Sourcing School by RecruitingDaily

The Story of Raising Canes’ Adaptability with JD Cummings

October 27, 2023 Brian Fink, Ryan Leary, and Shally Steckerl
Sourcing School by RecruitingDaily
The Story of Raising Canes’ Adaptability with JD Cummings
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ready to get some insider knowledge about navigating the turbulent waters of the food service industry? Our guest, JD Cummings, the mastermind behind the resilience and adaptability of Raising Canes, spills the beans on how they managed to pivot their operations amid a global pandemic and what led to their record-breaking application volume in June 2021.

Despite facing the unique challenges brought by the pandemic, Raising Canes was labeled an essential employer and tactically switched to drive-throughs. And even though the great resignation led to a significant drop in applications, they still found ways to ensure a top-notch experience for each candidate.

Special mini series recorded with Oleeo at HR Tech 2023 with hosts Ryan Leary, Brian Fink, and Shally Steckerl


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Speaker 1:

Hey everybody, welcome back to Recruiting Daily's Sources School podcast, powered by Olio. At the Talent Acquisition Content Lounge on the floor in Vegas at HR Tech, I'm joined by my brother from another mother, mr Shaly Stackroll.

Speaker 2:

What's going on?

Speaker 1:

We are joined by JD Cummings, who has just discovered has been in recruiting for not one, not two, not three, but five years, and we were having a spelling quiz on whether or not he could spell A-T-S. It's word scores three. Jd, do you want to? Do you want to from Raising Canes? Do you want to give us an attempt at spelling A-T-S or use it in a sentence? Can you give me the country of origin?

Speaker 2:

Country of origin would be never neverville neverville, neverville, sure, something or other, yeah, e-o-c.

Speaker 1:

JD, welcome to the program. We know that you've got about 20 plus years of experience in talent acquisition.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's five out of the last five years.

Speaker 1:

Five out of the last five years, we know that you lead the function at Raising Canes, one of my favorite places to frequent on Baxter Street in Athens, georgia, whenever I'm in town for a UGA game. Jd, welcome to the program. What's going on, thanks for having me out.

Speaker 3:

Appreciate it Awesome. We have so many questions for you. I'm ready, so many. I just got the one question answered like how to make the best lemonade.

Speaker 1:

There you go, how to make the best lemonade. Don't, don't, don't. We're not doing that. We're not doing that.

Speaker 3:

But they do have the best lemonade and chicken tender chicken tenders on the market. So I frequent there often, too often. Jd and the most craveable sauce in the US.

Speaker 2:

Oh, I mean the cane sauce, Absolutely Most craveable sauce in the US. Oh yeah, it's a designation.

Speaker 3:

It's award we won. Technomic gave it to us. I think it was last year Wow.

Speaker 1:

Yeah.

Speaker 3:

I got to go buy some sauce. You can actually buy it in a in a cup, like a 32 ounce cup, if you want Wow.

Speaker 2:

I'm not going to crave it, I'm checking that out. Yeah, well, I got chicken.

Speaker 1:

I said chicken. Okay, that's what I thought. I just wanted to make sure All right. First question for you today, first question.

Speaker 2:

How did? How did it go with the pandemic and like high volume hiring and food service hiring?

Speaker 3:

Wow, oh, softball right out of the gate, ladies, and gentlemen, all right, yeah, you know we were very blessed that during the pandemic, we were labeled as a essential employer. We were able to operate, we had a drive through, so an easy vehicle to be able to serve our customers. One of the things that you know when we closed our dining rooms, we did lose a significant amount of our sales and so, as a company, we had to find a way to pivot. But the first call we got from our leadership was how do we make sure that we go through this pandemic with no crew member left behind, no layoffs, no furloughs, nothing, even though we lost, you know, a big chunk of our sales and closed dining rooms? So we pivoted in our business and said how can we gain all those sales back through the drive there? How can we be faster and more efficient? We created the kitchen of the future for our business. We deployed tablets at most of our restaurants. At that point we were in pilot, but we expanded the pilot, we changed the way that we operate and we were able to gain back the majority of those sales. Keep our folks employed During 2020,. You know, recruiting was rather easy. Obviously, I think we all know emerging from 2020 into 2021, the great resignation. We started to see massive decline in applications in March of 2021. And I started reaching out to my peers in town acquisition. I'm like hey did. Did half of your applications just disappear overnight because we're not seeing it? Um, and we're generating a couple hundred thousand applications a month. So when we see those numbers decline, it's it's a pretty material change for our business. So it was challenging 2021 was not easy.

