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Raising Cane w/ JD Cummings


Live from UNLEASH America at the Workhuman booth, J.D. Cummings, Vice President of Recruiting at Raising Cane’s, a fine purveyor of chicken finger goodness, joins the boys to talk turkey, er, chicken, I guess. On the agenda: The art of high-volume hiring, living your brand, must-have tech tools, and yes, even the secret menu at Raising Cane’s. Be prepared to get BOB’d and have your mind opened by one of Chad & Cheese’s favorite people (and not just because he comes with gift cards).


More:

UNLEASH America - https://unleash.ai


PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION sponsored by:


Chad: Live from the Workhuman Booth at Unleash America in Vegas. This year, Joel and I were able to sit down with some great practitioners and industry voices. Sit back and enjoy this exclusive episode, powered by our friends over at Workhuman. Answer the human need to be recognized, developed and celebrated at workhuman.com.


Intro: Hide your kids. Lock the doors. You're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheeseman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts. Complete with breaking news, brash opinion, and loads of snark. Buckle up boys and girls, it's time for The Chad and Cheese podcast.


Joel: We're back, everybody, recording Live from Unleash America from the Workhuman Booth. And we welcome, JD Cummings, Vice President of Recruiting at Raising Cane's. And previously before that at Chipotle.


Chad: Oh my God.


Joel: So the guy knows a thing or two about fine food and high volume hiring.


Chad: I tell you what, man. Joel is in fucking heaven right now. Last time we actually saw JD, years ago. JD, did you send us coupons or did you give them to like out of your pocket? 'Cause Joel is going fucking crazy.


JD Cummings: I travel with them. So, yeah.


Joel: Gift cards. Yeah.


Chad: Okay. So we got... It was at an ISMS event. He pulls out the gift cards, Joel automatically starts drooling. [chuckle] He's like, we have a Raising Cane's. Just new location.


Joel: One just opened up a couple miles from me and the line is insane. [laughter] So I'm gonna wait it out a little bit.


JD Cummings: Well, you're not alone. Our sauce was actually rated the most craveable sauce in the United States just recently.


Chad: I'm all about the sauce.


Joel: Did you dethrone Chick-fil-A?


JD Cummings: I don't know if they were on that list or not.


Joel: Okay.


JD Cummings: But I know that we are now officially the most craveable.


Joel: And did you get a wrestling belt for that?


[laughter]


Chad: Oh, that's a good one. Yeah.


Joel: Or a champion chain, for that?


Chad: Should have like a chicken head on it, like a on fire chicken head.


Joel: Like the Neon Sign at Hot Ones.


Chad: Oh, yeah.


Joel: Like most craveable sauce.


Chad: Oh, yeah.


JD Cummings: I think Technomic gives us a nice little plaque for that. So yes, something.


Joel: Aww, that's sweet.


Chad: So even though you get those really cool plaques and awards, it's still hard to find people.


JD Cummings: It is, yeah.


Chad: Especially high volume, which is your specialty. So talk a little bit about that, talk about some of the problems, some of the obstacles that you guys are facing right now.


JD Cummings: Yeah, we, just like any other company out there, we got hit really hard in 2021, the Great Resignation. But we took some extreme measures. One of the neat things that we did is our leadership shut down our support office and sent everybody from our support office out to the restaurants to work and also...


Chad: Put on an apron big boy.


JD Cummings: And also to recruit. So I had to very quickly teach a bunch of accountants and marketing people how to be recruiters. [laughter] And we took extreme measures. We got our restaurant staff back up. So going into early 2022, we were in such a better place than most other concepts. And we kind of held and maintained that for a while.


Chad: Wow.


JD Cummings: We're doing all right. But it's still hard.


Chad: Have you ever heard of an all hands kind of scenario like that, where it's like, batten down the hatches, give me all the accountants, give me all the salespeople, give me all whatever. We have to focus in these areas. You are all now recruiters because if we don't have people...


Joel: JD's LinkedIn literally says Fry Cook.


Chad: Yeah.


Joel: And something else.


JD Cummings: Fry Cook and cashier, I wear...


