To stay ahead of your competition and succeed during this restaurant labor crisis, you must keep both your staff and guests happy.
Times have changed and the way we manage our team has changed. Today, it’s more essential than ever to create a company culture that’s inspiring, inclusive, and rewarding.
Achieve staff and guest loyalty and positive online reviews will follow.
In this episode of the Restaurant Rockstars Podcast, I’m speaking with Chuck Kline of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants. In order to grow to 71 concepts and locations, this group had to solve their own restaurant labor crisis and effect a different approach to leading and growing their team.
Their approach is now their advantage.
Listen as Chuck tell us:
- The importance of creating a powerful and inspiring company culture
- The results of leading and empowerment vs the old way of managing and delegating
- How 80% of their leadership team were mentored first as hourly associates
- Effective staff onboarding, training, recognition & rewards
- Maintaining margins with rising costs
Watch or Listen to this episode. I believe this group’s approach to the restaurant labor crisis could be a solution to your own!
Now Rock YOUR Restaurant!
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To be a great chef, I think it’s important to understand the whole business. And to see that dish. Yes, I can create a great dish. But if it’s not, that we can’t execute it, and you can’t, unless the guests reaction and is it profitable, and does it work, and that’s the concept. There’s so many things that go into developing a menu or a new concept. But I’ve, I’ve encouraged and put all of our chefs and our regional and corporate chefs to really understand our business and what impact they can have on that.
Thanks for joining me back on the podcast. This episode is all about the importance of culture and developing your people from within. I’m speaking to a fast growing Restaurant Group in Columbus, that is really developing their people from the ground up maintaining the guest value proposition, solving their labor challenges, and literally promoting people from within. It’s awesome. 80% of their managers started out in hourly positions and there’s so much to learn here so you’re not gonna want to miss this episode. Thanks to the sponsors of this week works pop menu Smithfield culinary and serve the restaurant training app. Now on with the episode.
You’re tuned in to the restaurant rockstars podcast powerful ideas to rock your restaurant. Here’s your host, Roger Beaudoin.
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Welcome back everyone. This is the restaurant rockstars podcast with me today. I’m super excited to introduce Mr. Chuck Kline. He is the Senior Vice President of Operations for Cameron Mitchell restaurants, a really dynamic group of concepts based in Columbus, Ohio. Welcome to the show today. Chuck, how are you? I’m doing great,
Roger, thanks for having me.
I’m super happy to have you as a guest. You know, I get some really amazing guests that have been in this business a long time. They clearly have a passion for great restaurants. You are no exception. Where did it all begin for you, Chuck?
Yeah, come from a long line of family members that were great chefs and good cooks themselves. So that was the original motivation I always was drawn to it. Right. Got my start in a local deli here in Columbus. Back when I was about 16 years old mill place called Ben Chen zones, convenient elegance, so little Italian deli all homemade stuff. And I spent a couple summers working and learning how to the basic skills, how to make bread, how to chop onions, that kind of thing. The it caught my attention, you know, so got some advice from some people and traveled around visited some culinary schools, you know, did that look through some things and and actually found a really great program here in Columbus, Columbus State. Community college at the time, was a pretty well known apprenticeship program. And that’s really what launched my my whole career I got a job in a really great restaurant here. French fine dining restaurant by the name of the refectory trained under a really talented chef. Rashard Blondin, right from Lyon, France, that was classically trained, so got a really great start, learned all the basics and, and that really propelled me and prepared me to come to camera, Mitchell restaurants that time, you know, so I worked at the refectory for five years. So you spend a lot of your time in the back of house working in the kitchen. I did, I started out actually as a chef. So in the company, and I used to be the corporate chef for care Mitchell restaurants, and then evolved into the total operation role.
So yeah, you know, that’s a really interesting transition. Because obviously, pride, passion, all those things really run deep. And when you love to cook, I mean, you really love to cook. It’s about creativity. It’s about resourcefulness. It’s about the relationships, you build among the different positions in your kitchen. It’s about nurturing and bringing people up and teaching your skills and encouraging them and inspiring them. And then all of a sudden, you do this transition to the business side of things. Do you miss cooking? Do you still have an opportunity to cook at home? Where do you get rid of that creative bent that you must have? I mean, how do you release that? Not miss it? Yeah, sure. But all the beauty of this company is we’re a chef driven, you know, really culinary focused company. So I’m heavily involved in all the menu development, all the new concept development, all those things I’m involved in. So I actually what’s cool though, is I get to cook, when I want to cook.
