How These Brands Keep Their Employees Happy

By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large

Engaged restaurant employees will give better service to your guests. 

Unfortunately, the restaurant industry is notorious for high turnover rates, meaning most restaurant staff members aren't engaged in their role.

Some employees are working at a restaurant while they are pursuing other careers like going to school. While, some are in it for the long-haul. Whatever it may be, a restaurant's company culture and what incentives the restaurant offers their staff impacts how they feel about their job. A positive, nurturing restaurant environment where employees feel rewarded keeps them motivated.

With that in mind, we decided to to chat with leaders from two brands known for offering incentives and maintaining a company culture that keeps their employees happy. We sat down with Scott Svenson, the co-founder & CEO of MOD Pizza and Ashley Derby, a Chick-fil-A franchise owner to see how they foster a rewarding company culture.

How does your brand and restaurant encourage a positive and nurturing company culture? 

Derby: This topic is so important to me and it's  the reason that I am a Chick-fil-A operator today. I started my journey and career with the brand as a team member at age 15. I was working with an operator in my local home town who was really big on people development and leadership. He encouraged me all throughout high school and into college to really just pursue my dreams. That ended up being a career with Chick-fil-A. I think back on my time as a team member and how I felt a sense of community, like I was part of bigger team and how we had a common purpose and goal. It really just encouraged and motivated me to follow my dreams and I ended up becoming an operator myself.

In my restaurant, I really strive to make sure that my team members are in a positive environment and that my restaurant is an enjoyable place to work. One of the things that we try to do to keep team members happy is offer a referral bonus. So if my current team members refer someone that they know, a family member or a friend and that person gets hired on at their restaurant, they get a referral bonus. The reasoning behind that is the community aspect that I spoke to earlier. I want the restaurant to be a place where my team members can have fun and be around people that they enjoy. 

We are also really big on celebrating milestones and accomplishments, birthdays. We do a monthly birthday dinner for everybody at the restaurant each month. Team members celebrating a birthday that month get treated to a nice dinner. We celebrate graduations and anything that is going on in team members' lives that should be celebrated. I want them to know that they're really cared for in the workplace.


Happy #CustomerServiceWeek to our remarkable team members! We couldn’t do it without y’all!

A post shared by Chick-fil-A, Inc. (@chickfila) on


We also are committed to paying, what we consider, a premium wage. Our average wage at the restaurant generally tends to hover around at least $2 above what the minimum wage requirements are. The reasoning behind that is that we want to be able to offer our team members a premium in higher pay for the work that they do inside of the restaurant. We feel like compensation is a big part of motivating team members. 

Chick-fil-A has implemented a cool program where team members all across the country can apply for a scholarship. In this past year, the scholarship amount has actually increased to $2,500. As operators, we are able to help our team members fill out the application and apply for the scholarship. Generally, those team members who apply are awarded with that dollar amount towards their education or tuition. It's definitely a perk of working at my restaurant, especially because it's so close to a college campus so we have a lot of team members who are interested in that benefit. I've had a number of team members over the years who've been able to take advantage of that.

Svenson: There's a lot to that. We are always trying to think about how people feel and try to make sure we make them feel safe. That means paying as well as we can, while offering good benefits. We give them a free meal everyday. 

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We just try to take care of them so they feel safe. We say once you've been hired here, we've acknowledged and recognized the individual for who they are and we want them to bring their best self to work and to embrace their individuality. We don't want them to hide who they really are. We're not looking for them to change their dress code or appearance, and that gives people a lot of latitude to bring their real personality to work– including all types of craziness, different dress codes and hair colors.

This is what we call individuality responsibility. We want you to totally embrace their own individuality, but it's also got to be responsible so it's always a balance. 

We have a culture which is focused on trust, we don't have a lot of rules and we give people a lot of latitude to make decisions. As long as they're staying inside the curves, as we call them, they have the ability to choose their own path. It's all about giving people the opportunity to bring their own personal approach to MOD. That's another important element to engage the team. There are a hundred touch points we make in terms of how people feel when they're here.

Our culture is a combination of attitudes and behaviors that people share at MOD. That starts with selecting the right people, but it also comes down to how we treat them and the environment that they work in everyday.

What are some of the ways the restaurant/brand rewards its employees?

Derby: Chick-fil-A has set up an environment to where I'm able to, as an operator, really care for and take care of my team members. We offer contests and other programs like that at the restaurant where they are awarded a prize or some sort of award, like a gift card. 

We offer them free food, free employee meal breaks for all of the shifts that they work. We offer flexible schedules. I know that a lot of my team members are in college and have other aspirations, dreams and goals. So, it's really my mission to try to encourage them no matter where they're going or no matter what they're pursuing. We aim to offer a flexible, fun environment to come and work, while they're also pursuing some of their other goals.

A post shared by MOD Pizza (@modpizza) on

I don't want this job to get in the way of their priorities and what they are working toward and trying to accomplish on the personal side of things. So, we always highlighted the flexible schedules as a reward or a benefit of working at Chick-fil-A.

Svenson: There's a couple of different levels. One is we do have a profit sharing. There's a financial aspect and if we are achieving certain profit goals, they share in that. 

We also do rewards based on secret shopper programs. When a store gets a perfect score, there's a big reward that goes back to the team. 

We do other things to drive behaviors amongst our GMs to celebrate and spend time with their team. For example, we support team building events outside of the store by helping to provide resources. 

Then we do the annual "meeting the MODs" which is a really fun event where we bring all of our general managers, all of our field team, and our support center together for two days in Seattle. It's a great opportunity to connect and build relationships, but we also have a bunch of annual rewards which are really fun. We offer awards that fit our underlining values. Behaviors and attitudes are a big driver of our rewards. It's a big, fun team building event.