To help with recruiting and retention, Buffalo Wild Wings launched a leadership development initiative to facilitate career growth of its team members.
The LEAD program, which stands for learn, experience, assess, develop, was introduced in 2021 and serves as a tool to retain staff, particularly management, during a time when labor in the restaurant industry remains below pre-pandemic levels.
The program consists of a professional development plan, development classes, and next level assessments, all designed to help employees grow their careers, whether at Buffalo Wild Wings or elsewhere.
“Lead is a key program for Inspire Brands and was quickly embraces by Buffalo Wild Wings,” Lyle Tick, president of the wing chain, said in a statement. “As part of Inspire’s People First Program, it is foundational to how we help people achieve their goals and deliver on the mission of the Upward Mobility in Restaurant Operations pillar.”
In 2021, the program focused heavily on development and saw almost 400 employees participate. Over 10 months, workers attended eight different classes aimed at improving skills related to training, creating a healthy work environment, and retaining employees. The next round of development classes began in March.
“As a participant in the LEAD program I can say, without a doubt, that it was instrumental in not only my recent promotion, but also my deep-rooted commitment to Inspire Brands,” Field Training Manager Domenic Bartolini said in a statement.
Restaurant and bars are still 824,000 people down compared to pre-pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate for leisure and hospitality is 2.5 percent higher than the overall rate of 6.6 percent. During this time, brands have made an effort to improve conditions; in the past year, leisure and hospitality wages have grown $59.01 on a weekly basis, a 13.4 percent increase.
For Buffalo Wild Wings, the retention-building sessions have proven to be effective. After participating in the LEAD program, shift managers realized a promotion rate of 73 percent across company-owned units, while department managers and assistant general managers saw a 40 percent promotion rate.
“I’ve seen the excitement and drive it’s given to those taking advantage of the tools and classes. I am most proud to see how many team members who have completed the program have already taken the next step in their career with us,” Lyle said.
Buffalo Wild Wings is one of numerous brands implementing new strategies to keep employees happy and motivated.
For example, TGI Fridays is offering a $2,500 reimbursement for general managers that covers hotels, meals, and anything else one might do on vacation. The reimbursement can be used all at once or over the course of multiple vacations. Smaller operations are also finding new ways to attract and retain talent. Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite, who run Milwaukee restaurants DanDan, EsterEv, and Fool’s Errand, recently did away with tipping in favor of a 20 percent service fee.