I’m still involved in it. Still, still learning, watch, watch cooking shows, read trade magazines, they’ll love reading cookbooks, and, you know, that type of thing. So I think it’s really important. And we teach that you I always wanted to run the whole business, you know, sometimes chefs, you know, we are artistic, special breed, you know, for sure, right? Different mindset from time to time. But it’s one of the like problem solving and creativity not only on the food, it’s going on the plate, but how to solve problems, how to fix things on the restaurants, and how to think outside the box and adapt to our surroundings. And we’re very durable restaurant people in general are very durable,
resilient, for sure. You know, you have some beautiful concepts, of course, and they must have beautiful kitchens. Do you do guest appearances randomly, like just pop in and be a guest chef? In your own concepts? Do you get to do that?
We definitely visit the restaurants a lot. You know, I try to spend maybe half my time here at the home office, strategizing and organizing and trying to spend half my time in the restaurants. Sure, visiting our people. You know, that’s one thing we found when we visited our people, we don’t visit a restaurant store. We were there to you know, to visit people. And ultimately, yes, you’ve mentioned, you know, the development aspect of it. I was developed along the way. And I want to share that with other people. Yes, I want to see young chefs grow in the thing into great position to advance their careers. To be a great chef, I think it’s important to understand the whole business. And to see that dish. Yes, I can create a great dish. But if it’s not, if we can’t execute it, and you can’t What’s the guests reaction? And is it profitable? And does it work? And is it the concept and there’s so many things that go into developing a menu or a new concept, but I I encourage and push all of our chefs and our regional and corporate chefs to really understand our business and what impact they can have on that. Very rewarding though being a shop to get that instant gratification. That’s probably what drew me to that success. Is that that winning feeling of seeing one of the something that we’ve created or an experience we’ve created for a guest and put that in front of them see the reaction instantly, is, that’s, that’s pretty cool. That’s really what drew me to that I can make people happy with, with what they are, or the way that you know I did something or put something in front of someone.
Sounds like you’re making such an impact on so many levels at Cameron Mitchell’s restaurants, but we’re talking about gratification. So you’re gratified by the business contributions you’re making, you’re gratified by getting the immediate feedback from the guest experiences in your restaurants as well as passing your skills, your knowledge, your experience on to those coming up. And it sounds like you know, building careers versus jobs, giving people more reasons to stay within the fold. I can imagine people transferring from restaurant to restaurant getting different flavors and different cultures of some of your concepts. And just keeping everything so, so tight. And part of that that real team and respect culture that I’m guessing is part of your I mean, ask you what your culture is later. But that’s what I’m seeing just from talking to.
And it’s you it’s been a it’s been the foundation of everything that we’ve created here. It’s really nice. You can teach people basically anything, you know, but to really get them to understand and change their mentality into someone drink the Kool Aid, like we get people to do here at Mitchell restaurants, you know, we call a milkshake actually, you know, we can talk about that milkshake story a little later. But that is definitely a big part of our success. And as as definitely pulled us through any of these challenging times we’re all living in right now. That’s for sure.
Beautiful, for certain we certainly are. It’s all about hospitality. And that is the foundational element of everything that we do every day and what we strive for. So I don’t need to tell you that. I mean, that’s just, that’s just what it is. But yeah, you’re right, pride, passion, hospitality, and people and all those things come together and relationships. It’s really, it’s about
it sounds simple. And then, but it’s pretty, it’s hard to do, right? The simplest thing, sometimes they’re hard to do so, so we’d like to try to make that look easy, but it is very challenging.
But shift gears entirely for a moment. Let’s just ask about what you’d like to do. If and when you have any spare time. What are your hobbies? your passions outside your vocation? Chuck?
Yeah, sure. Family First, I say that everybody has wonderful supporting families that I would never be able to do what I do without my wife and my kids support so really appreciate that. And we have a tight bond together. You know, then as they’ve grown older, we try to find ways to get together we love sports. We love all the sporting events. We’re you know, here in Columbus, Ohio. We’re a big Ohio State Buckeye thing
I was gonna say you must be Buckeye fans. You have to be Yeah, I have
to be right. Yeah, so we believe Scotland my house and that’s a guaranteed I’ve season tickets to the game so that’s a that’s a guaranteed seven or eight weekends. I know I’m gonna be with my kids and my family. That’s real special to me. But yeah, I love the parish love being outside. Fishing is one of my passions you know, I get to do that spend a lot of time with my brother out there fishing whenever I can. I see also the company he’s he’s the corporate Chefs for our company. So we get that in the family too. But
yeah, for sure. Oh, that’s
big sports, big sports guy in general. Always wanted to be I always thought maybe I’d be a professional baseball player or realized pretty quickly that I was a little bit too small, too slow and probably I was good but not good enough to do that. So well I use that in my everyday work you know, not everybody responds to like sports analogies or this but the team aspect and the depth chart so to speak and the development of that team and as you said the motivation and and getting people excited and creating opportunities and programs to develop that team is really my passion so but I gotta tell you there’s really not a whole lot of this kind of how I live my life. You know, my job and CMR came to restaurants is it’s a part of my life you know, Cameron has always said there’s no there’s no delineation between work and home. You know, I use these philosophies in my everyday life and, you know, raise my kids to think this way and how to treat people and so really cooking still a passion. I do it for a living or run restaurants for a living but you know, still cooking and having holidays at my house and having cookouts in the backyard around the pool with a family Here’s what I was at, you know?
