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2008 Outlook: Part I
Industry executives rank their top 2008 challenges.

Often the things that most impact our lives can seem pretty remote. Matters such as fluctuations in the value of the yen, sick poultry in Indonesia, and presidential politics on a national scale can have a profound effect on our material and psychological existences even when we are hard pressed to form a functional understanding of such things. Somehow we know, though, that the state of our financial times, our personal safety, and our personal participation in the life of our country will be heavily contingent upon such factors in 2008 and beyond.

Top-Tier Concerns

(1/low to 10/high)

Chart showing top concerns of quick-service restaurant executives for 2008.

Nevertheless, as pundits and prognosticators jockey for media position in deliberating the long-term effects of sub-prime mortgages, the potential for ecological meltdown, and the most appropriate strategy for dealing with terrorism, life goes on. This point is deeply driven home in consultation with quick-service industry leaders who get up every morning and have to deal with the very in-your-face demands of their daily business existences. Hardly unconcerned about society’s big issues, they are of necessity driven to urgent consideration of immediate issues, that sometimes overlap with the central concerns of big picture punditry and sometimes, frankly, do not.

All of this is relevant to the present discussion, in which we asked a baker’s dozen of high-ranking quick-service industry executives (see sidebar on page 2) to consider and grade (with a score from 1/low to 10/high) the issues that would be most on their minds in the coming year. Some of the responses may indeed seem surprising from a global perspective. Yet they are as clear as a bell from the quick-serve corner office.

Now, before anyone gets alarmed by “company economics” appearing in the runner-up position, let it be clearly noted that most of the respondents granted this issue a “10” and commented along the lines “EBITDA growth is the highest priority.” Yet the ranking also reflects the responses of those who are fairly sanguine about their company’s current financial condition, with a representative response being “this is highly important but not a concern.”

The sort of individual who is comfortable taking responsibility and ‘standing alone’ in the field is not so easy to find.”

Clearly the hottest of all hot button issues for the polled group of operators is labor, an issue that has grown increasingly urgent and complex. The traditional concerns of simply finding enough bodies to fill positions and the acknowledgment of the importance of line employee contact to customer satisfaction are still central to the discussion, of course. Yet there is also a much broader appreciation that the industry has never done a really great job in making itself an employer of choice, and companies intend to work harder than ever at branding the employee experience and creating buzz among potential cohort employee groups.

Another crucial aspect of the labor situation, not always recognized from the outside, is the increased need for competent multi-unit and regional supervisors. Top executives note that while technology has made multi-unit supervision so much more feasible on an information flow basis, the sort of individual who is comfortable taking responsibility and “standing alone” in the field is not so easy to find. Current demographic trends, one executive comments, are bringing people into the workforce who esteem peer relationships, but the demands of leadership sometimes call for “a little less we and a lot more I.”

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