Speaker 2:

Now um. The applications declined, but the quality of candidates stayed the same, so you had altogether net fewer candidates, or did you just have a lot fewer bad quality candidate applications?

Speaker 3:

I think it was a combination of both.

Speaker 2:

A little bit of both, yeah.

Speaker 3:

Lower volume and and you know, so people had left the industry, People had decided that they didn't want to work in restaurants anymore and and they were pursuing other things and there were other opportunities available to them. Have you seen those numbers come back now, kind of post everybody's back to work and back to normal? Absolutely yeah, this last June we hit a record high application volume in company history. So typically we see that with students that are looking for summer jobs. So, yeah, we definitely are seeing a great application flow right now.

Speaker 1:

Talk about that great application flow. How do you make sure that you deliver a great customer experience to each of those candidates, the same way that you treat me in your stores?

Speaker 3:

Absolutely.

Speaker 2:

That is one of our biggest concerns, because every candidate, they all get a cup of sauce.

Speaker 1:

A cup of 32 ounces.

Speaker 3:

For us, you know being a very consumer facing brand, every candidate is a customer and we have to consider that. And in recruiting the, the net outcome for most candidates is negative. You know, 10 people apply for a job, there's one job available. Nine people are going to be disappointed.

Speaker 1:

We're in the no business.

Speaker 3:

So how do you make sure you provide the best candidate experience? One thing that we did when we configured our ATS for restaurant managers. They're running a business all day long. They're not in the back office at the computer. They're not thinking about you know how do how do I manage my my requisition? So we enabled them that when they do an interview and they decide that they don't want to move forward with a candidate, they can immediately go back to their office right after the interview, decline the candidate and it holds that email in a 24 hour quarantine before it sends it to the candidate. And so you know they, the manager, is keeping their requisition clean, they know who they've disposition, they know who they're not moving forward with and the candidate isn't walking out to their car in the parking lot getting an email that says hey, thanks, but no thanks. You know it allows the candidate to to know that we gave it serious consideration, we've made a decision, we're not moving forward with them. It closes the loop, provides the best possible candidate experience that we can in that scenario.

Speaker 2:

Right, yeah, you don't want to be literally having the guy turn around in the parking lot. The guy or gal turn around in the parking lot. Wait a minute. Why didn't you hire me? Yeah?

Speaker 3:

We've even talked about and we might do this coming up is something where, when a candidate does take the time to apply and come in for an interview and have a conversation with us, could we offer them something. Could we offer them a free lemonade on their next visit to Raising Cades? We want to keep them as a customer, even if it doesn't work out for us to hire them in that moment. Sometimes it's not because we don't ever want to hire them. It's just because their availability of when they can work today doesn't match the needs of the business today, or that location in particular is not hiring and that's the only location they're interested in. So a lot of times we do want them to come back. We want those Boomerang candidates to apply again once their availability changes.

Speaker 2:

Have you ever considered that maybe you are recruiting customers because they might apply for the job that have never been there before as a customer and then had a good experience during the application, and now they start going as a customer 100%? In that case, you are a profit center.

