LIMA — Many local fast food restaurateurs characterize a good store manager as someone who can juggle multiple situations, communicate effectively and who has a proven record in the workplace.
That last trait seems to be one of the most important at local fast food restaurants, as many only hire managers from within.
“We promote from within,” said Scott Shutt, general manager of three local Kewpee Hamburgers locations. “It’s just a case of the best way for our people to learn is to learn from the ground up. No matter your formal training, you have to learn by doing.”
Local Subway and McDonald’s owners seem to agree.
Almost 100 percent of the managers at Lewis Family McDonald’s started as crew members, an entry level position with room for advancement, said Jessica Hall, an owner and operator of four of the family’s restaurants.
Harold Jackson, owner of four local Subway locations, likes to promote from within because then the employee has “already got an idea of how we operate,” he said.
Promoting employees from within and retaining long-term employees can also cut down on the financial costs of turnover and improve customer service, Jackson said.
“When I have long-term employees, it generally translates into much better customer service,” he said. “People I believe are better trained because they have been with us for a long time, and they know what needs to happen when.”
He values having long-term employees so much, he believes the benefits he offers them comes back as a return on his investment with the customer service they offer, Jackson said.
Jonathan Font started as a manager at the Subway on Elida Road, but his story seems to be the exception, not the rule.
He came to the location for more benefits, schedule flexibility and autonomy as a manager after 10 years at another restaurant. Jackson’s employees get a 401K and paid personal and vacation days.
A TOUGH SEARCH
Though many restaurants promote from within, it can sometimes be hard to find good people, whether they’re managers or crew members.
Shutt said everyone in the fast food industry is looking for good people.
“I think there’s right now a shortage,” he said. “A lot of turning in the workforce right now, economic problems are getting better.”
Driving around Lima, it’s visible that some restaurants are seeking managers and have been for a while.
Karen Harder, a professor of business at Bluffton University, said she suspects the possible shortage may be because “as the economy strengthens, people who have strong management skills have other opportunities.”
They may be able to move into different kinds of management opportunities.
Font, who found another opportunity at Subway, now hires employees at the store he manages.
The biggest problem he sees restaurants have when looking for managers is that people don’t look at working at a fast food restaurant as a career or aren’t dedicated to the job.
“I understand this is my career, and this is what I’m going to do,” Font said. “(Others) don’t look at their job as the most important thing. … They don’t see it as a career.”
Font works with four other supervisors or assistant managers regularly and relies on them. He knows they do look at the job as a career, and when he’s hiring, he looks for others who will too.
“The attitude I look for when I promote somebody is somebody willing to do it, even when it’s hard,” Font said.
THE ECONOMY’S ROLE
The economy may play a part in why some restaurants struggle to find managers, Harder said.
During the economic downturn, around 2008, people were afraid of losing their jobs, so they stayed in the same position more often.
Now, there’s “more movement within the economy,” she said.
“People are moving more often within positions and are leaving position because they have the idea that when they’re ready to come back into the paid workforce, there will be available positions for them,” Harder said.
Younger workers, who weren’t working during the recession, may be more willing to switch positions and leave employment, said Harder, who teaches management classes at Bluffton University.
Shutt said that lately, many employers in the industry are fighting over the same pool of candidates that want to take responsibility and be in a management position.
There aren’t many people who do, so they’re in demand, he said.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Good managers will have respect for other employees, strong communication skills and a strong understanding of the organization, said Harder.
At Ohio Northern University, Kristie McHugh, an assistant professor of management, teaches four concepts to students.
Effective managers are able to “plan things, organize things, lead people and control all these things they’ve set forth,” McHugh said.
Leadership is a part of management, but it’s not all of it, she said, and, the needed behaviors are “all trainable.”
Promoting from within can be beneficial to companies, she said.
“Bringing someone up who already has an idea and is empathetic to people at the lower level” can be good, she said. “Empathy helps them to lead better.”
Jackson looks for managers with what he calls a “relational personality.” He even employs a personality assessment or survey, the AcuMax Index, to find what position in the restaurant would best suit each candidate.
Managers he hires like to meet new people, are “jugglers” and can cope with several things happening at once.
He also wants “happy people.”
“If people are happy with what they’re doing, it translates,” Jackson said.
Harder’s advice for employers in need of managers is to “provide an opportunity for managers that allows the employees to grow and develop in their positions,” she said. “The opportunity for advancement, compensation increase over time, opportunities where managers have the sense that they’re making a different to the organization.”
Reach Danae King at 567-242-0511 or on Twitter @DanaeKing.