Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, New Hampshire–based Tio Juan’s Margaritas Mexican Restaurants prides itself on serving quality food and drinks and also on serving incentives to promote employee retention. The company, which has 26 locations in four New England states and Pennsylvania, knows that competition is about as tough for earning employee commitment as it is for earning consumer dollars. A company culture that inspires loyalty and ambition is critical for longevity.
“We never want to be an organization where the staff fears anybody from the support center coming in,” says Brisbane Vaillancourt, vice president of operations for Margaritas Management Group, and a company employee for more than 12 years.
“Whether it’s the company president, me, or one of the regional managers, we make it a point to know who our people are, who our hourly people are, and we build rapport with them,” Vaillancourt explains.
That rapport extends between managers and hourly employees too. Each manager has a development plan and spends plenty of face-to-face time with the regional manager. “Every single week, our operations team [discusses] all of our managers and where they’re at in their development,” she says. “That has been an integral part in our ability to minimize turnover because people feel like they have a career [in our restaurants] and have the ability to grow with our organization.”
Last year, the company opened two new locations and promoted 25 managers internally. The company has learned that adding managers can actually increase profits.
“Sometimes one extra manager can contribute to $200,000 more in sales, so [this strategy] absolutely pays for itself,” Vaillancourt says. “We’ve seen a return on investment in the new restaurants where we’ve added managers. In six or seven restaurants, we increased the manager par across the board and have been able to increase sales.”
The company commitment to minimize turnover also reduces stress on managers, and it positions the company to promote from within when opening new locations rather than relying on hiring new people who don't already understand the company culture.
“There are some areas where we struggle a little bit more with retention,” Vaillancourt acknowledges. However, looking across the entire organization, she says the company excels with regard to its retention rate of both managers and hourly team members.
Employee loyalty is appreciated and rewarded. Margaritas presents anniversary gift cards to employees celebrating milestones like five, 10, or 20 years of service, and the Paul Letourneau Award has been awarded since 2005. Named after the kitchen manager of the Concord, New Hampshire, unit who has been with the company since owner John Pelletier founded it in 1986, the award recognizes the manager who has been with the company the longest (barring past winners). Many of the winners started as an hourly employee before rising to a managerial role. “The woman receiving the award this year is Shawna Maddocks, and she has been with the company since 1994 and has been a manager since 1998,” says Vaillancourt, who began her career at Margaritas as a part-time server.