Paul Damico

The downturn of the economy is clearly behind us. Companies have their feet back under them and are once again focused on expanding, acquiring, adding clients and hiring employees. Now is a great time to grow.

Moe’s Southwest Grill is one of those fortunate companies that made it through and, for the past few years, has been experiencing growth. In fact, Moe’s is preparing to open restaurants at a much more substantial rate than in years past. While this is great news, growth, of course, comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities.

So how do you prepare your organization for growth? 

Establish a viable strategy

First, you need to have a sound strategy for how you go about it. Moe’s expects to double in size in the next three to four years — but how many will we open next year, and can our current organization support it? Those are questions that can be answered with a solid strategy.

It was important for me to work with the team to set our opening goals together so everyone bought in — now we know next year we’ll open 100 restaurants, 150 the year after that and another 200 after that. Including the team early in the planning allows you to get support, but it also helps you hold the team accountable for the goals it sets.

Explosive growth means opening 100 to 200 restaurants a year, which is also like opening a small restaurant chain each year. The support team that’s in place to support 500 restaurants will also need to grow, so it’s important to understand the people impact of growth. How do you become a recruiting machine but hold on to your company culture? I currently meet the final candidates for nearly every position we hire, even if for just a few minutes, to ensure they can “play well in the sandbox” with the rest of the team.

I stay involved because I know growth is one thing that can fracture our culture and ultimately the company. It’s important to recruit quality people who are the right fit, because when you don’t, there’s a good chance the culture will slip away. 

Define departmental roles

In the grand growth plan, every department should play a clearly defined role and be a vital part of the growth strategy.

In the franchising model, franchise sales are the pipeline. Real estate leads the way to introduce the concept across a larger geographic area. Training helps new restaurants open and is on the ground to mobilize what they do in the restaurant. Operations supports training and the franchise partners to ensure customers have a consistent, positive experience. Marketing promotes our products and what our company stands for and grows sales.

As a leader, you know that some of the most exciting times can be the most challenging. But with a sound strategy, the right people in place and departments that are involved and know their roles, you should be full steam ahead.

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 500 locations nationwide. Paul 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 pdamico@moes.com.

 

When your company reaches its goals, receives awards or hits a milestone, what do you do? Do you share the news with the entire company, or just your executive team?

Celebrating wins is an easy way to align your entire team with your company goals, kick up your company culture and overall capitalize on the good news. 

Acknowledge the wins

Take the opportunity to give your team background on how the win came about. Take them on a journey through the process — from goal-setting, to the action plan, to the big win.

Moe’s Southwest Grill recently opened its 500th restaurant  — a milestone in our company’s history. It was a milestone we were proud to share with our customers, our franchise partners and the corporate support center.

In communicating this, I talked about what the company looked like five years ago when I joined, steps we have taken to set a solid foundation, and what we have done since then with our franchise partners to set us up for success as a growth brand. That’s a key piece as well — transition from the past to the present and give your team a peek into the future to get them excited about the next milestone. We’re already talking about what it’s going to take to get to our 1,000th restaurant and ways our team can help get us there. 

Include and recognize your team

Once you’ve communicated the good news, how do you celebrate it with your team? Bring everyone together so you’re not just telling, but showing, your team that their contributions are having a positive impact on the company.

It’s also a good opportunity to get the team together in a social environment outside of the office. Don’t let the cost get in the way — it will be paid back two-fold by having engaged employees and positive team morale.

I like to get the Moe’s team together fairly frequently as a thank you for all they do. They get to know each other on a personal level, which really contributes to the positive atmosphere and family-like culture we take pride in. 

Give mementos to commemorate the wins 

When we celebrated our 500th store, we gave the team plaques that say, “Thank you for being part of a team that rocks — Moe’s 500th Restaurant.” Over time, the mementos you award your team members become a visual timeline of their success and contributions to the organization.

They develop a sense of pride that they were there for those exciting times. It encourages them to continue their hard work so they can build on that collection. It becomes a depiction of their career and of the brand they helped to build.

Given the current state of the economy with companies failing and people getting laid off, it’s more important than ever to take advantage of positive company news, successes and wins by sharing them with the team, recognizing them for their contributions and giving them something to remind them daily that they’re part of something great. ● 

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 500 locations nationwide. He has been a leader in the foodservice industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. Damico can be reached at pdamico@moes.com.

LinkedIn: http://linkd.in/17BvjFA
Twitter: @pdamico

 

Every year, your company conference creeps up. So, who’s going to plan it? Who needs to go? What does the agenda look like, and what is it we want people to take away from the experience? Set the stage from the beginning with a cross-functional planning committee, determine the key members of your team who need to attend and ensure at the end they have key takeaways.

