Backing up the value
One of Portillo’s A1 aims is to take wage and compensation off the table. Osanloo says if he can look employees in the eye and know Portillo’s is paying them above-average rates, the brand can get down to what matters.
Indeed, Glassdoor data puts Portillo’s average crew wages (based on reviews) at $12, tied with Raising Cane’s. Only nine fast casuals were higher and one fast-food chain (In-N-Out). For GMs, Portillo’s purported average rate of $81,800 trailed only Shake Shack ($84,000) and Tender Greens ($92,900) on the fast-casual side and sailed every fast-food brand.
Jill Waite, Portillo’s chief human resources officer, doesn’t mention dollar figures until the third point of a three-pronged answer as to why Portillo’s is beating turnover rates during a stretch when some industry peers are approaching 200 percent.
Instead, she starts with a metric that says as much by the fact it’s even being measured as to what it turns up. “One of the things that we’ve learned from our team members is that they like having a best friend at work and someone that they can count on,” Waite says. Seventy percent of employees highlight this, per internal surveys.
Notes Terry Kendrick, an assistant GM in training: “I started off as a knucklehead on the south side of Chicago. Here, I’ve had so many father figures that gave me a chance. They’ve built a bridge to a whole new lifestyle I never thought I could accomplish.”
Before getting into some of the high-level approaches, here’s a view into what Waite and the Portillo’s team have cultivated:
- Flexible scheduling
- Up to $10 in free meals during shifts.
- Paid vacation for full-time employees; a 401(k) plan option with a discretionary company match, and financial support for workers facing hardship through the company’s Heart of Portillo’s fund.
- Opportunities for career growth with personal and professional training and development programs, including an accelerated leadership program for those eager to kickstart their restaurant career.
- Competitive pay at all levels (as mentioned), with a daily pay option, quarterly performance bonuses, annual PTLO stock grants for GMs and market managers, and extra pay for employees on major holidays—what Portillo’s calls “premium holiday pay.” This past holiday season, restaurant support center employees volunteered to help staff restaurants for two-day shifts.
- This is a perk rolled out during the COVID window where employees who work any of the calendar’s five key holidays earn $3 more per hour.
- Career interest days, individual development plans, and soon-to-be-introduced access to LinkedIn Learning.
- Paid parental leave, premier health insurance, flexible spending accounts, life insurance, vision and dental, and a monthly Gympass membership offering holistic wellness programs.
- Referral bonuses, which includes a combination of gift cards and Portillo’s swag. Last year, more than 30 percent of Portillo’s workers stemmed from employee referrals.
- The opportunity for hourly shift leaders to earn performance bonuses, like the rest of management.
- An annual GM summit where store-level leaders hear from corporate on the path forward as well as professional development times. GMs at Portillo’s can make well over $100,000 between base and bonus.
- Portillo’s Ignite Development Program provides all positions, leading up to market manager and general manager, a way to grow their career.
- The “Franks A Lot Fund” where each restaurant receives $250 per month to celebrate employees as they see fit, from meals to rewards as a means to recognition. This came from a survey where GMs suggested Portillo’s beef up its efforts. Some asked for $25 or $50 per month to honor hourly employees. The brand made it $150. They’ve come to life in everything from graduation parties to ice cream celebrations.
After speaking to culture and “bringing lifelong memories to life for both our team members and our guests,” No. 2 on Waite’s whiteboard is crystalizing the career ladder. A famed tactic of Portillo’s is its ability to cross-train. During the first 18 months of COVID, the brand didn’t lay off a single person, despite the fact its business disrupted dramatically, as it did industry-wide.