Right before the pandemic, Ohio-based fast-casual chain Piada Italian Street Food began doubling down on its technology investment. In 2020, the brand kept busy by launching an app and pilot-testing drive-thru locations, which guests really responded to in the off-premises-focused world of lockdowns. Last year, however, with all of the technology in place, the biggest investment Piada made was in its people.
Executive chef Matt Harding largely attributes the company’s 24% sales growth and 8% unit growth in 2021 to investing in his staff, even before the labor shortage became a major issue for the restaurant industry.
“For us, the story is that our teams have afforded us our growth,” Harding said. “If you’ve got somebody who’s working tremendously hard throughout the pandemic and has really toughed it out and made the brand stronger, it’s time to reward them with opportunity.”
In 2021, Piada rolled out pay raises for its employees as well as daily pay, which allows employees to access payment after every shift. Harding said the team also enhanced their HR policies, including PTO and parental leave improvements.
“We didn’t necessarily do this to keep up with what was happening in the industry [with the labor shortage],” Harding said. “But we wanted to do things to attract and keep the best people. It’s always a balance between wanting to bring people in and keep them there, but also satisfy the needs of the business.”
Harding said he understands that while career building is important to many of Piada’s longtime employees, a sizable portion will be students for whom working at Piada is a summer job or a job before they launch their careers elsewhere. If you can make sure the quality of life is above-average for both long-term employees and students that are with you for a few months, then you won’t have to worry about rapid turnover, he said.
“Young growing brands offer a lot of opportunity for young people,” Harding said. “It can really create careers; I have a lot of people on my team that have been with us for six or seven years. You have to learn how to create more for them. By expanding the footprint of the company, we can make it more vigorous. We all want Piada to reach its full potential.”
Harding added that in 2021, the company focused on executing brand promise, from treating employees right to personalized customer service. To create personalized service, Piada is utilizing the newly minted tech that it invested in in 2019 and 2020. The team is looking at guest analytics to put new strategies into action. For example, they want to use digital order recommendations for guests to turn a once-in-a-while customer into a regular customer.
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