Planning a meeting is no small task, especially when it involves hundreds, potentially thousands, of people. While meeting planning often is the job function of one person, a cross-functional planning team can have positive effects.

First, it ensures all your departments are represented and that the topics from each discipline will be discussed. Second, it brings perspectives from different people, and with that, new ideas. It also allows employees to get involved and develop new skills they may otherwise not have been exposed to.

Conferences can get expensive, and when you add in the fact that they are often in different states and last for several days, a company has to be strategic about who can attend. It’s important your senior leadership team attends, as those leaders will likely be the ones presenting the strategy and reporting on the team’s accomplishments.

While not all associates need to attend, be sure to include those who lead teams, those who interact with vendors and those who have a purpose for being there. For employees who don’t attend year after year, it could be a nice surprise to invite one or two a year that don’t typically make the list.

Vendors are vital to a company’s success, whether they are partners of record or help on a project basis. It’s important they are invited, have a seat at the table, and hear the same messages your team does, because they are an extension of your team.

So now you’re at the conference and your team is attending the general sessions. They go to the break-outs. They listen to a guest speaker. They visit the vendor fair. Conferences are so much more than just following the agenda. I challenge you and your teams at the next conference to do the following:

Make a friend — There are always people you don’t know at conferences; many people attend just to network. Take the time to meet new people and get to know what they do and how they contribute to your company’s success. Keep in touch with the people you meet.

Develop existing relationships — If you have acquaintances at conferences, think about how you can take your business relationship with them to the next level, whether it’s learning something new about them or their business.

Learn something new — Lots of new information and ideas are shared at conferences. Attend with an open mind and be ready to learn. Take two or three new learnings and put together an action plan around them.

Recognize accomplishments — Conferences are a great opportunity to publicly recognize both employees and vendors who contributed to your company’s success.

In addition to celebrating accomplishments, it’s a good time to inspire attendees about the future. Conference themes that are reflective of the company’s long-term objectives will help ensure associates and vendors at all levels leave with a common understanding of the company’s strategies and what it is counting on them to accomplish.

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with over 490 locations nationwide. Paul 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 pdamico@moes.com. 

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 pdamico@moes.com.

 

 

 

“It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose; it’s how well you played the game.”

Do you agree? Or should the quote be, “Knowing the score will push you to play the game your hardest”?

I recently read “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling. The discipline that stuck out in my mind most was Discipline No. 3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard. While it may be true that it’s not whether you win or lose, a very important factor in determining how well you played is keeping a scoreboard.

Create a focal point

Whether on the field or in the office, if you’re not keeping score, you’re just practicing. Imagine you’re watching a lacrosse game with players that aren’t keeping score. You might see the players screwing around, not passing or cradling the ball, being careless about field positioning, taking risky shots or playing without any strategy in mind. No one’s trying to win.

Now, imagine there’s a scoreboard. You see the teams start to develop strategies on how they can work together to outsmart their opponents, maintain possession and defend their goal. The players play with more intensity and have a will to win, and there’s more sweat and blood.

When you have a team working together to drive your business forward, unfortunately, there’s no time for practice shots. Your team needs to keep score and be “game on” — working hard strategically and pushing toward the same goal.

Let the team set goals

Many organizations have their top leader develop their scorecard, filled with a bunch of information and lofty goals that no one on the team knows about. Or if they do know about it, they’re not sure how it was derived or what it was based on. When the leader sets the goals and puts them in their office, how is the team to know what they’re trying to achieve?

Allowing your team members on the ground to develop the scorecard helps it become personal to them. They buy in to it. They have a passion for updating it and have a desire to reach the goals they help set. Ultimately, the scorecard is for the team, not the boss. So let them set it.

Display score clearly

Some scoreboards have data on every point played, stats on every player and even stats from the entire season. Some have graphs and charts. Cut through all the clutter and help your team stay focused.

What is the main goal the team is seeking? They should be able to figure out the score within seconds of looking at the scoreboard.

Also, where is the scoreboard displayed? Is it in the boss’s office? How are your team members to know whether or not they’re close to reaching it?

Don’t be afraid to put your scoreboard on display in a common area where people congregate. They should see it every day and know right away what they’re working toward. If you have people in the field, take your scoreboard on the road.

Everyone wins

When you keep score, allow your team to help set the score and provide constant updates, everyone wins. At Moe’s Southwest Grill, we have to be “game on” every day for the team, for our franchise partners and for our customers. Because when we meet our goals, our guests win, too. They get clean restaurants, the freshest food and high scores on the board across the system. This tells us that the guest is really enjoying the game.