Speaker 3:

We talk with every recruiter during onboarding about someone's first and potentially only interaction with our brand might be their interaction with you. You carry the weight of that interaction. You are the representative of our brand. Somebody's only impression of Raising Cades might be because of a conversation they had with you. So, yeah, it's absolutely critical, especially in new market entries. If you look at Dallas-Fort Worth, we have about 75 restaurants in that market. I don't think there's too many people in Dallas-Fort Worth that don't know who we are right. But when we are opening all across the East Coast, from Florida up to right at the New Hampshire border, we are going to open about 80 restaurants just in that corridor over the next 18 months or so. There is a lot of brand new customers that don't know anything about us and we are having those first interactions before construction has even started on the restaurant. They don't even know that there is a restaurant coming to their town and we are talking to candidates and sharing about the brand. Very powerful, yeah, no doubt.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, it definitely seems like it is very powerful that you have really taken that customer experience, that you are taking the brand experience you have activated on all those cylinders. One hot topic right now is AI, and I want to know how you are using, or if you are using, ai or chatbots to engage with candidates at scale for the hiring that you are doing.

Speaker 3:

So in our current configuration we do have a text to apply, configuration that does leverage an AI tool, so somebody can just text RC jobs to 97211 and the conversational AI will go back and forth with them and complete their application in a matter of a couple of minutes. Just by asking them a few questions oh making it frictionless. That's awesome. As best we can, I will say I can't give a lot of details, but we are about to embark upon something that will be much more sophisticated as far as what the candidate experience is. Our goal is to try and connect the candidate with the hiring manager as fast as we possibly can in the high volume crew hiring for the restaurant. The restaurant managers are running our average restaurants doing around $6 million a year right now, so very, very busy restaurants. So when you look at that, our restaurant managers are very busy all day long. They are not in the office. So how can we leverage AI to allow that candidate to kind of go through some pre-screeners to schedule their own interview that notify the manager hey, there is an interview today, tomorrow, whatever. So we are looking at evolving our roadmap to accommodate that. We hope within the next 12 months or so we should be live with a whole new process that will be leveraging AI better and much more sophisticated.

Speaker 1:

Are you guys doing anything around events marketing to get the word out when you are opening up a new restaurant, or is it all still one in dot? I mean one on one interviewing.

Speaker 3:

How does that work? We leverage events when needed. You know, if we have a high volume of crew that we need to hire high volume managers. We will host events. We use Indeed, sometimes leverage their event platform. They have been a great partner of ours for many years, but we do a lot of events on our own. You know, we will just set up shop in a hotel. We will promote it, advertise it. We leverage social media, digital radio, traditional job postings, give everybody the details, kind of have an open casting call. You know, especially in a new market, people don't know about us. We don't know what the market looks like. Let's talk to a bunch of people. Let's get to know who's here.

Speaker 2:

It seems like you have a hiring manager self-service culture. Hiring managers are also very In the restaurants yes. Right, yeah, I guess right. What lessons have you learned from I'm assuming converting it into a high touch hiring manager self-service environment? In that regard? Right, because in corporate, a lot of times there's a resistance from the hiring like, well, you're the recruiter, you do the work, but there are certainly occasions, like what you're describing, where there's a huge value for the hiring manager to take a much more initiative in the recruiting process. What lessons have you learned from enabling the hiring managers to use the technology?

Speaker 3:

I think it works exceptionally well for us. We don't have hiring managers in the restaurants that are saying, hey, please do this for me. I mean, in some cases they need help for sure. But a lot of these managers in the restaurant, they're creating a culture with the team of crew that they're hiring in that restaurant and that culture is so important. I mean, we serve the best chicken fingers you've ever had in your life. We have amazing sauce, texas toast lemonade. But what makes Raising Cane special? That experience is the culture. It's our people. It's that service you get when you walk in the door. You know not to name any names, but when I walk into some fast food restaurants, a lot of times I feel like I'm inconveniencing the person who's there to help me at the register. We want the exact antithesis of that. We want the exact opposite where you walk into Cane's and you feel like that person's so excited to greet you. In order to create that culture, each of our restaurant leaders plays a pivotal role in hiring people that have all the intangibles. I can teach anybody how to cook chicken, but I can't teach you to be friendly. I can't teach you to be courteous. I can't teach you to have a sense of urgency, be kind, yeah, yeah. So those managers absolutely want to be involved in the process, because that's the only way they're going to run an amazing restaurant is for them to have that high touch to talk to each candidate.