Is there a typical day for you as Senior VP of ops? Can you even describe a typical day?
Yeah, every day is a little, a little different, which is also what’s really cool about some people don’t like that. And I kind of thrive off that. Yeah, it’s exciting, keeps me on my toes. Right. So what I really liked a lot of moving parts. But but there is a typical, everybody’s got the, you know, I call it chopping the parsley, or peeling the shrimp, you know, it’s a, it’s a job, it’s a little mundane, you got to do it every day, right to get the restaurant open, to get to do the fun stuff. So get that stuff out of the way. And then you focus on, then we can go create some fun issues. So every morning, some, you know, one of the first things I do every day I want first is look at all of our sales and our what happened the night before with our performance, our sales, our labor, you can see a lot of problems or a lot of successes through that right in the morning, you know, so that’s a first place to start. I usually follow that up with, I review all of our guests feedback that we get every night, we get that through OpenTable we get through open table, the feedback is no problem getting that right and plenty of avenues to get feedback now, so But I look at all those every comment I read every day just to see where that opportunity might, what went wrong, what happened and what then to praise also. So they get to get all that information about how we performed over the last evening. And that will kind of set a tone maybe for a direction I go to help run our business that day. But I try not to get too literary also, then I have to shift and be thinking about the future. Right? We haven’t we have an awesome team. So I will usually touch base then with our team members and people that report to me that I work with closely our regional directors and our regional chefs and, and we’ll talk shop, you know, talk about where we’re at what we’re doing today, where we’re at for the week, and then talk about some of those kind of low hanging fruit items that we know we can get to and but always try to, then again, thanks for typically and think ahead. So there will be then a part of the day where we are creating developing, we have a lot of different concepts that we focus on every day. And we are developing new concepts that we’ll be opening next year. So at some point of every day, there’s some sort of what we call rollout, basically, where, you know, we’ll go as a group, pretty unique process to try food and try our food and beverage together. And we beat each other up. I mean, we put we put our egos in our back pocket, and and we go to work, you know, and if it’s not great, or it’s not really doesn’t matter what I think it matters, what the group things, and we’re very collaborative groups. So we try to take that step at some point, every day, we’re collaborating about our food and beverage development. And then as I said, we’re visiting stores, you know, we’re visiting people in our stores, management, development, people development,
do you do that randomly and anonymously? Are people informed that you’ll be visiting, I mean, obviously, maintaining consistency, and consistent guest experiences and quality and all those things are what you look for. And, you know, some people will sort of secret shop or send secret shoppers into a restaurant, some executives or managers will just show up unannounced in his catch people on the spot and praise what they see going right and obviously critique things going wrong. Some people will let people know a district manager or a store location saying, hey, I’ll be in on Friday, and then that gives people time to swap the deck and get everything shipshape. I mean, where do you fall into that?
Somewhere in the middle, you know, the sneak attack is never really great and kind of really doesn’t go with our philosophy, you know, what we’re doing, and we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. And it’s really not said it’s never happened, it does happen from time to time, just to maybe confirm something or, but for the most part, they’re, they’re fairly organized. And especially you have to do that, especially running a national restaurant company where I can’t go into a restaurant in Florida and just show up, you know, then they won’t be read it wouldn’t be a very productive visit. That’s an expense. That’s a big expense to get to travel and I want them prepared enough. So we will typically when you’re doing that will send a some sort of some sort of communication. Hey, and looking forward to seeing you here’s what we’re looking to do. Here’s what we want to accomplish. During the visit, and I look forward to seeing you so they they do kind of know what’s coming. Now the people in Columbus, we have, you know, several restaurants here in Columbus, Ohio. So that’s in my backyard. So, yeah, we get Poppins, so I’ll pop it in, or I’ll pop in for dinner or you know, our people. But but for the most part, time is valuable. So we’d like it to be pretty organized and have a game plan and agenda before we, before we go in, create the
answer. That’s what I would expect to hear. Let’s talk about now you have your company has very ambitious growth plans. And I understand you plan to have 71 restaurants in the fold in a year’s time by the end of 2023, hitting approximately $500 million in sales. So this is an ambitious goal, especially during these challenging times. What’s it going to take to get there?