But at the end of the day, I know our team can say — with confidence — that they set the score, they knew the score and they played their hardest to win. ?

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 430 locations nationwide. Damico has been a leader in the food service industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. He can be reached at pdamico@moes.com.

Regardless of what products you’re selling, we’re all really in the people business, aren’t we? And as a business, we are really only as good as the people running the ship. Needless to say, attracting the best people and keeping them inspired to perform at their highest potential is one of the most important things you can do as a business leader.

Not only is recruitment expensive, but it is also time-consuming, which is why it makes great business sense to get it right the first time.

Commit to the fact that it will take more than just your human resources department to create a top-performing team. Recruiting is part of everyone’s job, and the company culture should reflect the importance of it. At Moe’s, we make the interview process a priority. No fewer than seven associates interview, regardless of what position the candidate is interviewing for.

Use a list as a guide

It all starts with the job description. You know the skills and experience it takes to perform a particular job, but what does that job look like when performed by a superstar? What skills and what personal attributes are most critical in order for a person to exceed expectations in a particular role?

Identifying what is needed, prioritizing and committing to not settling for less will help you get the right candidates through the door. Use the job description to guide the interview process. Get the interviewing team aligned around what to look for and around your intent to hire only the best.

Interview with purpose

Admittedly, I’ve been guilty of reviewing a candidate’s resume a few moments prior to the interview. It’s easy to get busy and let preparing to be a good interviewer slip. However, to get the most out of the interview process, do research on the candidate, follow up with references and ask the open-ended questions that will get at the skills that are most needed to be successful at the job.

Some candidates may have all of the required skills, but they may not be a strong cultural fit, which in my opinion is more important. At Moe’s, we often ask questions such as, “What do you enjoy doing on the weekend?” This helps us understand the candidate on a more personal level.

To combat that concern, have several key players on your team interview candidates, and take their feedback to heart.

Also, bring in as many people as possible for an interview. The more people you interview, the greater the odds that you’ll find the perfect fit.

Complete and repeat

Once you’ve hired the candidate that fits the top-performer description, the next step is keeping him or her happy. Typically, top performers are highly motivated people who are eager to make an impact on the organization and advance their careers.

Be sure your top performers know they are appreciated. They will enjoy added responsibility and will appreciate a company that offers a clear vision of the future and goals upon which they can measure their success.

The best part about recruiting great candidates is that they will attract other great candidates. Next thing you know, you’ll be surrounded by a team that is talented, motivated, smarter than you and ready to grow your business beyond what you thought was possible.

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 430 locations nationwide. Damico has been a leader in the food service industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. He can be reached at pdamico@moes.com.

If everyone in your organization was as invested in and knowledgeable about your company’s strategies as you are, your team would be unstoppable, right?

But how do you get everyone from the vice president of sales to the front-line worker to embrace that concept? I would argue that a targeted communication strategy can help get you there.

Tailor your message

Know your audience. Be concise and talk about issues that matter most to that particular group.

For example, in the Moe’s business, our general managers don’t care how many franchise deals we’ve sold, although it’s important to us. And our investors don’t care about our quarterly promotions, although those are important to us also.

Why does your audience care about what you have to say, and what is the one thing you hope they walk away remembering?

Consider the mode

Some people like to learn by doing. Others like to learn by listening. When communicating, know what your audience prefers, and present accordingly.

For example, general managers work in a fast-paced environment and are on their feet all day. It’s difficult for them to sit still and watch a PowerPoint for hours, whereas the VP of sales is used to that style.

At Moe’s, we do annual regional meetings were we pay for our general managers to attend. We try to make this meeting interactive with roundtables, panels and frequent breaks to keep our audience’s attention.

The timeliness of the message and the workflow of the audience can help you determine the appropriate vehicle. We know our managers and crew members are working in the restaurant all day, so if we send an e-mail at noon, they most likely will not read it until late that night. So if it’s something that can’t wait, perhaps a phone call or text message would make more sense.

Determine the frequency

In order to cover all of our bases, we communicate with franchise partners and general managers weekly via e-mail, quarterly via a newsletter, annually via regional meetings and biannually via a worldwide conference. Clearly, we know it’s important for this group to be hearing from us constantly and in various formats.

I meet with my management team monthly because it’s important that group understand what is going on with all departments so they can report back to their teams. Our stakeholders hear from us quarterly because they are most interested in financial data and trends.

It’s important to develop a communication strategy in advance to ensure wide attendance and rich content. Let people mark their calendars a year in advance if possible to reiterate the importance of the meeting.

