My first job at Wendy’s was in their Communications Department as a video editor. When Dave Thomas passed away, I was tasked with creating a video montage of all the great things he said at our Annual Franchisee Convention over the years. I remember popping in the tape from 1984 and listening to Dave talk about excelling at customer service, having clean restaurants and above all, making sure Wendy’s made the best tasting food. There was also some of his signature catch phrases (we called them Davisms): “quality is our recipe,” “treat people with respect,” “give something back,” and “take care of your business and your business will take care of you.”
After listening to 1984’s speech, I grabbed the next tape on the stack - 1999. Fifteen years later, he practically said the same exact thing - word for word. A focus on quality food, excellent service and clean restaurants. I even heard him say, “take care of your business and your business will take care of you.” And all the other years he spoke? The message never wavered.
It wasn’t just his convention speeches, it was every restaurant visit, too. As my career progressed at Wendy’s and I met franchisees and managers across the country, I learned that Dave constantly talked about quality, service and cleanliness where ever he went. And it seemed that he was always able to slip in something about giving back and The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
Wendy’s is known for their strong culture and values, founded and fostered by Dave Thomas. Consistent messaging was key to its success.
If you’re trying to create a great culture at your organization, the first step is always to define what it is. Determine what your brand means to your customers, your community and your employees. Once you’ve figured that out, you need to talk about it - all the time. Never stop. Every interview, orientation, manager meeting, restaurant visit and pre-rush huddle, talk about it. Year after year. That’s how you build decades of a strong culture.
One of my last projects at Wendy’s was contemporizing Dave’s famous autobiography, Dave’s Way. It’s a must read for any restaurant operator or owner and full of great advice. You can purchase Dave’s Way from Amazon here and all proceeds support the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
In addition to talking about your culture, demonstrating it is a must. Everything communicates, most importantly your actions. I was recently impressed by a story from another Columbus restaurant concept: Donatos. They’re known for their thin crust, edge-to-edge pizza but also for their strong family culture. Back in 2001, they were forced to close their Atlanta market because it wasn’t performing to Wall Street’s expectation. Instead of just closing their doors and walking away, Donatos treated their employees as family. They put on a job fair for everyone impacted and invited their competitors: McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King and other local restaurant companies, to interview them. All their managers had jobs within two weeks and even their hourly associates received severance packages. This spoke volumes to their employees in Atlanta, as well as employees throughout their system, their franchisees and their customers.
Consistency in your actions is a key part of building your culture. When your customers and employees see you doing the things you preach, then they trust you and believe. More so, managers and employees know they have your support to deliver on your culture. When your front-line employees execute your culture on their own without any direction from you, that’s when things really start singing! They heard you speak it - saw you live it - and then they have the freedom to do it as well.
In the restaurant industry, customers expect a consistent experience every time they visit. So do your employees. Preach your culture every day and live it in everything you do. Your brand (and profits) will be stronger for it.
Wal Ozello is a 20-year veteran in the Communications field with an expertise in culture, executive and founder communications. He’s an author, musician, blogger and worked for major brands such as The Wendy’s Company and Bear Stearns. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his LinkedIn profile https://www.linkedin.com/in/walozello/. His favorite Dave Thomas quote is “the harder you work, the luckier you get.”