This Yeah, we have been so fortunate to come out of these hard times, and you said, it’s the only reason we’ve been able to do it is our foundation, and then our culture and philosophy. And that family tie that we have here, cameraman for restaurants and you know, we’re gonna fight, we’re not gonna, we’re gonna, we’re gonna push through it, and we’re gonna, again, be creative and rely on that culture, to get us to where we need to be. But we understand that we have to, we have to grow, we have, we have 5000 associates that work for us out there. And now we’re in the people business. So we need to develop our people and create opportunities for these people are, that’s that’s kind of how our company operates. Right? We are a, we’re a company that grows and develops people. And if we’re standing still, that’s just not how this company works. We’re a cash flow business. And we’re out there building sales and driving profitability every single day. With the, with the accurate effect of creating all these great opportunities. So yeah, we, but we operate, and our success kind of speaks for itself over the years. So we are getting just some really unique opportunities. But again, very fortunate just to be even in this situation, and a lot of it is Cameron’s leadership, it’s the leadership of the executive team or President David Miller, and how he leads our executive team to just stay focused. And, and really, we’ve all just come together as an executive team of every department on that team. Now. The camaraderie, the the team, or the collaboration that we do, is what’s going to allow us to get to the next level, because let’s face it, there’s Yeah, it’s not any easier to hate around restaurants, it’s not getting any easier. Much different than when I was a chef, or when I was a manager of a restaurant a little bit a lot different practices all the way. So we’re navigating through some of those gallons.
That’s great. You know, you mentioned a key word associates, you don’t refer to your team as employees, their associates. And I also understand that a very high percentage of your management team started off as associates, right, and they’ve now moved up. So something special is clearly happening there. Let’s talk about training and onboarding, new staff come into the Cameron Mitchell restaurant fold. And they have immediate immersion in your culture, your mission statement, I’d like to get into that a little bit further on in the podcast. But tell us about what special that secret sauce of what’s happening with your people when they first start. And what is it that motivates them inspires them to continue to grow in your organization versus the high turnover that some groups have that people are leaving for opportunities elsewhere. There’s something secret going on here something really special, if you could share, that’d be great.
Yeah, there is. It’s really, you know, come sort of naturally to us now over all these years. It’s like, just kind of do the right thing. There’s like the short answer to which is so cute. kind of secretive. But now it’s the we walked the walk. You know, I mean, it’s like, you know, all the companies you go and interview with anybody, they’ll tell you Oh, yeah, we treat our people great. And, you know, all that stuff, and everything’s gonna be the benefits are amazing. And you’re gonna love it here. And well, we actually show up, you know, so the first day you come on the job, you are welcome. That is one of our family members, and you get a tour of the facility and you get an overview of what our company is about. Watch a great video or camera and the orientation is about a three or four hour long orientation for every associate that starts in our company. And during that orientation, you get a milkshake. So
that’s where it comes up. I was curious about the milkshake.
So milkshake has become an icon of hospitality and culture and in our in our restaurants. It’s taken off. So the milkshake is really, the answer is yes. What’s the question? Right, that’s our company philosophy is really have never met a problem we can solve. And we don’t say no relate to anything, we think outside the box for creative. And I’m sure sometimes I get tested or challenged. But you know, we find a way and take pride in being able to say yes, and exceeding our guests and our associates expectation. So, yeah, so the word associate, right. So yes, they’re not staff. They’re not. They’re our partners. You know, that’s our, we don’t have this hierarchy with, you know, we will, I’ve done every job in this company, I would never ask anybody to do something, I don’t do myself.
Lead by example, right there.