Joel: In addition to VP of recruiting. Yeah.


JD Cummings: Right. Yeah.


Joel: Which is very cool.


Chad: So have you heard of other companies doing that before?


JD Cummings: I have not, and...


Chad: I hadn't either.


JD Cummings: And the reaction was really interesting. There's a lot of people that were saying, "Hey, it's about time that the folks in the corporate office got to know what it's like to work on the front line." And what's interesting is, our culture is... We're deeply rooted in the restaurants. We run restaurants, we own and operate all of our own restaurants. And so everybody who comes in, regardless of their role, they spend a couple weeks working in the restaurant as the first part of their training.


Joel: Yep.


JD Cummings: And then each year we go back and recertify work in a restaurant for a week.


Joel: Have you leveraged that? Like, if I go look for a job on your site, do you have pictures of the CEO, fry and cook chicken up in the back? Have you leveraged it or is it just a word of mouth thing?


JD Cummings: It's a great idea. We have not leveraged that in our marketing.


Joel: You're welcome. That's free advice.


JD Cummings: Oh, thank you. Thank you. Yeah.


Chad: Wow. We're giving it all away today. Jesus, that's...


Joel: Yeah. All away. All away.


JD Cummings: It's part of our pitch in the recruiting process. We talk about it. With a candidate. Say, "Hey, part of this is you're gonna work in the restaurants. You have to earn the fry, cook and cashier title."


Joel: So another big issue with where you are has been minimum wage in salaries. And we see from Walmart to Target, to McDonald's, just wages going up and up. What is Raising Cane's sort of view on minimum wage and via states? Or do you fluctuate by location? How does that work?


JD Cummings: It does fluctuate a little bit by location. Our goal is to be as competitive as we can be, but we have to operate within the confines of the economic model of our restaurants. But our average wage for crew members has gone up significantly over the last, let's say, four or five years. I think our average crew member across the system is around or close to $15 an hour right now. A lot of our markets are paying a premium above and beyond that.


Joel: Yep.


JD Cummings: And we've invested very heavily in our hourly manager ranks and our salaried manager ranks. And we've launched this new thing, it's a new evolution of our crew journey. So making sure that at every stop and really our crew members now are in control of their earnings. So you'll start at, let's say $15 an hour in some of our restaurants based on how many hours they work. So once they accumulate a hundred hours or 400 hours of certain milestones, and how many areas in the restaurant that they've completed training on, they get a raise automatically. So it's not based on once a year we do a merit review or twice a year. It's based on how much have you worked, how much have you learned while you're here? You automatically get a 25 or 50 cent raise at every milestone.


Joel: Is that unique to you or is that common in the industry?


JD Cummings: We're seeing it in some other concepts.


Joel: Okay.


JD Cummings: But the way that we've structured it, I think is unique. And it's every 600 hours worked after a certain point. There's just an automatic raise that happens and it does have a cap on it. Like our crew members will eventually get to the point where the next step they need to go to an hourly management position because they kind of maxed out on what they can earn as a crew member. But it puts them in control of their earnings. If you want that 50% raise, there's an easy way for you to attain it.


Joel: Yeah.


JD Cummings: It's not whether your manager likes you or not, it's how hard are you working?


Chad: Well, and that gives you this very military time and service. You're getting paid for time and service, but there are caps on that, you have to get promoted.


JD Cummings: Yep.


Chad: To get to that next point. So it's that time that you're spending, obviously gaining the expertise, etcetera, etcetera. You do have, obviously, your evaluation reports and whatnot for promotion, but still all those time in grade pay ups happen.


JD Cummings: Yep, absolutely. Yeah.


Joel: So we talk a lot about technology on the show, as you know. What are some invaluable technologies to you that help you fill seats within these restaurants? Any tools that you could not live without?


JD Cummings: I mean, high volume, entry level SMS messaging is absolutely critical. Our candidates would prefer to communicate via text message versus... So having that fully integrated into our ATS where that conversation string, if it's recruiter hiring manager, whoever's communicating with them, we can see the entire string of conversation. So we're not messaging them same thing three different times from three different users. So that's been really, really important to us.


