Restaurant Company Feeds off of Diversity

Darden Restaurants, the world’s largest full-service restaurant company with brands such as Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, attracts and maintains its diverse workforce with its Recipe for Success program, a series of tools and information that helps minority students navigate the process of postsecondary education. Chip Wade, executive vice president of operations at Red Lobster, discusses the Recipe for Success Program and Darden’s partnerships with organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of America and College Summit to attract strong, diverse candidates.

Why is hiring for diversity important to your organization?
Diversity and inclusion are business imperatives for Darden. You might say it’s woven into our DNA. It’s important because we know a diversity of cultures, perspectives, attitudes and ideas strengthens us as a business and as people.

How do you manage diversity? Do you have set quotas? Are you trying to meet a specific goal?
We have an outstanding HR organization that works hard to ensure we always have a diverse candidate pool for any position. Our goal is to attract, retain, engage and develop a workforce that reflects our diverse guest base. And while we don’t have quotas, we do have diversity objectives and our leaders are measured against those. Those include achieving female and minority diversity at all levels of the company.

How do you reach out to minority and low-income students throughout their educations?
We engage these students in a number of ways. The primary method is through our Recipe for Success program. We created the program to expose young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to the range of education and training alternatives available to them after high school. Working with partners like the Boys and Girls Club of America, College Summit and UNCF, we help them understand what they need to do to prepare themselves for these opportunities and help them finance the path they choose. We are also very active in the Black MBA and the National Society of Hispanic MBA organizations. We’ve been recruiting at each organization’s national conference and career fairs for several years.

Do you keep in touch with these students until they finish their education?
We try to stay engaged. For example, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to speak to students in the hospitality programs at my alma mater, Widener University, as well as at Johnson & Wales and the University of South Carolina. It gives me the opportunity to be in front of these students on several occasions. In fact, I corresponded with one Widener student following those speaking engagements who subsequently joined Red Lobster as a result. And I’m proud to say he was just recently promoted to general manager of one of our restaurants.

In-person recruiting can be expensive. The National Association of Colleges and Employers estimates companies spend an average of $500,000 to recruit 100 college grads. Has Red Lobster and Darden implemented any virtual technology to recruit college students?
Nothing can replace face-to-face interaction, but we do utilize Skype to interview candidates when it makes sense. We also benefit from the standpoint that our brands enjoy tremendous name recognition, so they recruit for us in a sense. We leverage our brand websites and the Darden website to enable any interested candidate to learn more about Darden and apply online. We also have dedicated Facebook pages for recruiting purposes at our three largest brands — Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn.

Jeff Cattel is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. He can be reached at