Right? There was no, there are no shortcuts in this business, or especially in this company. But so we talk a lot of that. But we instill this, like sense of family sent we care about our people, we, I want to know where you’re going on vacation, I want to know what your dog’s name is, I want to know what your dreams and desires are. You know, it’s, it’s not just about work, we take care of our people, we have this little triangular had a theory, right? I mean, it’s, we’re all on the same playing field, right? We’re going to take care of our associates, our associates are going to take care of our guests, and our guests are going to take care of our shareholders and the profitability will be there and the money will be there. That’ll be the exhaust of doing all we do about it a little bit different way. And our associates come first, you hear a lot of the guests is always right. Or the guest comes first, right? Well, we don’t do it that way. We do it the other way. Our associates come first. So if we take care of our, of our employees, they’ll take care of the rest. Yeah. That’s that’s kind of where, but the opportunity, so let’s talk about so then the longevity? Yes. So now we see. So these people that are coming into our company, see, and start to hear these stories. My story, I started as a sous chef and the company and now 27 years later, I’m the Senior VP of a soon to be $500 million company, right? So they see that and it’s actually real, they can track it, they can see they see the regional positions that come available, we talk a lot about the future, and you could be a future GM for us, you could be a chef for us. And here’s how we’re going to get you we don’t just say it, then we help them get there. So, so we know what they need. So we are focused, each manager has a development plan and our company, right? So we know what there we call them five by fives or you are different terminology for it. But we know there are five strengths, we know there are five opportunities, things they could improve on. But we also know their five goals that they want to do. And we do those and update those every year in our business plan stuff. So I know, if someone wants to move to Florida, if someone wants to stay in Columbus, if someone wants to get into fine dining, I I’m in tune to that. And then when those opportunities pop up, we’re make sure that those people are prepared, they’re trained properly, then it goes through our associates goes through really good. It’s never enough. We always want more training, we’re actually revamping our training, but they go through a great training program, our managers will go through an eight week training program that will end with what we call CMR 101. So CMR 101 is just what it says is kind of what you need to be a successful manager in your first year. So you’ve mentioned that onboarding, and that first part of someone’s career starting that career with us is crucial. So making sure they have the tools they need to succeed. And there’s so many moving parts in this business and so cumbersome from everything from the HR requirements to it, you know, the technologies that we’re facing, right, so we really boil that down for our people. And, and that gets them there an education that it’s like they’re going to school here. So they see that we bought into them. And we’re dedicated to their growth. And like I said, we’re not slowing down. So we got a bunch of restaurants coming and we need to onboard more people next year or onboard probably close to 1000 people next year.
So everyone works for a paycheck. Of course people also work for those intangibles and other things that give them satisfaction in a job but incentives and recognition rewards all those things are important. You’ve got something called pass the plate. Can you speak to that?
Yeah, sure, we, we like the, we’d like people to get exposed to other areas of the of the company or other departments, you know, we have a, we have a big arsenal of people here, in the home office, when we find that we’re, we could expose more people to that. So yes, you might have a passion for the restaurant business, but you might be interested in marketing. So someone could come to the office and you set it up through our manager, you come to the office, and you pass the plate or follow someone for marketing. And they actually pay for your time to so you’re paid for your time, and you get exposed to maybe something that you might be interested in, outside of just maybe serving a table or just working in the Southeast Asia, you know, it’s like, we want to open people’s eyes up, you know, to what’s available in our company. Yeah, yeah. And some people think that man, being a chef would be great, right? The Food Network is just sensationalized? Oh, that’s great. I’ll spend a day with the chef first and let’s see, we’ll see what their day is like. See if you still want to be. See if you still want to do that.
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Our audiences can is a pretty diverse audience. We have independent owner operators, we have general managers, we have franchise operators, we have hotel managers with restaurant operations, it’s pretty diverse. But being in this business, we have a tendency to be really close to our operation. Maybe it’s it’s sometimes difficult to take a step outside the front door and kind of put our guests hat on. Let me ask you to visualize an experience in one of your restaurants as if you were the guests. Can you describe to us what the scene is the vibe, the ambiance, the service, the food quality, as if you were a guest, and not someone so close to being Senior VP of any of your concepts? What would your guests say about their experience? And if you could just describe to us what you’re striving to achieve? If you’re meeting those goals from that objective viewpoint? Does that make sense?