Remember when communicating to articulate your message in a way that is most appropriate for your audience. Just because you prefer a certain form of communication does not mean your audience feels the same.

Lastly, always measure your success. Our conferences and regional meetings are always followed by a survey soliciting feedback so we can learn how to be better. We also do an annual associate and franchise partner satisfaction survey to find areas of opportunity. <<

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 430 locations nationwide. Damico has been a leader in the food service industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. He can be reached at pdamico@moes.

Everyone is talking about social media. As a result, I’ve read dozens of articles on the topic to better understand what it means for business. I even have a team that manages it and sends me reports on a regular basis.

However, it wasn’t until I joined Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook myself that I began to truly understand it. When I started using these platforms for my own personal and social purposes, I began to get what the fuss was all about.

Not a spectator sport

Just like anything else, real-world experience adds more value than research alone. If you lead an organization, joining social networks gives you the opportunity to listen and respond to your employees, customers and fellow industry leaders, as well as spot trends and issues.

Don’t feel pressure to jump on Twitter, for example, and just start tweeting away. Ease into it. Follow people of interest and listen to the conversation. Watch how people use hashtags, @replies and retweets. Be yourself. And remember, it’s not supposed to be work, it’s supposed to be fun.

I would encourage you to begin as an average consumer and try not to think about it from a business perspective. Once you’re a comfortable user of a platform, the business aspect will come naturally.

Resist the ad urge

We can’t help ourselves. We read all about social media and how it can drive sales, and we feel inclined to join Facebook and blast ad copy. Resist. Try to think of social media as a public relations function rather than an advertising function.

Social media is about two-way communication and building relationships. So what’s important in a relationship? Honesty, transparency, sense of humor, listening and making people feel special. The same rules apply in social media.

As a business leader, social media provides you with the opportunity to connect one on one with your customers. Share what you have in common. Help them understand how your business fits into their lives. Let them participate in building your brand. Make a difference in their communities. Acknowledge and reward your biggest fans, and win back fans that had a bad experience.

While contests, promotions, deals and giveaways can be a lot of fun, remember there is value in building trust and loyalty through simply listening and responding on social platforms. Of course, this is just my opinion, but I say build relationships first, sell your product second.

Lead, follow and like

Whether you decide to join social media networks or not, your customers will be there talking about your brand. You can help lead the conversation, correct false information and attract new customers or you can leave that to someone else to do on your behalf. Taking a leadership position when it comes to social media will send a strong message, and your team will surely follow.

The way the world communicates is changing. Get on the bus and help lead the change.

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 430 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 pdamico@moes.com.

 

One of the emotional benefits of owning or leading a business is the sense of fulfillment that comes with using your size and scale to benefit a worthy cause.

There are certainly compelling business reasons to build a corporate charitable partnership, but when doing so, be sure to keep your No. 1 goal at the helm: help the cause.

Know that the ROI will be difficult to calculate on a balance sheet. Make the choice to be OK with that, and move forward with the partnership because it is the right thing to do. Trust that the financial benefits will be felt over time.

Philosophically, no one would argue that supporting a charity is awesome, but when it comes to asking colleagues, clients and business partners to contribute their time and money, you’ll often find not everyone is leaping out of their seats at once to pitch in.

Take that in stride. Relationships are built over time. The key to building a successful charitable partnership is choosing the right cause, getting the internal team on board and encouraging consumer participation.

Choose the right cause

There are hundreds of fantastic organizations out there, but you want to pick the cause that is just right for your company. What unique goods and services can your company offer a charitable partner?

It’s important to pick an organization that can truly benefit from the level contribution that you are realistically able to provide. Oftentimes, the consumer reach that a corporate partner can offer to spread a charitable organization’s message is its most valuable asset. What assets can your business bring to the table?

The emotional connection with the cause is equally as important. Putting a face behind the fundraising inspires participation. Can the charitable organization offer a spokesperson that will resonate with your audience?

If your company is national, your charitable partner should be national. If your company has local outlets and connects with local communities, your charitable partner should have local chapters, as well, and the money that is raised local should stay local.

In other words, determine what your company is able to contribute (time, services, goods, cash, etc.), then decide what factors will be most important to the constituents you expect to support the cause.

Get the team on board

Donating to a cause means writing a big check. Creating a charitable partnership is a much bigger undertaking. First you’ll want to get your internal team on board. This means clearly communicating the details of the partnership, the attributes of the cause (once again if you have an actual spokesperson, even better) and what is expected from the members of the team. Before you can get your customers involved, you’ve got to get your team to be emotionally invested in the partnership. The best way is to lead them in a hands-on project with the organization. Reward people who take a leadership role in participating and make it a fun, team-building activity. Now it is no longer just a cause they have read about on paper, but they have actually worked with the organization and personally contributed.