Joel: Is some of that automated or is that all human to human from when they apply?


JD Cummings: We have the ability to automate and there are some messages that are like, when we initiate a background check, they get an automatic message that says, "Hey, go check your email. There's a background check that you need to go complete." But most of it is actual conversation. We want our restaurant managers to be authentic and genuine and reach out to somebody and say, "Hey, I saw your application, love to chat with you. When are you available for an interview?" We don't want it to feel like it's a bot talking to them. We want them to know it's a real human being who's saying, "Hey, I want to chat with you."


Chad: Well, on the high volume side though, most of them don't care if it's a bot because they usually don't get the messaging anyway. They go into a black hole until they hopefully one day find something out whether they got the job or not. So is that really a big deal, whether it sounds like a bot or not, just getting connection and engagement? Isn't that like job one?


JD Cummings: Yes. We encourage all of our restaurant managers no matter what, to reach out to every candidate that applies. And sometimes it's reaching out to say, "Hey, your availability doesn't work with my schedule right now. Check back with me later." Or sometimes it's just, "Hey, I'd love to chat with you. Come in for an interview. We want to interview every candidate." Now, the fact that a candidate may not be offended by a bot, it does go against our culture, which is one of being very genuine and authentic and wanting that culture to come across in our communications so that it's not a canned, templated messages that hits their inbox.


Chad: Is there a happy medium though, because these managers are so damn busy, they've got so many tasks, this is one of them. It's incredibly important, don't get me wrong, is there a way, especially seeing the new generative AI and whatnot, is there a way you think that you might be able to bridge that to make it easier?


Joel: The happy medium is coupons for everybody for free chicken.


Chad: No.


JD Cummings: We've actually toyed around with the idea of offering post interview free lemonade offer 'cause our lemonade is an upgraded beverage in the restaurant. And it's fresh squeezed lemonade and all that. So it's wonderful. But just to say, "Hey, thank you for coming in for interviewing with us, regardless of the outcome of the interview, we'd love for you to come back, visit us again, come back to the restaurant." So we have kind of toyed around with the sort of the free coupon idea. But going back to conversational AI, we're not opposed to it. It's not a definitive, we're not gonna do that. I think we would have to think very cautiously about how we would approach it so that it feels authentic to our brand.


Chad: Yeah. Okay.


Joel: Another hot issue has been automation. Now, based on your previous comments, I'm guessing whether you're a fan of automation or not, the human touch is very important at Raising Cane's. But we've seen stories where Wingstop, McDonald's, companies are starting to experiment with humanless restaurants. [laughter] What does the landscape look like at some point?


Chad: You mean JD wouldn't have to be a fry cook?


[laughter]


Chad: That's crazy.


JD Cummings: I don't foresee that in our future in any way, shape or form. I think the service industry is special because of the people that are in it. And for us especially, we're not your traditional QSR. When you come to Raising Cane's, the experience should feel different. As soon as you walk in that door, the crew members are greeting you, "Hey, welcome to Cane's." When you come to our drive-through, we have these clever sayings that are approved of course. But hey, hey, hey, want some chicken today? It's not the sort of canned greeting that you get in most drive-throughs. And would you like to try our special sandwich today? It's very playful. And so that experience is part of what our customers appreciate about our brand. It's not just the great food, amazing Texas toast, the awesome sauce and the great chicken.


Joel: Do you see what you did there?


Chad: They awesome... Yeah.


Joel: See what you did there? See what he did there? Nice.


Chad: Okay. So many companies, they might not think like Raising Cane's. Which means they're not getting the outcomes. And what I mean by that is they don't treat their employees great and therefore the employees are not treating the customers great, which is obviously affecting the bottom line. How much focus on manager training, understanding, retention, turnover, I would assume many of these GMs understand it because they have to fill the positions on a day-to-day basis. Do they and are you pressing to them that how they're treating employees and how they're being flexible and whatnot directly goes to the bottom line? And whether that customer comes back or not.