Yeah, yeah, good question. The, well, first we measure everything we do, I’ll just say that. So we have a we really track our star ratings and our ratings through our Open Table system and all of our feedback so that we know we’re doing a good job. I’ll kind of started from that side. We know our people, we have really great scores, and we’re doing those things and find our opportunities to fix them. But yeah, as you’re pulling up to the restaurant I want to be it starts with the what is the outside of the restaurant look like right now? Is the what is it? What’s going on there? You know? Yeah. Yeah. Right. Yeah, we want our managers to do perimeter checks every day as part of our opening checklist and making sure that starts the second you drive up to the restaurant. So you know, facilities night cleaning. If there’s valet how’s that valet welcome me, you know, I want to be welcomed. And, and that experience starts as soon as you open your car door, you know, as far as I’m concerned. So yeah, you get to the front door can sparkling facilities, but you should be met. Like a guest in the home. That’s what we’re trying to do is welcome people into our restaurants and I want to be welcomed into the restaurant. So a friendly face. upfront, very welcome. Not hiding behind the host. And you know, with a clipboard, you know, or staring computer screen. I want that personal connection as soon as I enter the restaurant, so we get that and then it’s the ambiance and the feel and the energy of the restaurant so important to me. That’s an every little detail. Right? So I always think food tastes better. Right? When you got the right music, you’re with the right company, and you haven’t, you’re in a comfortable environment with the lighting splattering. And in the music spot, right. It’s not too hard. It’s you know, maybe the windows are open and you’re hearing the energy of the city, creating that energy. And that was just already gonna set the tone for what then is actually the star of the show is what you’re going there to do. You’re going there to be with your friends, family, and eating grain. You know, high quality products, expect a very high quality product on a plate, we put on center of the plate, we, I there’s, there’s more to value than just price. So, so that’s really after you’ve had your food, and my bedroom and I want to push away from that table, that’s the moment of truth, right? That’s the, that’s the value perception to me. Everybody wants, not just about how much it costs, it was about your experience. And, and I found I’m willing to pay, I’m willing to pay good money for an awesome experience. Sometimes even mediocre food with the whole experiences, right? Really turns into a nice evening, but but we strive for excellence in both food, beverage and hospitality. And that’s what I expect when I when I when I go to those restaurants. And yeah, so pushing away from the table. Getting that I got a really great bang for my buck. Everybody’s happy and my party is great. And then full circle leaving the restaurant again with a a warm face saying, well, thank you so much. Look forward to having you back at some sort of interaction leaving the restaurant, not just the
Welcome Back is so important. Absolutely. Sincere, thank you and welcome back, is makes you feel like you’re a regular or a special VIP type guest, even if it’s your first time visit. And you know, that’s clearly what we’re striving for.
Everybody is a VIP, that’s one of our philosophies. And everybody wants to feel important. And we want to make that happen for everybody.
How is the labor crisis affecting your restaurant group right now? And what what are some of your challenges? What are your summer solutions? I mean, how are you dealing with that, especially with your ambitious growth plan in mind?
Sure, yeah. We do have a good reputation. So I like to think I know that the challenges we’re having, I can only imagine and really empathize. And for our other restaurant, brethren out there, you know, I mean, it’s really difficult. So no doubt. I know, we we get a lot of cream of the crop as far as that goes. But we’re, again, very fortunate. It’s been one of our biggest challenges, you know, so really, we’ve had to, we don’t want ever want that to slow us down. So we’ve gotten creative. Yeah, our we’ve had to raise our minimum pay thresholds? No, we’ve done that. Our labor has gone up significantly. We have learned though, how to do more with less, so you become more efficient, and kind of the new normal to do well, how we’re gonna run our restaurants and tighten those up, tighten up our operations and be more productive. That’s one way to attack that. But recruiting is something that we’re really focused on right now and how to do that the different angles, there’s so many different angles now two avenues to recruit. It’s getting in the right lane, it’s making sure we’re getting getting the right, the right fit for our for our company, right, and, but at this point, we are looking for personality and the culture side of people, we can teach people how to surf, you can teach people how to clean fish and make soup. You know, we were hiring good people. Yeah, that’s, that’s really what we’re looking for now. So we’re, we’re strong enough and a big enough company that we can take the time to train on some of the technical skill. We’re really looking for just great attitudes, and just some really great genuine people that we can develop, you know, really helps us so. But we have a lot of options, too. So we’re able to hit a lot of different categories and skill levels, because we have restaurants from very casual all the way up to fine dining. So we have a lot of little avenues we can belong to different people and to
see your organization is large enough where there’s leverage there. But still rising food and labor costs mean shrinking margins. How are you maintaining margins, even with the leverage that you have?
Yeah, yeah, we’ve done a pretty significant price increase over the over the last couple of years, has really been one way or the other way. So that kind of affects the guests. Right? So but the other we look internally also. And for the last year and a half, we’ve been conducting what we’re calling deep dives into our concepts, right? So we’re diving in deep into all of our little concepts to find the make sure we’re on brand to make sure the DNA of the restaurant is right. What makes that restaurant tick, and then we’re going at it From the menu engineering side, right? What are we getting credit for? We reduced we learned a lot through the pandemic of reducing some menu items, and, and how to best I mean, we were, we were all kind of out of position, so to speak. I mean, everybody in the world was but but we learned so much about really what, what we got credit for, could we do more with less, and how to organize our teams. So we took that now in everyday life and somewhat double down on on some of these concepts. So there’s menu engineering, and this product engineering is a big deal. And we’ve been doing that with a lot of, and it’s really been a success of, of maintaining some of these, some of the restaurants that we have maybe just one or two of those concepts, you know, we have some ocean prime as our big workhorse brand here at Cameron, the two restaurants and that one was, that’s our high end seafood concept, seafood steak concept that really was very successful. And everybody came out. When everybody was allowed to leave their house, right, they came out and had a bunch of money in their pocket and wanted to go eat and dine. So they came from prior.
