Church’s Chicken EVP of franchise and company operations, Pete Servold, penned the following letter:
In every crisis there is something that can be learned. When most of us were children, we rode around in the back seats of our parents’ cars – sometimes without seatbelts. After many serious injuries or deaths that could have been prevented, we now have state-of-the-art car seats and laws that help protect our most precious cargo. When tampering of over-the-counter medications caused lethal poisonings, the industry responded with tamper-proof packages and protective seals to ensure public safety. The same thing is happening now with coronavirus. In the long run, we will all be better off from new safeguards and public safety measures that have been put in place.
More importantly, however, I believe we have all learned a profound lesson in why it so important to value each and every person’s contribution to the world we live in. At Church’s Chicken we have been face to face with this reality day-in and day-out for more than 65 years. The people who live in the communities we serve don’t bring home big paychecks, but they have huge hearts. Our employees don’t just serve chicken – they look to feed people – physically and emotionally. We’ve always known our team members were “essential,” but I think that realization is about to go mainstream like never before.
So, how can businesses tap into that tremendous positive energy? It’s as simple as putting people first. Start with the people closest to you in your organization and let it spiral outward. When you show employees in restaurants that their safety and welfare matters, they pay that forward to guests and everyone else in contact with your brand. When coronavirus first started impacting restaurants, we made sure our teams were safe, because if they were safe, they’d each be better prepared to make sure our guests are safe. Many of our franchisees told us they were worried about having enough employees to take on restaurant tasks plus additional public safety requirements, especially if people felt the need to self-quarantine. We listened and said it was okay to put in a limited menu to simplify day-to-day operations. Church’s put their needs first.
We also accelerated a program we were developing to engage and encourage employees at every level. Appropriately, it’s called “Our Texas Way” and it’s a reflection of the real, authentic heritage of our brand, which has been rooted in down-home caring and gratitude since our very first days. There are big elements like employee relief funds, PPE gear, and masks to take home, and there have been smaller efforts like ice cream parties, appreciation days, t-shirt giveaways, and other gestures that remind our people that they DO matter. Not just in these tough days, but every day.
The return to “normal” restaurant business is going to be slow for all of us. It will take time for people to feel confident returning to dining rooms. That is all the more reason to put people first for the foreseeable future. In the absence of clear governmental protocols that cover both front-of-house and back-of-house procedures that prioritize people’s safety, it’s up to all of us to act in each other’s best interests. Our employees are not comfortable refusing service to guests without masks. So, we’re keeping dining rooms closed until our managers tell us there is a solution in place – not just for guest safety but our employees’ safety too. We’ll keep running drive thru, delivery, and contactless pick-ups at the restaurant door. We’re going to keep evaluating ourselves on impeccable sanitation procedures. We actually have a 70-page re-opening guide as it stands right now, and we’re 100% okay with that. Why? Because our people have been at the heart of our decisions from day 1. As a result, we have had very little turnover. As an essential business, and as a restaurant brand that provides enough food to feed a family of four for just $20, we have even seen some restaurants hiring more people and giving more hours to existing employees who want them.
All those things do not go unnoticed. When people are ready to go to restaurants again – whenever that may be – they’ll remember seeing Church’s going the extra mile for people. They’ll remember the employee in their neighborhood that felt safe and confident going to work each day. They’ll remember that the real “something special” that restaurants provide goes well beyond food. It’s about connecting over positive experiences. Everyone misses that right now. Brands that learn what these moments are teaching us will be better equipped to succeed in the “new normal” by aligning their objectives and goals with what has always mattered most… people.