JD Cummings: It's everything to us. And it started with the first restaurant when Todd opened up in August of 1996, he had these students from LSU that were working in the restaurant, working so hard. He turned a profit that first month it was only $30 but he did turn a profit. And the first holiday that came around was Halloween. And he didn't have a lot of money to reward his crew, to give them any bonuses or anything like that. But he remembered when he was in elementary school, his teacher used to give everybody a ghost pop, which is a blow pop with a little Kleenex around it and a ghost space on it. And so he went out, that's what he could afford to do for his crew as a special little reward. And he gave them a ghost pop that had a note on it says, "Thanks for all your hard work. I couldn't do this without you." It was a little token of his appreciation. We still do that today. So we're sourcing 50,000 ghost pops at Halloween.


Chad: Probably from BAMCO.


Joel: Probably.


JD Cummings: But that is one element of our culture that kind of explained, like we have a whole entire department called Cane's Love. That is a budgeted function for each leader in the business that tells you like, hey, everything from a handwritten note to say thank you for your hard work to a gift card, to tickets to a sporting event.


Chad: And this is all to employees.


JD Cummings: Crew members, individual contributors, leaders in our support office in our field. It's.


Chad: That's amazing.


JD Cummings: And it's a huge budget of the company. I think it's a half percent of total revenue that goes into this Cane's Love budget to make sure...


Joel: That's a lot of Cane's Love.


JD Cummings: To make sure that we're rewarding everybody.


Chad: That's amazing.


Joel: So, branding is obviously important to you guys and through the pandemic, DoorDash, Uber Eats has become more popular. How do you guys balance that phenomenon with living the brand and making sure that it's cohesive? Are you guys doing your own delivery service? How do you guys look at that?


JD Cummings: So we don't do third party delivery.


Joel: At all?


JD Cummings: At all.


Joel: Okay.


JD Cummings: There are some that we don't have a relationship with and they will just do it anyway. They'll show up. But they have to show up as a customer and order at the counter and...


Intro: And is that a branding decision? We don't wanna outsource that.


JD Cummings: There's a couple reasons for it. I think one is Cane's is really an experience that I think is best in the restaurant. Fresh hot chicken we cook to order.


Joel: Yep.


JD Cummings: We don't have any heat lamps.


Chad: Experience. Let's just focus on that word for a minute.


JD Cummings: Yeah.


Chad: Because you can't control the experience beyond outside of your doors.


JD Cummings: We cannot. We cannot. Okay. And let's be honest, french fries, no matter who's making them whatever company, they don't travel well. And if somebody from Uber Eats or DoorDash, no offense to those companies, is gonna deliver it, those french fries are not gonna be amazing. They're probably gonna be soggy, they're probably gonna be cold.


Chad: And if they're as good as Raising Cane's, they're probably stealing a few.


JD Cummings: Yes. Possibly. Possibly. Yeah. But for us it's about we want, especially if you go to a new market, like we're gonna open in Manhattan in July. Right in Times Square and...


Chad: Damn.


JD Cummings: If the first experience that somebody had at Raising Cane's was a delivery through a third party and it took 45 minutes to get to their house and it's cold chicken, all that, it's not an amazing, it's not our best. We want somebody to come in and experience us at our best, especially when we're introducing them for the first time. We have zero margin for error. Think about it this way. There's one thing on our menu, it's chicken fingers. So if you came to Raising Cane's today and you had a mediocre chicken dinner and that was your first experience, why would you ever come back? There's literally nothing else on the menu.


Chad: Because that's your thing.


JD Cummings: That is it.


Chad: That is your thing. Well, that and sauce by the way.


JD Cummings: Yes. The sauce. [laughter] But you might be forgiving of another brand that has a broader menu because you go and order something and it wasn't amazing and you might just think to yourself, well, I didn't enjoy that particular menu item, but I'll go back and try something else. Maybe it was what I ordered. With us there's nothing else to order.


Joel: Interesting.


JD Cummings: It's simple, but it's incredibly complex that we have to get it right for every customer.


Chad: Have you ever tried to expand the menu? Because you always see these franchises, I mean, McDonald's obviously with the... They created the Big Mac to go against the Whopper and it's like they're constantly creating these new Shamrock shakes or some stupid shit [laughter] that's novelty.


