The Melting Pot has always presented a unique franchise opportunity, Turner says. The kitchens are minimal, containing mostly prep work, which reduces labor needs compared to the traditional full-service restaurant. The chain also primarily operates during the dinner daypart, enabling more flexibility for operators and staff.
The brand’s incentive and referral programs were designed in part to combat the labor shortage, along with a hiring campaign and more online training modules for franchisees.
When their locations shut down during the initial part of COVID, the Silvas say they struggled to hire and retain employees. Many of the employees who had worked in restaurants for a long time moved on to other industries.
“We were limiting reservations, which is unfortunate, because you'd hate to turn people away that would like to spend money at your restaurant because you can't give them good service with the amount of staff that you have,” Kim says, adding their restaurants are slowly but surely back to where they want to be staffing-wise.
To continue reaching customers, The Melting Pot rolled out its first-ever to-go options.
“While that definitely takes away from the experience of The Melting Pot and coming in, dining and cooking your food around the fondue pot on the table, what COVID has allowed us to do is to really meet our guests in the way that they want to interact with us much better than we had before,” Turner says.
Still, experiential dining will remain at the forefront for The Melting Pot, with off-premises only mixing 1 to 2 percent. With dine-in Turner says the restaurant’s setup is more spaced than a typical casual-dining concept, putting customers’ minds at ease.
“At Melting Pot, one of the things that we'd like to do is provide that intimate experience, whether somebody's celebrating an anniversary, or a birthday party or graduation or just a date night or girls’ night out,” he says. “Our dining rooms are typically a little bit more private and so gave people the feeling coming out of COVID of being much more comfortable coming into our restaurants.”
Both of the Silvas’ locations in Spokane and Boise are outperforming their previous sales numbers, by around 65 and 70 percent, respectively. They attribute the recovery to the support they’ve received from The Melting Pot, whether it’s webinars on recruitment, building culture, or developmental franchise programs.
Moving forward, The Melting Pot will continue to ask itself how else it can support franchisees, Turner says.
“We're very lucky to have a system that the majority of our franchisees are very engaged, very passionate and very driven to ensure the perfect night out for their guests when they come into the restaurant every day,” Turner says. “The goal is to continue keeping our franchisees happy and partnering with them.”