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Operators Connect at Minnesota Hospitality Conference

Drunken Duck Bites from Sysco, featuring fig jam, bourbon and foie gras.

“There’s an energy crisis in the workplace because we have violated human nature and that manifests in disengagement,” Ari Weinzweig told the audience at the Minnesota Hospitality Conference and Expo. “What drives people is how we treat them—is their work valued and do they know it’s valued.”

Giving the keynote address October 3, Weinzweig offered his take on running a successful business by establishing positive growth opportunities for all the people within the organization, from frontline employee to owner. Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw and are best known for Zingerman’s Delicatessen, the cult favorite in Ann Arbor, Michigan. But beyond the iconic deli, they have created a small foodservice empire of candy, coffee and a handful of restaurants, each with its own managing partners who have a monetary stake in the business.

“People are emotionally bought it and then we back that up with financials,” said Weinzweig, who added the group also has about 180 employee-owners. “We want people to put something meaningful in.”

Employees aren’t simply trained to perform their jobs; they’re trained to think like business leaders so they feel empowered to contribute and understand the “why” behind decision-making, explained Weinzweig. He also shared what he described as his “self-fulfilling belief cycle” in which someone’s beliefs about another person or situation influence their actions, which in turn influence others’ beliefs and actions. “You can not make positive outcomes from negative beliefs,” he said, also acknowledging that no business is perfect.

“We definitely have cynics and unhappy people, we’re not utopia, we’re not perfect, but what we aim for is to have effective tools to deal with problems.”


Connect with customers using social media

The prevailing belief among social media users is: “If you don’t have a social media account, you’re not relevant to what they’re looking for,” said Caryn Butler of Minneapolis social media marketing firm Socially Smitten. It’s not a matter of if your business should have a presence on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook or the fast-growing Snapchat, it’s how many and which ones. Snapchat, for example, is mainly used by those ages 14 to 28, “so if that’s not your target audience you don’t need to be there,” said Butler. 

“You should be using different messaging for different platforms because the people who use those different platforms are different consumers,” she continued. And while a restaurant may think everyone is its target customer, that’s not the case. “You need to identify your bread and butter” in order to create an effective social media strategy, said Butler.

The realm of social media also includes managing and responding to online reviews, namely Google reviews, which Butler said are the big ones to focus on because 92 percent of global searches start on Google. “Customers read reviews on restaurants more than any other industry,” she stressed, and it’s crucial to respond to both good and bad reviews within 24 hours.

Butler’s other advice: Don’t ever pay for likes or followers. “Google knows they’re not real, it actually goes against you in the search rankings.”


Community involvement drives business 

Being that neighborhood pizza place is part of Pizza Lucé’s identity and its business model, said CEO JJ Haywood, which means everyone from general managers to hourly employees get involved in community events and with supporting local charities. 

Events such as Share the Love in partnership with animal rescue Secondhand Hounds are successful because “our staff feels so passionate about it,” said Haywood, and Pizza Lucé makes sure to publicize its contributions to in turn interest people in the brand. Community involvement also helps the eight-unit Minnesota pizza restaurant differentiate itself as an employer. “Today’s worker really wants to be at a place that aligns with their values,” said Haywood. “So when they’re looking at us, they see what we’re involved in, and to current staff, they take pride in what we’re doing.”

At Pub 500 in Mankato, co-owner Tom Frederick realized that redirecting money away from traditional advertising and toward community giving actually resulted in better returns for the restaurant. 

“Our mission statement before we opened was to be profitable so we could give back to the community,” he said. “And the reverse happened: The more we gave, the more we made.”

A main component of that giving is the Pub Bucks program, where Pub 500 donates $10 gift cards that various groups then sell for around $5, keeping those funds. Pub 500 gives out about $27,000 worth of gift cards each year, said Frederick. “The beauty of this is you have 2,700 high-use coupons rolling around your community, so there’s a monetary benefit for us,” he said. 

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