How to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in Restaurants

How to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in Restaurants

After George Floyd’s murder the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, civil discontent made its way into corporate America. This occurred when CEOs—many of them working in the restaurant industry—responded. They provided promises that they’d do better. They also released statements related to diversity. Since then, restaurant companies have utilized this national consciousness shift. They have used it to reevaluate their corporate policies. They reevaluated regarding inclusion, equity, and diversity.

Companies such as Chipotle and Starbucks are doing what they can. They are doing this on the executive level to reach diversity goals. Additionally, other brands such as Pizza Hut and Wendy’s are making changes. They are hiring equity and chief diversity officers—for the first time. Given all this, the restaurant industry is providing words that promote inclusion and support diversity. With these words, they are transforming them into action. But on an everyday basis, what would this look like? On both the store and corporate levels? And when it comes to these diversity goals, how will they be met? How can these companies ensure this?

The Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance vice president Andre Howell has an answer. He says these diversity programs must be sustainable. They can’t simply be a flavor of the month. They can’t be a program that occurs one time. They need to be embedded within an organization’s culture. That’s how one does business.

Diversity Should Be Everywhere

Howell stated that having meetings regarding inclusion and diversity is not enough. Instead, corporations should imbue diversity considerations in all their meetings. This way, inclusion can be seeped into the company’s culture. This is instead of a program only being a special event.

He said that if you just have an office party in which each person provides an ethnic dish, it’s a tactical thing to do. It’s a nice thing to do. But it doesn’t speak to the company’s broader mission. It doesn’t help with what they’re attempting to accomplish.

One example is Popeyes. They released a scorecard that rated inclusion and diversity in May. This was specifically so they could break down their spending. Specifically, in advertising and marketing. Also, in terms of demographics. The team wanted to ensure that aspects of their advertisements worked a certain way. This included their food stylists to creators to the talent they used. They wanted them to accurately reflect the brand’s customers’ diversity. They also wanted them to reflect their heritage from New Orleans.

The scorecard demonstrated that less than one-third of customers are Black. It also demonstrated that influencer partners are nearly one-third Black. Additionally, it showed that 46% is the percentage of how many on-air talent people are Black. Behind the scenes, however, the numbers are different. Black agencies represent only 8% of Popeyes’ marketing spend.

The global head of brand marketing at Popeyes, Ryan Robertson, had something to say. He said that there’s a difference when it comes to walking the walk. The difference is what actions are occurring after the talk has occurred. He continued to say that Popeyes has a commitment to increase and track the media spend that is minority-owned. This is so they can help fuel and support their growth. He also said that their scorecard is a starting point for this.

For example, there is the people-first perks of Noodles & Company. These include matching paternity and maternity leave benefits. They also include mental health counseling and childcare support. They often have been implemented with inclusion in mind. For example, in all of its stores, the company has made a change. It has implemented a gender-neutral bathroom policy. Recently, this led to some conservative politicians engaging in a backlash. However, Noodles & Company chose not to back down from the policy.

The Noodles & Company inclusion and diversity manager Alicia Williams had something to say. She said that there are many team members at the company who identify as being part of the LGBTQ+ community. As a result, they need to know how to advocate for them. So, they have gender-neutral bathrooms. This policy makes up part of their inclusive culture.

Williams explained that his idea actually came as a result of the listening forums. The brand hosted these forums company-wide. The idea was to encourage employees to present their ideas. These ideas were meant to change the company’s culture. Hence, it’s more aligned with their values.

Earlier this year, Noodles & Company signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge. With this pledge, companies from a large industry spectrum are committed. They are committed to the creation of inclusion and diversity plans. Additionally, they are committed to teaching their employees about unconscious biases. They are also committed to other promises.

Nurture a Leadership Pipeline

Even though hiring a more diverse advertising talent pool and removing gender signage on bathroom doors are important elements of a company culture that’s shifting, the diversity goals core is to hire—and to promote—more LGTBQ+ community members people of color, and women to leadership positions. Fixing the pipeline that runs between entry-level and managerial positions and beyond is at the top of inclusion and diversity executive officers’ to-do lists.

Last year, for example, the parent of Popeyes, Restaurant Brands International, set several new diversity goals. These outlined a commitment to making sure that for every corporate position filled, 50% of candidates, at least, had to be from diverse backgrounds. Since this happened, Robertson said, 70% of Popeyes’ new corporate hires have been diverse, demonstrably so.

He added that, as a person of color within a corporate environment, it’s inspiring to him to see people who look like him in the organization’s more senior levels.

When they take the time to focus intensely on improving their leadership pipeline, it becomes clear to companies just how apparently homogeneous their top leadership positions are. Noodles & Company provided an example of how they promoted a person of color to the Iowa regional director of operations after he had begun his career as a general manager in a store.

The inclusion, diversity, and people executive vice president at Noodles, Sue Petersen, said that they identified his potential and skill early on, working closely with him to provide him with opportunities that would assist him in getting exposure to different leadership team members. Looking up and not seeing anyone who looked like him in any of the leadership roles, she thinks he wasn’t entirely certain whether he could get there.

Like many companies, a part of the focus Shake Shack puts on inclusion and diversity is to create inclusion, equity, and diversity training modules and programs, which is released in a partnership with Wisetail, a solutions provider. But it’s only if it’s applied in actual life that the forming training will be helpful. To move these values from the computer to the line, this company created Shiftup, a leadership development program that lasts 18 weeks last year.

The Shake Shack diversity, inclusion, and culture director, Idris Stover, said that they know their population consists mainly of women and people of color, and this fact can assist them in developing the confidence needed to reach the next level. Hired in September, Stover is the first person to hold this position in Shake Shack. She explained that ShiftUp made it possible for them to create an internal pipeline. She also explained that it demonstrated that Shake Shack wanted their people to grow because they assessed where gaps were present and built that program so they could help in closing those gaps.

Additionally, Shake Shack launched five resource groups for employees, with these groups being for employees that have specific demographics as well as their allies. The most recent was for employees of the Asian-Pacific Islander demographic.

Stover said that they worked hard to bridge the gap, and they also help everyone at the company become more aware of specific challenges faced by specific groups.

Change Doesn’t Occur Overnight

After more than a year of transformation in the restaurant industry in bridging racial and gender gaps and creating new equity, diversity, and inclusivity cultures, leaders have learned how to be patient. Right now, the restaurant industry’s C-suites and beyond are mostly still occupied by male white leaders, and a shift to occur might take years.

Petersen from Noodles & Company said that C-suites changes don’t happen overnight. Petersen also said that even though the movement isn’t happening as fast as they’d like, Petersen still sees many industry peers bringing diverse talent in when they have the opportunity to do it. Petersen made the point that, if one were to look at their board or executives six years prior, one would likely see a team that was very homogenous-looking. But now the company has grown; people of color and women are sitting within those seats, but it wasn’t a change overnight.

Want to Learn More About Diversity and Inclusion?

Now that you’ve learned about promoting diversity and inclusion in restaurants, you might want more information. Maybe you want to learn more about the importance of diversity or inclusion training.