retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Yesterday we took note of a New York Times story about high-profile chefs who currently are running some of the nation's most prestigious and gastronomically adventurous restaurants, but who got much of their training and early experience working at the likes of Applebee's, IHOP, and Wendy's.

The Times noted that while "chain restaurants are often accused of a sterile uniformity and a lack of attention to quality ingredients, nutrition and the environment," for people wanting to get into the restaurant business, they offer "formalized training, efficient operations, predictable schedules and corporate policies that claim to discourage the kind of abuses that have come to light in the #MeToo era," not to mention often better pay and benefits.

I loved this notion, and wondered how supermarkets - many of which have those same attractions but might be able to use some innovation assistance on the culinary side - might be able to get in on the action.

But apparently it isn't just Applebee's, IHOP, and Wendy's that are teaching people what they need to know to succeed in business.

Think Waffle House.

That's right. Waffle House. There are close to 2,000 of them, with 40,000 employees, and the company is estimated to have roughly $1 billion in annual sales.

A friend of mine yesterday sent me a story from a November Wall Street Journal - that I somehow missed when it came out - arguing that Waffle Houses are a great source of management talent.

Managers there need to be able to achieve speed and have endurance. "If the restaurant is busy or short-staffed, managers are expected to dive in," the Journal wrote. "The company’s training program teaches them how to analyze P&L statements, but it also prepares them to cook, clean and wait tables." Managers know that success depends on keeping regulars, and so they get good at customers service.

They make good money, and since Waffle House only promotes from within, it is a job that allows them to build some measure of wealth.

Waffle House "says the share price of its employee-owned stock, which is based on its audited book value, has increased every year for the last 57. The company says it typically opens about 50 new restaurants a year." And so managers don't leave.

That's not to say Waffle House is a perfect place to learn management skills. It isn't. They have lots of problems … but it may well be that "a successful Waffle House manager could succeed in almost any retail job in America."

In other words, an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: