- Brinker International has extended its Best You EDU program to one eligible family member of Chili’s and Maggiano’s employees and its corporate office, according to an email sent to Restaurant Dive.
- To qualify, the employee must be management level or above and have been with the restaurant for at least six months, while the family member must be a legal spouse, domestic partner or child.
- The Best You EDU program was first introduced in 2018 to provide free educational opportunities to employees, including Spanish, ESL, GEDs and associate’s degrees.
In the battle for labor, Brinker is fighting on two fronts: benefits and technology.
In addition to the company's newest work perk, it provides counseling, life coaching and discounts through Perk Spot for “hundreds of retail stores," Brinker said. The company has also partnered with Limeade to create the Brinker Wellbeing Program, which encourages employees to facilitate mentorship, prioritize financial literacy, take advantage of the company’s professional development opportunities and more.
Labor pressures are starting to stabilize, CEO Wyman Roberts said during Brinker’s fiscal Q3 2022 earnings call May 4. He added the company has benefited from a new service model that leverages handhelds and food runners. Chili’s has also deployed Rita the Robot to help with service at dozens of locations, with more expected. These efforts have reduced front-of-house labor hours to “near record lows” while servers are making more money than they’ve ever made, he said. This, in turn, has reduced turnover.
Comparatively, at casual dining competitor Dine Brands, staffing remains about 10% below full capacity across both Applebee’s and IHOP. These labor shortages become an even bigger challenge as traffic returns to pre-pandemic levels. The casual dining segment specifically has grown its traffic by 8.4% as of April over 2021 levels, according to Top Agency.
Labor wages are up 10% at Brinker, however. CFO Joe Taylor said the company has had to “spend quite a bit of money just recruiting,” but added the investment has eased labor pressures as staffing levels have increased. The educational extension is likely to add even more costs to the company’s balance sheet, as Brinker has more than 60,000 team members across the country.
But turnover is likely more expensive, and this benefit has proven to be a strong retention tool for its employees. The company says 80% of employees who have participated in Best You EDU in the past year are still with the company, and 25% of managers participating in the program have been promoted.
Indeed, educational benefits illustrate a willingness to invest in employees for the long term and more companies are adding or expanding them accordingly, including Taco Bell, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s and Chipotle.
Still as restaurant labor challenge continue, Brinker has plenty of competition. McDonald’s extended some of its education benefits to family members in 2018. Yum Brands provides opportunities for its employees and their children to earn $2,500 scholarships, and Raising Cane’s offers family tuition discounts.