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The National Restaurant Association's (NRA) 2012 Restaurant Industry Forecast recently identified the top five elements that drive a consumer's decision when choosing which quick-service restaurant (QSR) to frequent: food quality, value for price paid, service time, convenient service/delivery and convenient ordering options.
Each of the items on the list can make or break your restaurant's bottom line. But if you ask me, one of the most significant elements was left off the list: a restaurant's front-line staff. This is the only variable with the ability to influence the other five. So, how do your employees influence each factor, and how can you ensure that they consistently deliver?
The hourly workforce's influence on 1-5
When looking at the list of the top five elements consumers include in their decision making, it may not be immediately clear that hourly employees have a big impact on each. But if you dig in a little, you'll see that a restaurant won't perform well on these essentials if its employees don't deliver.
Food quality – Your menu, the ingredients you buy, and the recipes and assembly process are under control, but food prep is up to your employees. If special orders aren't prepared correctly or employees aren't making sure everything is up to standards, the food quality will suffer.
Value received for price paid – Value for price paid is influenced by the other items on this list: food quality, time for service and convenience. Because your hourly staff is in charge of each of these items individually, they have an unmistakable influence on perceived value as a whole.
Length of time it takes – QSRs promise the value of quick service and you've set up a well-oiled restaurant with processes designed to deliver good food, fast. But if your employees don't share your sense of urgency or aren't the right fit for the role, you could be looking at long lines, which translates into poor customer retention and lost business.
Convenient service/delivery – Your business can offer convenient home delivery, but it's up to your hourly employees to get the food to the customer fast and in good condition—with a smile. The best delivery approach in the world can't counter food that arrives cold or in a jumbled mess.
Convenient ordering options – Tech savvy customers like the ability to order online, instantly through a smartphone app or through self-serve options. But once the order is placed, your hourly employees are in charge of retrieving and expediting the order correctly.
QSRs have to focus on these five elements if they want to drive repeat business and maintain or grow market share. But because every component depends heavily on hourly employee performance, the smart strategy is to start by hiring an hourly workforce that can consistently deliver each variable before you address each one individually.
Hiring an hourly workforce that will deliver the top five determinants on a daily basis starts with the way you recruit applicants to open positions. Research has shown that applicants who apply through sites focused on one type of job (hourly, for example) are higher in quality then those who apply through general sites. These focused sites serve a sub-set of job seekers all interested in the same type of job, so there's no need to reconcile job seeker expectations with the type of jobs you have to offer.
But selecting the right employment network for open positions is just half of the strategy. The second half helps take the guesswork out of making a good hire. Applicants can look great on paper, but that doesn't mean they're suited for a position. The best way to determine which applicants will fit your open positions is to include assessments in your application process.
Consider this example. You're reviewing two applications. Applicant A has experience as a QSR cashier, and applicant B has only worked retail. Without a behavioral assessment, you may be inclined to hire applicant A based on experience alone. But if you had an assessment built into your application process, you'd see that applicant A scored low on positive service attitude, whereas applicant B rated well in that area. Experience in a QSR or not, applicant B will probably make for a friendlier, more accommodating cashier.
Assessments can help you evaluate applicants on aptitude before experience, comparing applicants against the core characteristics necessary for success. Employees who fit in their positions are more engaged in their work, and the Conference Board found that highly engaged employees outperform their disengaged colleagues by 20 to 28 percent.
Highly engaged and productive employees are easier to train and tend to stay on the job longer. And better trained, more tenured employees can lead to fewer errors, better customer service and skyrocketing scores on the elements that matter to customers.
The NRA's 2012 Restaurant Industry Forecast highlighted what customers want in a QSR. But the forecast also brought to light the fact that while customers may not identify employees as a critical factor, the quality of a restaurant's front-line staff has a significant influence on the features that make a QSR stand out. If you want to want to drive repeat business and increased sales, it's best to start by hiring a top-notch hourly workforce before you dig into the rest of the list.