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At Culver’s recruiting never stops

George Kelsey, who has been with Culver’s for 12 years, works to see that employees are re-recruited and trained so that guests leave happy.

After a team member is hired at Culver’s, recruiting doesn’t stop.

“Every day we re-recruit and rehire each team member,” George Kelsey, vice president of operation and training for the franchised burger chain, says. 

Fortunately, that doesn’t mean employees have to continually fill out a new W4. It’s on management to make employees feel welcome, informed and part of the team every shift. 

“Every day when they come to work, we have to do our best to treat them like day one,” he says. “It’s hard to find labor, that’s why we turned our focus to retention.”

Treating employees like you’re happy to have them directly impacts how they treat customers. And in a tight labor market, every manager needs to add a little joy to the job, while giving employees clear guidelines on how to meet and exceed expectations and how to move up.

 “We’re in the people business first,” he says, “and by the way, we sell Butterburgers and custard, too, and they’re really good.”

For Culver’s, putting people first means something as simple as having an employee bulletin board that honors the special occasions in employees’ lives to “shout outs” catching people doing things right. Employees who are recognized for going above and beyond are rewarded with “Butter Bucks,” coupons good for a free lunch (who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch?) or some of the more fun marketing items. “It’s to keep the atmosphere and attitude at the highest level possible,” Kelsey says. 

As the chain grows beyond its Midwestern roots—its signature Butterburgers and frozen custard can be found in 24 states—training has had to adapt. Instead of requiring attendance at ButterBurger U, Culver’s has gone to in-store training on tablets, including on-demand videos that are both educational and highlight Culver's culture. Because while it’s important to work on the soft skills, it’s equally important to know how to use the new fryer or to cook and assemble a burger. 

Twelve years ago, Culver's was among the first restaurant chains to start using e-learning for employee training. Each session was around an hour. 

“We thought we were the smartest people in the world,” Kelsey says, laughing. “Now we’re down to 15-minute videos" and no paper shuffling.

The idea is “burst of training, practice, burst of training,” he points out. 

The videos are loaded onto tablets and laptops to be watched either in a corner of the restaurant during non-peak hours or in a break room. Employees aren’t allowed to watch them on their smart phones, he adds, because “they have to be within that wireless connection,” he says, and “because we’re paying them for training.”

Training is Culver’s secret sauce. “How does a restaurant function without great training?” he asks rhetorically.

Because it's a franchise, the Wisconsin-based company can develop training tools but it can’t force them on franchisees. “They manage their own training,” he says of franchisees, “but if you develop great tools who wouldn't’ want to use them?”

The chain has just six company-owned stores and about 648 franchised ones, so a lot of input comes from the franchisees. “We utilize our franchisees, that’s been part of our growth" and innovation, he says. Culver’s in-house training staff is small, nine employees, but the company has 32 consultants who live and work in the regions they oversee. 

They know it’s not their job to change someone’s personality, so they work on behavior. “We try to embed our culture in people,” Kelsey says, because it’s not easy living up to Culver’s creed: “Every guest that chooses Culver’s leaves happy.” 

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