Encourage consumer participation

It is no secret that consumers are attracted to brands that support a cause. According to a recent study conducted by Emory University with 1,600 Moe’s Southwest Grill consumers, seeing a charitable message at the point of purchase will increase return visits, intent to recommend, brand trust and satisfaction. It’s meaningful to get your charitable message in front of your customers. Encouraging participation connects your brand with their desire to contribute to their community. If a guest can feel that he or she has contributed simply by choosing to affiliate with your brand, then that is a win for all parties. 

Moe’s Southwest Grill selected the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, whose mission is to cure and treat type 1 diabetes, because we felt that it met our criteria and offered an opportunity for our corporate team, our franchise partners and our customers to get involved at a variety of levels.

When you are ready to commit to creating a charitable partnership, be fearless and jump in with both feet. Resist the urge to do an ROI analysis and keep in mind that you are making a positive impact on a nonprofit organization that needs your help. Trust that your genuine intent will resonate with both internal and external audiences, and when your bottom line feels it, too — well, that’s just an added bonus. 

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 400 locations nationwide. Damico has been a leader in the food service industry for longer than 20 years with companies, such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. He can be reached at pdamico@moes.com.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011 20:01

Paul Damico's tips for better listening

If you can’t read minds, the best way to find out what someone is thinking is to ask. But when it comes to marketing, so often we are talking — or in many cases, shouting — the messages we want our customers to hear, and we’re not pausing enough to listen.

As business owners, our challenge is hear these valuable opinions, make sense of them and react to them in a meaningful way to help grow our businesses.

To get the full picture, you need to know what your guests say about you and your competitors, both to your face and behind your back. If middle school taught us anything, it’s that those two versions can be drastically different.

You also need to understand how to use the information strategically to increase guest satisfaction, guide innovation, tighten operations and better your business overall.

Gathering customer insights

Some of the most common methodologies that are used to get inside the mind of your customer include the following.

Large-scale consumer research: No less than every other year, your company should invest in working with a third-party research company to gauge how your customers perceive your brand, competitors, products and service, etc. Large-scale research can help a company create long-term strategies and will let you know if you are on or off course against your company mission.

Focus groups: To answer questions like, “How does this piece of marketing make you feel? Do you prefer the taste of this product or this one?” Your best bet may be a focus group. This method is best to gain in-depth answers that oftentimes get at the emotional needs that drive decision-making. Focus groups allow two-way communication that can lead to brand-new insights.

Daily monitoring: Every day, your company should have a push-and-pull method of gathering customer feedback. A push method might be incentivized feedback like providing a link to an online survey with every receipt, and when you fill it out, you get a coupon. Or asking a specific question to your Facebook fans like, “If we had a mobile app, what would you want it to do?” The customer feedback section on your company website would fall under this category, as well.

A pull method might be monitoring chatter on Twitter, blogs, forums and business review sites like Yelp.com. This is great way to find out what your guests are saying behind your back. The informal nature of social media makes people feel comfortable to say what they really think. Social media monitoring can help companies spot trends, opportunities or issues as they develop. As an example, at Moe’s Southwest Grill we noticed our guests had a lot of questions about gluten and nutrition, so we made that information more accessible on our website and in our restaurants. Best of all, we spent zero dollars against gaining that insight.

Making sense of guest feedback

The most important part of conducting consumer research is using it. It sounds obvious, but it can be tempting to get a gigantic report full of insights and choose to move forward, business as usual.

Encourage your team to react to the research, and take the big risks that may be necessary to meet your consumers’ ever-changing needs.

For example, two years ago, research told us that organic, all-natural, healthy menu items were important to our guests. It would’ve been easier to not go after that demographic, but instead we spent the better part of 18 months tweaking recipes to meet the needs of our guests. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Your leadership team should consider insights from large-scale research, focus groups and daily monitoring to guide decision-making. Long-term strategy often comes from large-scale research, while focus groups really help steer marketing and R&D innovation. Daily monitoring is most commonly addressed through immediate response but should be tracked carefully for reoccurring themes or issues.

Bottom line, the key to understanding your customer is to listen. Just like any relationship, your relationship with your customers should involve two-way communication, honesty and trust, compassion, and, of course, fun. Use research to help keep relationships with your guests on track.

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 400 locations nationwide. He has been a leader in the food service industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. He can be reached at pdamico@moes.com.

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