Firehouse Subs Franchise
Published November 12, 2021

How High-Performing Quick-Service Restaurants are Attracting Employees

Along with providing solid training and overall support, some are laying out a clear career path for new hires

This article originally appeared in QSR Magazine

How do I find good employees? And what can I do to keep the good ones around?

These are the questions that keep restaurant operators up at night now. While employee recruitment and retention challenges are not new issues, the pandemic and its impact on the entire food industry have pushed them to the top of the list.

With 16 years of experience conducting independent surveys with franchise owners and corporate employees, Franchise Business Review has gained invaluable insight into what it takes to establish a winning company culture. Our data provides undeniable proof that the top performing food brands have strengthened their training and onboarding systems, provided a clear vision for their brand, and communicated effectively to their franchise owners and employees about changes to their services and products. They’ve also made sure to enhance perks and benefits this past year to help staff cope with the pandemic and have established clear career paths for all new employees.

Efforts to establish and maintain high franchisee and employee satisfaction before and during COVID have paid off for FBR’s award-winning food brands. It’s helped them with hiring and retaining good workers in a hyper-competitive marketplace, which has improved their bottom lines.

Mike Sartwell, the CEO of Preferred Restaurant Group, Inc. (PRG), which owns 14 Taco John’s in four states and has the development rights to Slim Chickens franchise locations in North Dakota and Montana, recently explained how the adversity brought on by the pandemic has highlighted both the company’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to employer-employee relationships.

“One of the biggest opportunities for us in the last year and a half was to get really focused on our culture and continue to evolve into a company that people want to be a part of,” said Sartwell, whose restaurant group employs approximately 400 people. “I mention this first because this has always been important to us. But we need to do better, and I believe this must be our major focus as we move forward.”

It should be pointed out that Slim Chickens was recently named to Franchise Business Review’s Top Food Franchises awards list, which identifies brands that rate extremely high for overall satisfaction with their franchise owners.

In the beginning of the pandemic, when a lot of uncertainty consumed the food and beverage industry and threatened the livelihood of millions of restaurant employees, Sartwell’s restaurant group created a PRG Cares Employee Relief Plan. This included an extra $2 per hour bonus to all employees for an extended period and updated its discounted meal plan to include free meals for employees.

“We also gave our employees a 75 percent discount on off-duty meals so they could inexpensively feed their families,” Sartwell says. “We began a 15,000 free meals initiative to offer a little help to families in need in our communities. I felt this would give all of us a little more purpose and make coming to work that much more meaningful.”

Recognizing that the leaders in an organization are key to setting the tone and wanting to retain and attract the best leaders in the industry, PRG implemented a compensation plan that was focused on getting its GMs to a position of being able to earn six-figure incomes. “We put this on the fast track in the middle of the pandemic,” Sartwell explained.

Additionally, to stay competitive, PRG increased its starting hourly wages for employees, and implemented a $5 per hour bonus pay for people working after 10 pm.

“I believe the most important work we’ve done to retain and attract employees is to continue to work on the culture within our restaurants. We’ve continued to focus on, and have enhanced, several things we have done right including the programs we have in place to give back to our communities,” Sartwell told us.

Another well-established food brand that’s ramped up its strategies and processes to keep employee engagement high throughout the pandemic is Jason’s Deli, a family-owned deli restaurant in Beaumont, Texas, that employs about 4,500 in over 250 locations in 28 states.

Michele Kemplay, the Director of Human Resources, said her company has taken on an “all-hands-on-deck approach” to bringing in new talent and maintaining a culture people want to work for. “We would much rather keep our hiring money in-house and reward employees in our referral program,” she said,

Jason’s Deli has put in place a self-paced, nine step “Career Path” that provides the tools to advance all the way up to managing partner of a deli in as little as 15 months, Kemplay explained.

Jason’s Deli is one of 30 restaurants that earned the distinction of being named to FBR’s Top Food Franchises awards list and are a 2021 finalist in FBR’s Franchising at Work Awards, which recognizes the best franchise cultures. Kemplay said the company likes to share the story of Ragan Edgerly’s career path with all new employees. Forty years ago, Edgerly started off as a busser and dishwasher at Jason’s Deli. Today, he’s president of the company.

“A big part of our hiring and retention strategy is soliciting feedback from our employees, and that’s why doing surveys every year is extremely valuable to us,” Kemplay said. “The last go-around we got back over 3,000 surveys from employees, and our overall satisfaction score was 83. Considering we’re still in a pandemic, we’re very pleased with that. But we’ll continue to look for ways to improve.”

Related Resource

Franchise Hiring Guide


Franchise Hiring Guide

If employee recruitment and retention are a concern for your franchise organization, download our free guide and you’ll learn:

  • Top 5 franchise workforce trends
  • Most common benefits offered to franchise employees
  • The biggest factors impacting recruitment and retention


About the Author: Eric Stites

Eric leads FBR’s research and consultants with clients in the area of franchise performance. He is an active member of the International Franchise Association (IFA), serves on the IFA’s VetFran and Franchise Relations Committees, and speaks frequently on topics related to franchise relations and best practices in franchising. Eric lives on the coast of Maine with his wife and two daughters, and enjoys spending as much time as possible on the ocean.
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