2. Transportation operations must account for food safety. Temperatures must be controlled, ready-to-eat-foods must not come in contact with raw foods, and foods must not have contact with allergens or non-food items.
  3. Personnel must be properly trained in sanitary transportation practices and the training must be documented. Training is required when the carrier and shipper agree that the carrier is responsible for sanitary conditions during transport.
  4. Records must be properly maintained for written procedures, agreements, and the aforementioned carrier training. Retention time for recordkeeping varies depending on the type of record and when the activity occurred; however, it does not exceed 12 months.

Penalties

Failure to comply with the Sanitary Transport Rule, including recordkeeping requirements, is a “prohibited act” under the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act. Violations carry the risk not only of civil enforcement but also strict liability criminal penalties. A person who commits a prohibited act under the FD&C Act can be subject to misdemeanor and felony liability regardless of negligence and regardless of whether the person knew of the violation. A second misdemeanor is a felony. FDA intends to coordinate enforcement with the Department of Transportation and potentially with state personnel.

As attorneys on Lexology.com point out: “[...] covered entities should clarify the scope of what might appear to be routine inspections… Companies that are covered by the new regulations should review their practices and procedures to ensure compliance and to avoid regulatory and litigation risks.”

Why You Need Technology Today  

In the age of technology, FSMA mandates such as the new sanitary transportation rule shouldn’t be as daunting. Technology exists to track shipments with GPS and digital thermometers can record temperatures of food. However, the rules can pose a problem when an organization doesn’t have a good grasp on accountability. At any given time, a carrier should be able to know whether or not its best practices have been followed. It should be able to measure compliance.

Mobile software solutions like Zenput help ensure that crucial tasks are being completed and that your staff has the information they need to ensure best practices are being upheld. With Zenput, checklists can be assigned to managers at specific locations, and a bird’s eye view of compliance—who completed the task, who didn’t, and problems encountered—is readily accessible. Importantly, Zenput provides the opportunity to identify and address compliance issues before they go beyond your organization.

The best part about this cloud-based technology is that no new devices are needed to implement it. The platform is readily accessible on a mobile device.

Topics: Restaurants

The Minimum Wage is Rising… As Should Employee Accountability

By Jennifer Hoffman

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In California, the “fight for $15” didn’t have to reach a ballot vote, as was initially expected. Just the prospect of the November ballot incentivized lawmakers to form a plan to raise the minimum wage in a way that would appease groups on both sides of the issue. Governor Jerry Brown signed SB3 into law Monday, April 4, making California the largest state to improve the standard of living for low-wage workers, approximately 3.3 million men and women in California.

Under California’s new law, the minimum wage will rise by 50 cents in each of the next two years to $10.50 in 2017 and $11 in 2018. It will then rise by $1 for the remaining four years to reach $15 in 2022. The law grants small businesses with 25 or fewer employees an additional year to comply.

April 4 also saw the passage of a New York law that gradually raises the minimum wage from $9 to $15. This law is two-tiered, meaning a higher $15 per hour minimum in New York City and a lower legal minimum for less-costly areas. The bill also contains a “safety valve” that from 2019 allows state budget officials to consider the effects of the wage increases on regional economies and determine whether they should continue or be suspended. New York City businesses with up to 10 employees are given four years instead of three to comply.

Employee Accountability Should Rise With Minimum Wage

Not surprisingly, reactions to both laws in California and New York varied dramatically. Low-income workers and their advocates were elated, while business owners and officials expressed disappointment and concern about long-term effects on the competitive environment in each state.

Regardless of where business operators stand on the issue, there’s one point everyone can agree on: When you pay an employee more, you expect a comparable return from your employees. Likewise, customers increasingly demand a better customer service experience. They expect this on their own, but especially when they know workers are making more money. In light of these factors, it just makes sense that accountability within organizations should increase with rising wages.

Employee accountability begins with the onboarding process and clear communication of the standards that reinforce your brand’s mission. It ends with your organization’s ability to account for its own practices and procedures. Employee accountability comes down to having processes you can quantify.

