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The energy within

Much has been written about offering customers a “great experience” beyond simply “great customer service”, irrespective of the industry your brand sits within. This could not be more pertinent for today’s casual dining market.

Much has been written about offering customers a “great experience” beyond simply “great customer service”, irrespective of the industry your brand sits within. This could not be more pertinent for today’s casual dining market. To attract the sought-after pound of those spoilt for choice in the out-of-home sector, the focus needs to be on delivering a great experience – one that edges you ahead of your competitors.

A recent trip to the US, in which I was blown away by the service I received, brought home that the experience many crave is the personal touch teams can deliver in-store. It also reminded me of the importance of the mantra that attracted me to TGI Friday’s six months ago – “happy team members equal happy guests”. TGI Friday’s has lived and breathed this since Karen Forrester joined the business ten years ago and it is something I have always believed in too, during my time at Starbucks and now at TGI Friday’s. While our mantra might not be ground-breaking it is something several brands have perhaps lost sight of, ultimately falling short and as a result losing their way. We can all recall an example or two where we have engaged with a brand and the experience has left us feeling bad. As a result, the brand risks losing the customer in the short term or altogether. We have reached a point where the overall experience has become more important than just the product – in this case, the dish that is served to the table.

To avoid this, TGI Friday’s undertakes a number of efforts, some large others small, to place our team members at the heart of the business. Back to our mantra “happy team members equal happy guests”. However, keeping team members happy requires a significant monetary investment. There is no doubt the casual dining market is currently operating in a tough environment, predominantly due to a decrease in footfall. We have seen an increase in restaurants introducing discounting initiatives – with some successful while other discounts may have devalued the brand. During the past few weeks there has been a slew of branch closure and restructuring announcements from some of the biggest names in the sector.

In times of “needs must”, it can be tempting for brands to look at outgoings and attempt to make cost-cutting efficiencies when it comes to those that don’t offer a clear and tangible ROI. For some, costly employee engagement initiatives can fall into this category, as dangerous as this might be for the overall lifeline of the brand.

However, in this testing environment TGI Friday’s is bucking the trend. We opened several new restaurants last year and will open our 82nd UK venue at the end of March, one of many openings this year. We see the unique and personal Friday’s experience we offer as key to this success – and it is our team members who offer this experience to our guests. Therefore, employee engagement offers a massive and vital – if not always measurable – return on investment. We always look to reward and recognise our team members and I want to use this opportunity to lift the lid on some of the lesser-known ways in which TGI Friday’s does this.

Friday’s has consistently been an innovator in the field of employee engagement, which creates a culture team members love to work in and leads to a dedicated and motivated team. One of the best illustrations of this is our team turnover – which is currently about 65%, almost half the industry average of well over 100%.

We believe one of the main reasons for this team retention is we don’t offer jobs at Friday’s, we create careers. We never refer to anyone as a member of staff – they are team members and part of the Friday’s family. Ultimately, if you make team members feel vital and valuable, they will make guests feel the same way.

When it comes to developing those careers we live another mantra at Friday’s – “stars always rise to the top”. Those who show the right attitude and aptitude will always be given the support and tools they need to help them rise through the ranks. We say we grow our team members from “dish to DO”, meaning joiners can start as waiting staff or in the kitchen and see a career path through to becoming one of our directors of operations, overseeing whole regions. We’ve got dozens of examples of this and beyond – much of our executive team (the board) is made up of people who started on the restaurant floor with Friday’s.

A lot goes on behind the scenes to make this career progression possible. We invest heavily in our apprenticeship programme and offer industry-recognised qualifications including stages one to five in English and maths, and training up to Level 3 in hospitality – a 12-month development plan equivalent to two A-levels offered in partnership with HIT Training. We also invest and develop technology in the area. For example, we created the Friday’s Academy app to allow team members to track their progress and to make the training and qualifications as accessible as possible. It was downloaded 3,500 times within a few weeks of launch.

We are also passionate about recruiting from within – 100% of our general managers are recruited from our existing talent pool and we have a 95% retention rate for our managers in training.

We take a similar approach to our operations and support teams who work in our head office. We have just created a new operations team alongside two additions to the support centre – entirely from our population of general managers.

As well as bigger initiatives we find smaller, everyday rewards are a fantastic way to keep team members engaged and motivated. For example, you may have noticed the pin badges our team members wear. These aren’t simply for aesthetics, they represent a roll call of that individual’s achievements throughout their Friday’s career.

Another example is instant reward MARC (scratch) cards, which are given to team members by their manager or peers. These are given out as instant and ad-hoc recognition for a great job carried out by a team member. Prizes include paid days off work, cinema or theatre tickets, vouchers for a family dinner and much more. We allocate about 30,000 of these each year to a workforce of roughly 6,000. This gives a good idea of the sort of investment that has gone into this reward scheme alone.

We offer lots of annual events for team members too, all geared towards recognising their hard work. For example, our TGI Friday’s UK Bartender Championship allows our best bartenders to show off their skills and compete to win a slot in the World Bartender Championship. Meanwhile, our “Legends” programme invites team members to nominate their stand-out colleagues to be immortalised as Friday’s Legends. We receive thousands of nominations each year, with hundreds of winners recognised in a glitzy, all-expenses-paid ceremony.

If all this sounds like a lot of work, it is, but giving team members a path to a fulfilling and rewarding career brings out the best in them. Recognising and applauding hard work motivates more of the same thing. Innovative employee engagement pays off – for team members and your bottom line alike.

As you can see we like a mantra and to reinforce this commitment to our team members we have just announced our new Friday’s Family Motto, which reads:

  • We live our family values
  • We believe in everyone
  • We act fair, show we care
  • We always bring the fun!

It would be easy for the chief marketing officer to write about the next big thing in the marketing space, the newest tech and digital innovation – and trust me these things are also all in play, with more to come on this. But bringing new guests to the door means nothing if the experience they have doesn’t live up to expectations. Fortunately, I find myself in a brand where I have no doubt the experience will be something memorable for those guests that join us, and that we will recruit them as loyal guests.