Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers has quietly become one of the most impressive brands in the entire restaurant industry. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana–based concept—founded in 1996 by Todd Graves—last year crossed $1.5 billion in sales, having tripled in size within the last four years. It has a presence in 27 states and five countries and is getting ready to open its 500th location.
Now the company is rolling out a leadership development program that it thinks will help maintain its momentum and set it up for much bigger success down the road.
On Monday, Raising Cane’s announced the rollout of its new Restaurant Partner Program, which lays out a four-pronged development plan for store managers to become operators at company-owned locations (which make up the vast majority of the company’s restaurants). Those leaders will be elevated to operators based on performance—not based on a financial investment.
An evolution of the brand’s previous Managing Partner Program, the Restaurant Partner Program sets operators up for what Raising Cane’s says is industry-leading compensation and quality of life.
“Our restaurant leaders are so important; they take care of our crew, our customers, and our communities. It’s a challenging job and you need exceptional leadership,” owner and co-CEO Graves says. “Each one of those restaurants is a business. … I wanted a compensation program that would mirror that hard work and that exceptional leadership.”
The four components of the Restaurant Partner Program are: education, development, and training resources; a support structure that sets Partners up with experts in marketing, training, facilities, recruiting, and operations in their trade areas; a holistic approach to wellness, including both health and financial planning support; and compensation that exceeds $100,000 annually between base salary and bonuses, along with performance-based incentives. The company claims Partners have the ability to become millionaires within 15 years (and as quickly as 12).
The Restaurant Partner Program includes a one-year candidacy. Raising Cane’s will identify exceptional restaurant leaders—essentially general managers—and develop them for a year. Once candidates have graduated from the program, they’re handed the reins to their own store operation.
“What we are hoping to do with the Restaurant Partner Program is truly provide for our Partners—restaurant leaders who are very important in leading each one of our restaurants—a best-in-class opportunity to lead their crewmembers, serve their customers, [and] support their communities, but at the same time, build their personal wellbeing and net worth,” says co-CEO and COO AJ Kumaran, who joined the company in 2014 and was tasked by Graves to evolve the former Managing Partner Program. “So it was a very holistic approach to what we wanted the evolution to be.”
Raising Cane’s has become one of the most formidable quick-service performers across several metrics. Its average unit volume of over $3.5 million is second only to Chick-fil-A. And in 2017, QSR’s Drive-Thru Study found that Raising Cane’s was best-in-class at both drive-thru speed of service (168 seconds on average) and order accuracy (a staggering 97 percent).
Graves says he wants to continue pushing the brand to be best in the business at all levels. He likens the Restaurant Partner Program to a championship sports team—like his hometown Louisiana State University Tigers’ football team—that rebuilds for another title the next year.
“What [LSU] Coach [Ed] Orgeron does, or Dabo Swinney does at Clemson, is celebrate that success, and then the next day they’re getting back on recruiting and planning and doing,” he says. “We expect the best from our team. We expect these great results. We expect to have the highest average unit volumes. We expect to have best-in-class turnover. We expect to have best-in-class service to our customers. We expect to have best-in-class giving back to our communities and being involved.”
Kumaran says Raising Cane’s had just over 120 Partners across its system going into this year. But the co-CEOs are eager to develop the leadership pipeline for Raising Cane’s—particularly as the brand ramps up growth.
Graves says Raising Cane’s is looking ahead to becoming a $3 billion company and then a $5 billion company. “The white space is so vast,” he says. “I feel honestly as a company we’re just getting warmed up right now. I think we’re coming into our own right now, so I’m really excited about the next decade of growth. We’re bringing in as many leaders as we can. We’re not worried about overfilling the pipeline.”