Zaxby's: Making Employees' Jobs as Palatable as Its Menu

 -  6/3/08

There’s nothing easier than fast food. It’s convenient, tasty and affordable. But finding and keeping the people who make and serve it is tough.

There’s nothing easier than fast food. It’s convenient, tasty and affordable. But finding and keeping the people who make and serve it is tough.

On average, employee turnover in the food service industry exceeds 100 percent annually. According to a recent article from Nation’s Restaurant News, “restaurant managers — encouraged to drive sales rather than develop people — turned, burned and churned their way through their workforce to the extent that 100-percent annual turnover is still considered best in class today.”

A focus on making sales quotas distracts many restaurateurs from developing and retaining the people who ultimately build a business. While restaurant chains grow — some at annual sales rates of up to 42 percent — industry pundits say corporate chieftains do little to put together talent management programs that restaurant managers or franchise owners see as meaningful or strategic.

Zaxby’s — a self-described fast-casual restaurant chain with locations mostly in the southern United States, as well as Texas and Ohio — has grown rapidly in recent years. Nation’s Restaurant News named Zaxby’s the No. 1 growth chain in the country. Featuring chicken sandwiches, chicken fingers and buffalo wings prepared to each customer’s order, the company competes with the likes of Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Since 1990, when the first Zaxby’s opened in Statesboro, Ga., the chain has grown to more than 430 restaurants and counting. The March 3, 2008, edition of Progressive Grocer estimated Zaxby’s sales growth at 21.1 percent, and Zach McLeroy, creator and chief executive of the Athens, Ga.-based chain, said Zaxby’s is “opening about one store a week somewhere in the 12-state area.”

Meeting the talent expectations inherent to that level of growth requires the organization find and retain talented people who can make the business of selling good-tasting fast food look easy. Unfortunately, growth and turnover put a significant strain on Zaxby’s talent management activities.

“Our turnover among team members and store managers exceeds the restaurant industry average,” said Richard Fletcher, senior director of learning and organizational development for Zaxby’s Franchising Inc. “We decided our talent management solution for this would be to develop the managers at the store level. This approach has always been one of our core values.”

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