‘Undercover Boss’ gives president inside look at how his company is operating

Paul Damico, President, Moe's Southwest Grill

Paul Damico, President, Moe’s Southwest Grill

I recently had the opportunity to go undercover in my restaurants for the reality TV show “Undercover Boss.” Typically when I visit our restaurants, the team is prepared for my arrival. The show gave me an unfiltered view of what’s going on in Moe’s Southwest Grill restaurants on the front line and provided me a fresh perspective on what our customers see and experience.  

What do you do to regularly take a pulse on your company? How do you learn about what’s happening on the front line? Do you know the issues your front-line workers are facing on a daily basis?

Work the front line

Although I trained in a restaurant when I joined the company, I’ll admit it was a bit intimidating working the cash register alongside a general manager on “Undercover Boss.” Our new employees work on the line in our restaurants for several days as part of their new employee orientation.

Whatever the position — coordinator, analyst or vice president — all employees participate and should understand what those associates do and what their guests or customers experience. It provides a new perspective on how the business operates and offers valuable lessons that you can apply in the office.

For example, when I went undercover, I learned that the process of labeling our produce is cumbersome, and I needed to fast-track our plans to automate that task. Additionally, I was able to get a good read on how projects we roll out from the corporate office are being understood in the field. Things change over time, so consider implementing a program where employees work the front line once a year.

Encourage engagement

I was constantly concerned about being recognized by the management team who I see at minimum on an annual basis. Moe’s holds annual regional meetings for our general managers, but everyone from the corporate team is also required to attend at least one, helping them to stay connected to the issues that GMs face in the restaurant every day. The team hears ideas on how to better operate their restaurants and how to improve service, and it also helps foster relationships between the managers and support teams.

What types of forums do you hold to encourage engagement among all levels of your company?

Market tours

Working on the front line helps you see what’s going on from different viewpoints within a location, but there are many other factors that impact stores based on their specific region. It’s important for senior leadership and key team members to get out into the field and do market tours.

Don’t wait for a crisis to happen; that shouldn’t be the reason you visit a market. Find a system that works — whether it’s a different city each month or an entire market once a quarter — and then bring back what you learned and share with the team.

The experience was exhausting, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Among other things, I’ve learned the importance of connecting one-on-one with the people who run the business and the value of listening without my president hat on. Getting to see the company from a different lens is something that will continue to be a priority for me for years to come. ●

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 480 locations nationwide. Damico has been a leader in the foodservice industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand, LLC; and Host Marriott. He can be reached at [email protected]