One of the unexpected themes from our first season was the Power of Language. In episode one, Richard Gonzmart mentioned that his concepts employ Directors of First Impression, a position most establishments simply call ‘hostess’. Then in episode two, Lane Cardwell shared with us what made the culture so unique at Grady’s Goodtimes, and vocabulary was an important part of that. The concept had Goodtimers, not servers; a saloon, not a bar; development programs, not training.
For the last few years, operators dealt with a historically tight labor market, leading to revamped employment opportunities and benefits to attract and retain staff. Culture was certainly recognized as an effective tool in improving the worker experience, but a brand's unique language can only be effective under certain circumstances, in our opinion.
Lane Cardwell mentioned that the leader Brinker International eventually assigned to Grady’s was “appalled” by the culture, finding it “gimmicky”. This isn’t a totally ridiculous reaction to hearing that servers are called Goodtimers. In fact, it might be the most reasonable response for someone who’s never heard of, or been to, Grady’s Goodtimes.
But as Lane points out, language was only a single component to the culture of Grady’s, which was centered on its people. And workers relished the fact that Grady’s did things not just differently from its competitors, but better. At Grady’s, servers didn’t bring out mediocre food to customers sitting at a bar. Instead, Goodtimers brought heaping portions of scratch-made food to guests at the saloon. To paraphrase Lane, Goodtimers found pride in that.
“They called all the employees ‘Goodtimers’. They didn’t have a bar; they had a saloon. They had a language that was unique to themselves and it was important to them…The first thing they would tell you is, ‘you train a dog, you develop a person’. So, if you were a new employee you weren’t in training, you were in development. You were a GIPOD: a Goodtimer In the Process of Development…Their language was really very powerful, and contrary to our leader who thought it was gimmicky, it was brilliant.”
Likewise, Richard Gonzmart can list off the names of his most tenured employees and will be the first to tell you just how instrumental they’ve been to the lasting success of The Columbia Restaurant. Then, he’ll rattle off the accomplishments of his employees’ children. The workers know they’re all a part of the family, and this sentiment is reinforced by business cards for tenured employees. It doesn’t matter what title Richard gives a worker; they’ll probably feel his respect regardless. But still, titles that reflect his appreciation are an added bonus.
“Those people that we call hostesses...I call them my Directors of First Impression. It’s how do you greet people…Are they saying, ‘Welcome to the Columbia’ with a smile? Are they answering the phone with a smile? Even though you can’t see them you can hear it in their voice. And when you leave, did they thank you for coming? That to me is so important. ”
In both examples, language was not the defining characteristic of a culture, but rather reflections of the culture that arises when concepts prioritize their employees and proudly do things their own way. And if that part of the equation is missing – if an employee doesn’t truly feel the respect and appreciation of their employer – a worker probably doesn’t care about being called a ‘Goodtimer’ or a ‘Director of First Impression’. They’d probably just consider it a gimmick.