By Ed Brett
In the restaurant industry, the word “service” gets thrown around quite a bit. Are we providing superior levels of guest service? Are we promoting achievable standards of service? Is our service consistent across our entire system of restaurants? These are all important questions for businesses to ask of themselves and their employees, but it is even more important to not lose sight of what “service” truly means on a fundamental level. It means to be useful or helpful – and that absolutely must begin at the leadership level and permeate all levels of the corporate culture if we wish for it to have significant meaning in our day-to-day operations.
When we looked at the social landscape facing employees in the Church’s network, it became clear that service must be a two-way street. Today’s employers in the quick-service restaurant field cannot simply offer jobs and call it “opportunity.” We’ve all seen the challenges for minimum-wage-earners – whether they be students, young adults, parents, or families. To truly provide opportunity from a “service” mentality means to provide useful, helpful ways for our team members to grow personally and professionally, and enjoy benefits such as financial stability and security.
This is what led us to establish both our Stride for Success High School Diploma program and our Church’s Scholars college scholarship program – so that we could positively influence quick-service restaurants in a way that was mutually beneficial for our employees and our customers. In turn, we as a business are able to reap the rewards of an engaged, motivated workforce with less turnover and training costs. Many believed those goals to be too lofty for both programs, but the actual results have been overwhelming.
Since the Stride for Success program began a year ago, we’ve had 27 shift leaders actively working to complete their high-school educations. When they do, they’ll instantly meet one of the requirements for promotion to manager. With that comes an increase in pay and the chance for further advancement within the Church’s network. Our first graduates completed the program in (December 2015), and more finished their coursework a few weeks ago. And, we are preparing to accept applications for our next class of graduates. What started as “just a job” for these employees is now becoming a true career opportunity, which we strongly value at Church’s. Even at the higher-education level, we’re finding that serving up access and removing barriers is energizing our entire workforce.
The Church’s Scholars program provides $1000 scholarships to students to apply towards college expenses. The program is available to both employees and to high school seniors in the communities Church’s serves. The first year we awarded 50 scholarships, had 175 in the second year, and this year we will be awarding 225 scholarships. We expect that number to keep growing. Serving people through education is something everyone wants – employees, company leadership, the community – everyone wins.
What becomes important to realize is that while education is something everyone wants, it’s not always so simple for everyone to obtain. Some families rely on their high-school age children to provide extra income from a job, which takes away time to successfully complete their studies. The costs of college continue to rise, with student loans simply not an option for many who may be the first in their families to pursue a college degree. We’re doing what we can at Church’s to remove at least some of the financial barrier – so that those who want to obtain diplomas need only take the time to do so.
“Serve Yourself First,” is a phrase that sums up our approach to education and its impact on company morale. If we really want to talk about “service” and “opportunity” we have to make it possible for our employees to serve themselves first. We cannot reasonably expect our team to serve others well if their own needs have not been met. At Church’s we recognized that by helping to meet those needs, we could establish a foundation for loyalty, growth, and an overall stronger system. In telling others to “Serve Yourself First,” we’ve been able to raise the bar on what it means to work in the quick-service restaurant industry.
Ed Brett is the chief people officer for Church’s Chicken® restaurants.