Speaker 2:

So they want to do it. But how have you overcome the learning gap of technology? Right, Because, like you said, they're not behind a computer all day and now they essentially have to use a computer for hiring process, or a tablet or whatever. Has there been some takeaways from that?

Speaker 3:

So the way that we solve for that is they are not experts in hiring, they're not experts in HR technology. We have a field-based team we call it our business unit team where there's an area leader recruiting, regional leader recruiting, division leader recruiting. They all live within these markets. In addition to training, marketing and other disciplines, those folks are the subject matter experts in recruiting, recruiting and technology. Every time we have a new manager that comes out of training immediately when they step foot in that restaurant for the first time, that recruiting leader, within their first two weeks, schedules a session with them. They sit down, they teach them how to conduct effective interviews. They teach them how to use the ATS, how to schedule interviews, how to leverage our SMS tool to communicate with candidates faster. So we do some training and then ongoing support. If a restaurant gets into a really bad spot, that recruiter will step in and take over for them. Restaurant managers are very good once we train them at hiring one or two people a week maybe, but if all of a sudden they need to hire 20 people over a span of two weeks, that becomes really challenging. That's where our team comes in to provide that additional support.

Speaker 1:

All right. Well, this has been super informative. I mean, this is a brand that I really do love. I bragged about you guys on Baxter Street up in Athens, Georgia. It's really good to hear what you're doing to make your recruiting process different and how you're doing that manager training that you're really kind of sending them through a boot camp, if you will, to initiate that. Is there anything else that you want to brag about? And I'm not asking you to be braggadocious, right, I'm asking you to say, hey, this is our brand and this is what we're doing to be different. Is there anything you feel that our listeners could gain from this conversation that we haven't?

Speaker 3:

asked you about man that's a huge question.

Speaker 1:

And it took me a while to get it out. I was like, I was like 32 ounces of sauce.

Speaker 3:

I got you yeah you know, I think more than anything, I'm really proud of the fact that our culture is this people-focused culture, and I know a lot of companies say that and some companies, it's true, but a lot of companies it's lip service the notion that when the pandemic hit, the first call that we got was we're not furloughing anybody, we're not laying anybody off. We are going to get through this with the team that we're here with today and we did everything we could. And it just speaks to our culture when we've gone through natural disasters. We operate a lot of restaurants in the South, on the Gulf Coast. We've had our share of hurricanes, we've had our share of floods, we've had our share of tornadoes and all sorts of stuff. And the way that we respond related to our people, related to our communities, related to how we take care of not only the people that are working for us, but our customers that are coming into our restaurants. Oftentimes we're one of the first concepts that's back open in the face of one of those natural disasters. We are the place to go get a hot meal while the community is recovering. We make sure that our crew members are back to work as quickly as they can be. So just it's this notion that we're always focused on doing the right thing for our crew members all the time for the right reasons, and that really is the engine that drives our business. Again, I said we got great chicken fingers, we got great sauce, great toast, but it's that engine of taking care of the people who are taking care of your customers, and I know people say that a lot, but I've never been in an organization that's lived it as much as Canes does.

Speaker 1:

That's awesome, All right. Well, speaking about the engine, we are powered by the engine of Olio here at Recruiting Daily Sourcing School. Want to give a shout out to them, want to thank them for sponsoring this podcast, for making things awesome. Want to give a shout out to JD Cummings and his team at Raising Canes for letting you be with us this afternoon. I mean this morning. Wait, it is afternoon. Good afternoon, how are you On the East Coast? Yeah, and I want to give a shout out to my co-host, Shaly Stekrell. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, this has been Sourcing School on Recruiting Daily's podcast.

Speaker 2:

All right, thank you very much. Thanks everybody. This first thing, metric.

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Hiring Manager Self-Service Culture Lessons
Caring for Crew Members and Sponsorship