Forget their troubles. Absolutely a beautiful experience. I’m ready for it. Bring it out. Yeah,
but the deep times and really taking a look internally, what can we do to still maintain that value for our guests. And yeah, you gotta stay, we didn’t reach, you can’t remove all of it. So those days are, those days are gone, but we’re gonna stay, we’ll be creative. And we’re not, we’re not gonna back down, you know, we’ll keep pushing
you touching on a really important point, because there are a lot of operators out there that have raised prices, and there is a ceiling, where suddenly the value proposition kind of flips the other way. And now the guest feels like, you know, I really can’t afford to pay that much, or I don’t think the value is there. And now that with short staffing, restaurants can’t afford to or can’t deliver the type of hospitality and service that the guest has come to expect, yet the prices are higher. So that is a big challenge right now maintaining the value. And there’s a point where you can’t raise prices anymore, even though our prices for food and labor are going up. Is there any ideas that you have for that?
Most definitely, that’s where I sit. Yeah. No room for error, right? I mean, we have to, we have to execute at a very high level. And that’s what’s expected of us. And there’s really not much excuse that can be made. And I do that. So that’s our first goal. We, yeah, I want to, I want to, I want to keep driving that home with our guests. And we use a company called its RMS as a revenue management company that helps us it’s kind of the kind of the Moneyball to menu pricing, if you will, right. So so they help us measure some of that resistance that you’re talking about. So we are very strategic and raising prices. It’s not just back in the old days, it’d be hey, let’s add $2 to every entree, right? Ensuring that it’s not like that anymore.
Can’t be it’s a strategy. And it’s a science really,
it really is. And they help us do that. So we take our knowledge and put it with them, and they help us put a science to it. Where we can see where maybe guests are trading off for certain things. Are we selling less appetizers now per guest? Or, or are they buying? Did we raise too high and now they’re just getting one Martini instead of two martinis? Right. But really, honestly, the the resistant we don’t see too much resistance right now. And that we’re not seeing that. From time to time, if we don’t execute. That’s really the only time you’ll see that in any of our feedback. But for the most part, I think people are willing that the category that we’re in, I think people are willing to willing to pay that price. They understand what they’re getting, you know, so, gotta be creative, though. Yes, there’s some point. We won’t be able to keep going. I mean, what are we gonna pay $100 for a steak. I mean, it’s, you know, you know, for I remember the days in this company, we would argue and worried about taping the price of a fillet over $20 for an eight hour delay right now. We’re trying to we’re trying to keep it under $60 Now, right? It’s like, really crazy. What’s happened over the last 20 years?
Yeah, back in 1997. I opened my first Steakhouse. And I remember those prices the way they used to be. Right and now where they’re where they’re at, and it’s yeah, it’s It’s what happens. And inflation is happening to everyone. I mean, everyone’s feeling it at the gas pump and in the supermarket, but they walk into a restaurant and they’re used to paying X for a steak. And suddenly, it’s now why. And unless that entire experience is extraordinary, you know how it is? Yeah, that deliver, like you said, on the whole experience, it’s about execution.
That is, its execution is everywhere, and it’s affecting everything we’re doing, right? Well, we’re looking at that said, every commodity, right, we build restaurants, too. So all that construction costs up everything, everything, everything’s been more expensive for us, right. So we have to find ways to make that work. And, and even though our profitability is percentages a little bit down, we keep driving those sales and dollar wise, our, our profitability is still headed in the right direction,
right? As long as you get the market share that keeps increasing and you’re filling your seats, and you know, you’re maximizing all your productive assets. Alright, can you do,
and I’ll tell you really, the other little secret that we do is it goes back again to our cultural philosophy, kind of a broken record here, but it works on every angle. Our relationship with our purveyors, we, they are our partners in business. So all of the everybody from any smallwares company, to our broad liner to our meeting fit providers, all those, all those companies, there are partners in business. And they really helped us and you know, the landlords we had in our in our cities that we do business. There are partners in business, and they helped us get through that very difficult time and loaned us products to move our products. And we had to empty out the restaurants and helped us they were out of position as well, you know, during this tough time.
Yeah, everyone pulled together and it was all we could do.
That’s all, you know, it’s all you could ever ask for everybody did anything that was necessary, but they can good times and bad times. Right? So that partnership and that foundation, we really just, it’s been one of the secrets over over the my 27 years here, and the company is very vital. And like I said, we treat them as our associates and our our family as well. They’re our partners. And
so, you know, there’s a huge thank you for sharing that, Chuck. There’s a huge difference between a company’s mission statement and what their culture is really all about. And it’s, it’s easy to just throw up a mission on the wall. And you might read it once or tell people to read it once. But unless it’s deeply practiced and embraced from top down and bottom up, and all that sort of thing, it doesn’t really become a culture. Tell us about how you create a culture and how you sustain that culture over time, especially as you grow larger and larger and larger. The certain core philosophies stay the same. But you got to maintain that consistent culture. Can you speak to that?
