A strong tie to the community encourages staff to meet goals and improves customer traffic.

Sponsored by No Kid Hungry.

Faced with busier-than-ever schedules, quick-service operators often find it difficult to engage with their employees and even more so with their communities. However, many brands have found success by partnering with a well-known non-profit in order to increase team engagement and create a positive presence in the local communities that support them.

Here, Joni Thomas Doolin, the co-founder and co-chair of TDn2K, speaks with Dave Boennighausen, CEO of Noodles & Company, about his company’s ongoing partnership with No Kid Hungry. Doolin serves on the board of directors of Share Our Strength, the non-profit organization behind the No Kid Hungry campaign, and both she and Boennighausen have been long-time champions of ending childhood hunger.

Joni: Noodles & Company is recognized for having a strong purpose-driven culture and giving back to those in need.  Your organization has been a partner of No Kid Hungry since 2015 and has raised nearly $1.7 million, helping provide up to 17 million meals to kids in need.  What do you think makes this partnership successful?

Dave: One of my favorite quotes is from Peter Drucker, who said, “The purpose of an organization is to enable ordinary human beings to do extraordinary things.” I am inspired every day at Noodles when our teams go out of their way to help a family with special needs or help an elderly couple to their seat. With our partnership with No Kid Hungry, though, we’re able to do extraordinary things at a much larger scale by working with our guests to end childhood hunger in the United States.

Our partnership is so successful because it directly connects back to our mission “to always nourish and inspire every team member, guest and community we serve.” There are many ways we try to fulfill that mission. Our teams volunteer for local organizations, support our foundation—which  assists team members in need—and promote benefit nights for non-profit organizations in our communities. But the cornerstone of this mission is our partnership with No Kid Hungry. Our partnership provides a unique opportunity for us to mobilize 10,000 team members and hundreds of thousands of guests to unite behind one common goal— to end childhood hunger.

Joni: There are so many worthy organizations that companies can partner with. Why is No Kid Hungry a particularly important cause for Noodles & Company and its guests to support?

Dave: Hunger can strike nearly anyone and it’s usually anonymous. My son’s playmate at school, the daughter of the sauté cook working at one of our restaurants, or the families living at the apartment complex across the street—anyone can become food insecure. Our partnership with No Kid Hungry puts the spotlight on an issue that needs immediate attention.

Joni: Engagement and retention is a particularly hot topic in the industry right now. With the average turnover rate of hourly fast casual  employees at 118 percent, and the management turnover rate at almost 40 percent, cultivating employee pride is vital to engaging employees. How do your team members feel about supporting No Kid Hungry?

Dave: A common phrase in the restaurant industry is “the guest experience will never surpass the team member experience.” We have always found that engaged team members get better results. One reason No Kid Hungry engages our teams so well is that it hits so close to home. We would be naïve to not believe that a meaningful number of restaurant employees throughout the country have had times in their life where they or loved ones have faced food insecurity. That understanding makes it a cause that all of our teams can rally behind—not just management teams and front of house employees, but the entire brand.

Joni: Can you share a specific example of a Noodles employee or team that went above and beyond in their fundraising efforts for No Kid Hungry? What do you think drove them?  Can you talk about how Noodles uses fun incentives to create a little friendly competition among team members?

Dave: Our team members’ collective and individual passion for No Kid Hungry drives this partnership, and every year, I am in awe of what our team members are able to do when they rally together. With the help of our partners at Coca-Cola, over the last two years we have been able to incentivize team members and restaurants who raise the most money with fun prizes like trips to Disney World, cash, and movie tickets. Our general manager from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, Joel Peplinski, has been our back-to-back grand prize winner with his restaurant consistently seeing the highest percentage of donations per transaction. The reason Joel is so successful is because he rallies his team by celebrating every single donation—he truly understands the collective impact of how a bunch of little actions make a big difference.

To learn more about how your restaurant can help end childhood hunger, engage your employees, and support your bottom line, visit NoKidHungry.org/DineOut.

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