Quantifying includes retail employee performance reviews, but extends well beyond that. It involves auditing the main floor, whether it’s a store or restaurant. It prioritizes cleanliness, whether it’s in the kitchen where employees work or in the restrooms your customers use. It accounts for the exterior of the premises, from the tidiness of the landscaping to the proper disposal of trash.

Are the tasks that support your brand’s image being completed? That’s the question business operators need to answer in order to gain actionable insights.

In theory, minimum wage increases can be good for the economy. When employees earn more, they spend more. The issue is that legislative decisions don’t exist in a vacuum. Businesses want to attract and retain good employees. In order to build and maintain a positive work environment, business owners and operators—especially those in high-turnover segments—must “take the temperature” of their operations. Implementing these processes will ensure that the employer is getting the most return for higher hourly wages.

See Also
How to Conduct a Retail Employee Performance Review
How to Conduct a Property Inspection
Brand Auditing for QSRs

Topics: Restaurants

Donating Unsold Food: It’s All in the Process

By Vladik Rikhter

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Starbucks recently announced that it would donate 100% of unsold food that’s still safe to consume to help feed the hungry. With 7,600 Starbucks stores set to participate, coordinating this effort was going to require a well-planned system.

To properly develop a way to safely donate fresh food, Starbucks has been investing in research and quality assurance testing. Starbucks has named the program FoodShare, and will rely on an existing collaboration with Food Donation Connection and a new partnership with Feeding America. The program will focus on the donation of ready-to-eat meals. Food Donation Connection will pick up the food from Starbucks locations in refrigerated vans and deliver it to Feeding America for distribution to food banks.

According to Starbucks, the program had to be piloted because they had to make sure fresh items would remain cold enough to ensure their safety for consumption. Compliance is key. The temperature, texture, and flavor of the surplus food were all taken into account, a brand manager on the Starbucks Food team told USA Today.

The fact that a Starbucks brand manager commented is interesting. No matter how noble the deed, a donation to charity must be treated similarly to a marketing program rollout. The reason is simple: Your brand’s good name is attached to it.

In the first year alone, Starbucks FoodShare will be able to provide 5 million meals to individuals and families in need. Starbucks plans to scale this program over the next five years, eventually “rescuing” 100% of its food available for donation from participating company-operated stores. The effort could amount to 50 million meals by 2021.

Looking at Starbucks’ press release, I noticed the word “rescue.” That’s a term tied to Feeding America, and it’s actually more powerful than the word “donate” when describing this program. “Donate” connotes something was unneeded or unwanted. “Rescue” connotes that it was both valued and wanted. Again, the word choice is very much tied to branding.

In the future, Starbucks is hoping to expand its program and offer the service of its refrigerated vans to other restaurants. Considering 70 billion pounds of food is wasted in America each year, according to Feed America, Starbucks is hoping other businesses join the effort.

The Takeaway

The simple, underlying fact is that throwing out unsold food is easier than developing the process to donate or rescue it. That process is going to cost time and money. But a company has to ask itself this question: Do the benefits outweigh the cost?

Starbucks has positioned itself as the market leader in this effort because it invested the time and resources into developing a system that’s measurable. As a values-oriented company, Starbucks wouldn’t settle for less. In fact, if you visit the homepage of their website “Responsibility” is the tab next to “Coffeehouse.”

“We make sure everything we do is through the lens of humanity—from our commitment to the highest quality in the world, to the way we engage with our customers and communities to do business responsibly,” Starbucks writes under Company Information.

Starbucks is certainly not the first to come up with this food bank idea. However, they’re the first major foodservice chain to develop a program as comprehensive as FoodShare. There are other brands in the foodservice industry that haven’t lived up to lofty promises to donate unsold food—or maybe they have but they don’t have a means of sharing that information.

These brands should re-evaluate their presence in the communities they serve. They must keep in mind that actions speak louder than words, and through the lens of marketing, actions can be more influential when you have a means of sharing their progress.

Topics: Restaurants