The broader GM conversation continues to evolve for Portillo’s. Per Black Box, the average cost per terminated GM in 2021 has been $14,689. The median base salary plus bonus in Q2 was $63,878 for quick service. The average bonus earned in 2020 was 20.5 percent of base salary.
Also, half of restaurants surveyed said they were offering GMs flexible schedules in 2021 versus just 31 percent in 2019.
Portillo’s, Waite says, doesn’t stick to norms here, either. GMs in the system can make well over $100,000, she says, between base and bonus. Meanwhile, the company improved benefits packages for GMs, assistant GMs, and restaurant managers where they now receive 18 days of paid-time off (it was two weeks before). The company added short- and long-term disability as well. “We look at this in a total rewards approach,” Waite says. “It’s not just base pay, it’s not just bonus: it is pay and benefits, as well as am I able to grow and develop and do I work in a place I’m really passionate about? Do I get to do what I love every single day?”
About a year ago, Portillo’s really began looking at GM retention, mainly through learning and development programs. The company provides each GM with an individual development plan tailored to their career aspirations. It also started a “multi-unit development program” that included six GMs in the latest go-around. Five of those ended up getting promoted to market manager. “What that did was show our GMs that there is an opportunity to grow here,” Waite says.
Portillo’s targets an 80 percent internal promotion rate—another reason it’s key for the brand to show employees a path to six-figure GM roles and beyond.
On the hourly level, the earlier cross-training point can’t be undervalued, Waite adds. Beyond what it did during COVID, when 80 percent of revenue suddenly flowed from drive-thru and digital, it helps employees keep from burning out. “We try to match team members’ strengths and their passions with where do they want to learn,” she says. “It stops the job from being so monotonous. And then, in addition to that, the culture of family, greatness, energy, and fun—they know they’re not in it alone.”
In marketing materials, Portillo’s put employees front-and-center and tried to get personal. It’s leveraged TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and other social channels to source talent and meet today’s workers where they are.
Going back to pre-COVID, Waite says, Portillo’s invested in quickening the application process, particularly via mobile, since “the time from application to interview to hire needs to be faster than anybody else” in a tight labor field.
Portillo’s looks to hire culture fits, which Waite says is a better foundation to start, especially when you’re talking about teenagers who don’t have built-out resumes. “When we hire to culture and values, our retention rate and our team member engagement is so much higher,” she says.
The company trained GMs on how to identify these traits. An interview guide tells them what to look for, what kind of follow-ups to ask, and how to glean culture out of questions. Market managers spend time with employees and take stock of how smoothly the process is going.
“It’s a combination between training and development as well as making sure that we’re following up and checking on new hires when they come on board to make sure they really do believe the heart of the Portillo’s,” Waite says, adding the company is actually in a position today where it can turn down workers. It hasn't struggled to staff units on the level of many competitors, despite the overall climate.
"We are in a situation where we want to hire people who meet our culture and are passionate about serving our guests. And that also means turning down any individuals who don’t meet our culture," Waite says. "And even in today’s environment when some are clamoring for individuals, we don’t just want a warm body. We want somebody that is going to really want to be a part of this organization."
The company offers daily pay to workers, too, so they can access funds as needed and not wait two weeks—a direct ask from employees.
“It’s been a huge win for us,” Waite says.