I’ve been in the restaurant world for more than 50 years, and I’ve been the CEO of Ted’s Montana Grill since cofounding it in 2001. I love this industry because the opportunities are endless. It offers professional and personal growth and flexible schedules; I started my career as a busboy and advanced quickly. When we invest in this industry, we invest in our people and in our future.
Over my 40-plus years in leadership roles, the restaurant industry has experienced the best of times and the absolute worst of times. Restaurant leaders strive to be proactive and prepare for the inevitable, but the pandemic forced us to become reactive to a situation that was full of uncertainties. And the people whose lives it continues to affect are the ones we rely on the most: our loyal team members.
Our team at Ted’s experienced so many emotions as they fought for their livelihood during the pandemic. It has been challenging for them in so many ways, but they continue to adjust and stay true to our brand mission. Through the adversity of the pandemic, I am most impressed by the passion and commitment to keeping guests safe by abiding by the ever-changing guidelines and still delivering genuine hospitality to every guest and to each other.
Even though things are starting to rebound, the industry still faces major hurdles, from labor shortages to higher food costs and supply chain issues. Unfortunately, 4.3 million people—about 3 percent of the labor force—quit their jobs in August. Restaurants were one of the hardest-hit, with nearly 900,000 resignations.
Regardless of the operating environment, restaurants must remain committed to protect their long-term competitive advantage by focusing on the basics and providing an exceptional dining experience for our guests. No restaurant can accomplish this without a strong, dedicated team of individuals who believe in the brand purpose and deliver hospitality in every interaction.
At Ted’s, we lead with a rich culture expressed as the Big Sky Spirit. It’s a philosophy that’s evident in everything we do and driven by my belief in doing right for the guests, our team members, and our planet. I strongly believe in no compromises and no shortcuts from everything that goes into our menu to how we treat and appreciate our people.
The feeling of defeat is oftentimes inevitable in these difficult times. As leaders, maintaining a positive, inspirational mindset so it translates to the team is key. While so many restaurant operators are focused on recruitment, we cannot let our current staff go under the radar. We need to make them a priority. Our team has helped us thrive by making our guests smile and more importantly, feel like family. Now they deserve to spend quality time with their own families this holiday season.
So this year, I’ve decided to close all Ted’s Montana Grill locations on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve for the first time ever. We want our valued team members to enjoy well-deserved time to relax and unwind with family and friends. Our team members were beyond grateful for this decision.
I encourage everyone in the restaurant industry to close and take a break on the holidays. We should look past our potential revenue success and realize what truly matters now more than ever: putting the well-being of our team members first and allowing them to make special memories with the people they love the most.
In addition to closing for the holidays, we also announced a number of other formal investments in our team that included:
- Restoring performance appraisals, merit increases, and a formal bonus plan with rewards for teams that overcame significant challenges
- Doubling 401(k) match to 50 percent on the first 5 percent
- Reducing waiting periods for 401(k) and benefits for all new hires
- Instituting a cash referral program and Core Value Bonus, where every quarter a team member is nominated by the management team for a cash bonus
- Freezing health insurance premiums to 2020 rates
When you have the right people on your team, don’t take their loyalty and performance for granted. It’s often our more quiet, self-driven, “low-maintenance,” and reliable team members that we forget to catch up with and engage every day. Make a point to recognize them. A simple “thank you” sometimes is a little oxygen for the soul.
We know how hard it is to find team members today so keeping the great ones is one of the biggest responsibilities we have. At Ted’s, we inspire everyone to be bold, be themselves, but always work as a unified team for a far-reaching guest experience that’s filled with the Big Sky Spirit. Above all, restaurants should remember the phrase that I say over and over: We all look good together and we all look bad together. Reinvesting in our teams and their professional and personal growth will allow us to get through this as an industry.
George McKerrow is the CEO of Ted’s Montana Grill. In 2001, he cofounded the concept alongside media mogul Ted Turner. With more than 50 years of experience in the restaurant industry, McKerrow also opened the very first LongHorn Steakhouse in Atlanta in 1981. The brand later grew into RARE Hospitality International, which also included The Capital Grille.