Simplify work and make it fun again

Simplify work and make it fun again

After being appointed CEO of Chili’s parent company Brinker International,
In May, Kevin Hochman’s priority was to embark on a system-wide listening tour to get a strong business pulse from its operators and employees.

The tour revealed an enthusiastic workforce filled with people who have been there for decades, many of whom call themselves Chiliheads.

โ€œI love talking about the listening tour because I found it to be a very interesting workforce of people who love serving our guests. We have a lot of managers and restaurant employees who started with an hourly job here,โ€ Hochman said during a recent interview. How much they love working at Chili’s and feel like they are part of the family. When Chili’s was at its best, it was a bustling time for guests and staff.”

Perhaps “was” is a strong word here. No doubt Covid-19 has particularly affected “active” seating concepts like Chili’s and the company continues to work its way back to pre-pandemic traffic numbers. Hochman thinks a quick way to get back there is to simplify the business.

In the early days of the pandemic, for example, Brinker added two default brands – it’s Just Wings and Maggiano’s Italian Classics. Delivery-only concepts have been particularly effective when dining rooms are closed, providing an additional revenue stream for operators and an additional option for customers wanting to venture too far.

Now, virtual brands make up about 6% of the company’s sales.

And they add a lot of complications. “There are new elements to learning, two different stations and a great deal of training on those two lines,” Hochman said.

To better enhance these fonts, Brinker has started adding virtual elements to their physical locations. Just Wings sauces are now served at Chili’s Chicken Tenders, for example, while the wings/fries combo is available on the Chili’s menu starting at $7.

“Not only can we ignore that part of the business, but we’ve been spending more time and resources than this small percentage might need, so we’re in the process of making it easier for both brands to work in our restaurants,” Hochman said. “Now, they have access to a larger portion of the business, and we expect that to continue to grow and have a greater impact.”

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In addition to integrating default menu items in Brinker’s leading brands, Hochman and his team are also streamlining processesโ€”removing many items from the menu and researching product designs to find efficiencies.

“We’re going to test some of these things, and some of them we’ll just remove. We’re also looking at the complexity of our recipes. We have a burger that has 14 different things. It has jalapenos that are roasted separately and that’s just one ingredient,” Hochmann said. With more focus?”

Much of this process relies on employee feedback from that listening tour. Employees tell Hochman, for example, that they have to split shrimp and broccoli every morning.

โ€œOne hour of this setup each day costs about 46 years of work that we pay for every year. That’s millions and millions of dollars. And it’s frustrating. There’s a better way to do it. Counting shrimp isn’t helping our guests. These are the things we’re working on improving,” Hochman said. “.

Brinker is also exploring the efficiency of equipment, such as oyster grills, which are currently being tested at dozens of Chili’s restaurants. So far they have proven to speed up the cooking process. Medium-sized steaks take about 6 minutes to cook on a clamshell grill, compared to about 15 minutes on a traditional grill, Hochman said.

โ€œWe are optimistic about this equipment. Assuming the testing goes well, we have a system-wide plan in place.โ€

Of course, technology plays a role for efficiencies too, but Brinker is holding back some of its more ambitious rollouts in favor of less flashy solutions. For example, Rita, a robot server who was moving tables and interacting with guests, was pulled from the squad.

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โ€œOur young guests enjoyed Britta, but in practice, it didnโ€™t do the things we needed. We will focus on other things that add value. We use technology to take care of administrative tasks in the back of the house, such as taking stock or moving things that have been made,โ€ said Hochman. With a pencil and paper on a tablet.โ€ โ€œOne of the things thatโ€™s clear to me now is that we have to make it easier to work at Chiliโ€™s and that means taking out things that donโ€™t add value.โ€

With simplification underway, Hochman is also focused on “making Chili’s a fun place to work again.” That means returning to some of the brand’s featured promotions and events that have been paused during the pandemic โ€” things like Give Back Nights where restaurants can host all-day fundraisers for local organizations, or Chili’s expanded food and beverage program.

Chili’s also recently held a promotional event for Nicki Minaj fans that started with the tweet “Chili’s for the barbz” and featured $5 “Barbarita’s”.

โ€œWe had a lot of impressions on social media and our guests loved it. We were very criticized, but everyone was having a good time. It just felt like old school chiles,โ€ Hochman said.

This is the kind of thing that fits right in the former marketer’s wheelhouse. Prior to Brinker, Hochman was widely credited with KFC’s return to positive same-store sales and unit counts driven by the chain’s years-long marketing campaign featuring various celebrities portraying The Colonel.

He understands the importance of making things easier and more fun. Such an environment not only brings in more guests but also attracts employees to stay. In fact, industry turnover is still hovering near all-time highs and Chiles has not been immune. Employee turnover is also very costly, costing around $6000 per employee.

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โ€œIn the pre-pandemic era, we were ahead of the industry in low turnover. We lost some ground and haven’t resorted to compensating yet, but we know that consistent team members are more productive,โ€ said Hochman.

Herein lies the equation that Hochman is trying to solve in these first months in the new job. Integrating efficiencies and streamlining operations will increase productivity. It bet on culture, too. Both have been achieved before in Chili’s and both are achievable again.

“What I’ve heard across the board is that employees want things to be easier and more fun. It’s all about getting rid of things that don’t make guests happy.” โ€œWe work on these basics to make sure that our guests feel special in a fun and engaging atmosphere. I think if we implement this, we will increase our share.โ€

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