Sure. Yeah, doing it consistently is non negotiable per camera, you know, and that’s first houses first mission. When he started this company coming up, we’re 49 years right now, we’ll be celebrating 30 years in our company next year. That was installations. Thank you. Thank you. Yeah. That was the first thing he did. That was the first thing he spent, you know, a month locked in his apartment, writing up a culture and philosophy and, and knew he wanted to have a multi restaurant, multi concept Restaurant Group that was based on culture and philosophy. Right? Not just business and the bottom line? Sure. Right. So really, it started in a little apartment here in Columbus, Ohio, 30 years ago. And like I said, He’s relentless about it. But you really don’t get the benefit of the philosophy. If you’re not, you’re not entitled to that you’re not acting, the philosophy is that does that make sense? Absolutely, does Absolutely. Display the culture to be, you know, to the benefits of
it? Yeah, I want to display it and practice it every day so that it rubs off on everyone. And that it is, like you said non negotiable. This is who we are. This is what we stand for. This is what we want our perception by the guests to be and it creates a brand unto itself. I think there’s such power to that thought.
We have an internal brand. Yeah. We’re great people delivering Genuine Hospitality. That’s what we do. That’s how we are labeled. And, and I think people know that that starts to take off, you know, we’re we are we’re, we need to thrive. We’ve been able to thrive through all these difficult times. Because we’re so driven to give back to our community and our purveyors and even through all the difficult times everybody’s debt we’ve still managed to keep all those all those things in line, and we don’t do Anything that’s gonna jeopardize one of those arms of our, of our company and our, again, our communities and, and all of our all the people that we do business with very important to keep those all in balance as we do that. And just in general, everybody knows our little fun sayings, and we have a lot of fun little quirky sayings that are inside, you know, and that’s what it takes people some time to use the you picked up on the associates. And we talked about making raving fans, and we talked about, you know, really being being better tomorrow than we were today. And, you know, better today than we were yesterday. That’s all we can do, right? Just try to be my goal every day to wake up is just to impact someone’s life, somehow, someway, positive impact to make someone better, what can I do today to make someone better at their job? Or make someone’s experience a little bit better? And, and when when people start to see that that’s a real thing. And like this is you choose your attitude, right? Like you wake up in the morning, and that’s one of our attitude, attitude, attitude, right? You choose that when you’re looking in the mirror in the morning, you can have a bad attitude, you’re gonna be approaching your day, a certain way. And, and we don’t really go for that necessarily. Everybody has that day, right? Everybody gets upset? Right? Well, is that something? That is something we’ve done? So we see that well, I will go torso a tough day, what can I do for you? Have we done something? Is there something that you need? What is why? Why is typically we asked that question a lot. We’re curious, right? So why is that happening? And if it’s something we’re doing, we fix it right away. And we and we show that we’re engaged in that. And if it’s something you’ve chosen to have bad to that day, well, then we’re gonna ask you to fix it. Right? Because another philosophy is the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. So So those kind of go hand in hand, right? Like, you know, picking your attitude and, and really, the company is just so much bigger than any one of us individually. We try to, we try to build in that kind of thought and just put a quality to everything we’re doing not just a food, beverage, but quality of quality of hospitality, to our guests, and our associates, right? And solid display, it’s all walking the walk, you gotta you gotta You can’t just talk about it. Yeah, posting it on the wall and not doing anything, right. That’s worse than having anything at all. Don’t even put anything on the wall. Because talking it and not doing it can be very detrimental to company.
I think you just summed up the secret sauce of truly great restaurants right there with what you said. And I hope that our audience caught every word because that really strikes home. And it’s what what it’s all about and why we’re here. So I really, thank you so much for being on the restaurant rockstars podcast, Chuck, and sharing your insights and your expertise and just your passion for this business. Thank you. Yes, thank
you for having me. Appreciate it.
Well, everyone. Thanks again for tuning in. That was the restaurant rockstars podcast. We can’t wait to see you in the next episode. So please stay tuned and stay well. Chuck, thank you so much for being with us. We learned so much about developing an amazing company culture, promoting people from within your mentorship program, the culinary school, the past the plate program. These are all super powerful ideas for our audience. Thanks again to the audience for tuning in. I can’t wait to see you next time. Stay tuned.
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Thanks for listening to the restaurant rockstars podcast for lots of great resources, head over to restaurant rockstars.com See you next time.