Joel: How dare you say The Shamrock Shake is a stupid idea.


Chad: Oh my God.


JD Cummings: In our industry we call that an LTO or limited time offer.


Chad: Yes. Yes.


JD Cummings: Yeah. We have not changed our menu in the 26 years that we've been in business. In fact, last year was our 25th anniversary. We had billboards around that said 25 years of not fixing what ain't broke. Like, it works.


Joel: So we're here in Las Vegas and In-N-Out is obviously famous here on the West Coast.


JD Cummings: Yes.


Joel: And they have a very simple menu as well. However, they have a secret menu. Does Raising Cane's have a secret menu that I should know about?


JD Cummings: Absolutely. Yes, there are some things on the menu that are not on the menu that you can order in the restaurant. One of them is BOBbed Toast. So BOB stands for Buttered on Both sides because normally our Texas Toast has a proprietary garlic butter blend that we put on one side of the toast. But if you want it on both sides, you can order it that way. We do also have.


Chad: Next time you can BOB it.


JD Cummings: Yes.


Joel: Let the man talk. What else?


[laughter]


JD Cummings: We do also have honey mustard, which is not on the menu. We do make it fresh in-house. It is amazing. It's really good. It's offered, it's there. You can order it, but it's just not visible on the menu. We do have, of course you can mix our tea and lemonade together for an Arnold Palmer, even though it's not on the menu. We do have naked tenders. If somebody is not wanting the breading on the outside of their chicken, we...


Joel: Like me.


JD Cummings: We will cook them. We will cook them without the breading.


Joel: Without the breading. This is why we have a podcast, Chad.


Chad: Nobody needs naked cheese, okay?


Joel: This is why we do these interviews.


JD Cummings: The only thing I ask for anybody who's listening is please, come into the restaurant when you order those specialty items. Don't be in the drive through because it really messes up our throughput. But no, we encourage...


Joel: Sounds like a deal. Sounds like a deal.


JD Cummings: Yeah. We encourage everybody to come try the special items.


Joel: So we're here at Unleash. We're in the expo hall. I know it's early, but any companies that you're looking to talk to, anyone that's sort of stood out in your time here?


JD Cummings: I always like to see the little startups and the little pavilions.


Joel: The kiosks, yes.


JD Cummings: And sometimes I find it fascinating because, maybe it's a problem that we haven't encountered yet, but I see that somebody's trying to solve a problem that I didn't even know was a problem. And it kind of keys me into like, things in our business that maybe I should be looking deeper into. So I like to go talk to the one man booths where they've got a little laptop computer and they just created some technology.


Joel: Yeah.


Chad: How many times have you actually walked up though? And they're like, here's the problem we're trying to solve. And you're like, that's not a problem. I don't know how many startups I've seen it's like, is that really a problem?


JD Cummings: And it may not be a problem for us, but I assume it's a problem for somebody. I hope it is. Otherwise they're probably not gonna be very successful with their startup.


Joel: They will not be getting out of the kiosk alley anytime soon. That's JD Cummings everybody. JD, for our listeners who want to know more about you or have some delicious chicken, where would you send them?


JD Cummings: Follow me on LinkedIn, visit us at any one of our 700 restaurants here in the US or visit our career site and come join me on this wonderful journey.


Chad: Yes.


Joel: Why did we schedule this during lunch? Goddamn it. Another one is in the can. And where's the buffet? We out.


Chad: We out.


Outro: Wow. Look at you. You made it through an entire episode of The Chad and Cheese podcast. Or maybe you cheated and fast-forwarded to the end. Either way, there's no doubt you wish you had that time back. Valuable time you could have used to buy a nutritious meal at Taco Bell, enjoy a pour of your favorite whiskey or just watch big booty Latinas and bug fights on TikTok. No, you hung out with these two chuckleheads instead. Now, go take a shower and wash off all the guilt but save some soap because you'll be back. Like an awful train wreck, you can't look away. And like Chad's favorite Western, you can't quit them either. We out.

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