The Power of Yes: How CMR Rocks Retention

Cameron Mitchell Restaurants (CMR), which is marking its 25th anniversary this year, can boast about many things including serving more than 2.5 million guests in 2017 and having 15 diverse concepts across the country including Ocean Prime. There’s one statistic that speaks volumes to those in the restaurant industry because it involves one of the most challenging aspects of the business: employee retention.

The restaurant group is winning the talent wars with a 5.4 percent management turnover rate in 2017 compared to 50 percent industry average and 57 percent hourly turnovers vs. 100 percent industry average.

Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine spoke with Chuck Davis, Vice President of Human Resources, and Heather Buck, Vice President of Training, to learn more about what sets CMR apart and what other restaurants can learn from their example.

They say CMR has forged a culture of communication starting at the interview process that continues by hosting daily pit stops and management check-ins to foster innovation and assess what they could be doing better. Some meetings come complete with traditional milkshake toasts to honor achievement.

“We have a key philosophy of putting our associates first,” said Davis. “A strong, robust culture is always top of mind.”

Another philosophy that permeates at CMR is: Yes is the answer. For example, if a guest wants a vegetable instead of french fries, a server is empowered to make it happen and not have to go through management layers to get approval for the request. 

CMR also conducts surveys to find out what associates need and solicit feedback. Putting a same-sex partner benefit in place was a direct result of associate suggestion. And they promote from within as 80 percent of management positions are filled from within.

“We want to allow our associates to develop and grow here,” added Davis. 

Additionally, CMR has a commitment to giving back and seeks employee input on ways they can make a difference in their local communities. CMR has donated millions of dollars in cash, gift cards and in-kind donations to thousands of charitable organizations over the years.

“We ask our associates: ‘How do we support our communities?'” said Buck. “It’s going to be more impactful and keep them empowered and engaged.”

Cameron Mitchell is also the single largest private donor to his alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America and the company is working with Columbus State Community College by leading a $10 million fundraising effort toward the college’s planned $33-million 2019 new Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts building. CMR has pledged $2.5 million toward the College’s fundraising efforts.

“It is an incredible honor to give back to the community that has embraced our company for 25 years and provided the foundation for thousands of our associates to build meaningful and rewarding hospitality careers,” said Mitchell. “This project will elevate Columbus State’s already outstanding programs to a level consistent with Columbus’ growing reputation as a culinary and hospitality center.”

Columbus State also revealed that the building will be named Mitchell Hall, in recognition of Mitchell’s donation and partnership with the school and his full support and chairmanship of the philanthropic campaign. CMR has provided years of support to the hospitality and culinary programs at Columbus State, as well as many volunteer hours in service to the school and numerous opportunities for its students.

In addition to doubling Hospitality and Culinary Arts enrollment capacity to more than 1,500 students, the new 80,000-square-foot, three-floor facility will include a professionally managed, student-staffed, 100-seat sit-down restaurant and bar and 20-person retail café and bakery, both with outdoor seating; and a 400-plus seat banquet-capacity conference center with onsite catering and a sweeping balcony overlooking downtown. The site will also feature a teaching and innovation kitchen, farm-to-table food production gardens and a 100-seat culinary theater, among many other student education assets.

Mitchell Hall is Columbus State’s first new building project since its completion of the Center for Workforce Development in 2006. The project is part of the college’s facilities master plan to expand programs that are responsive to area workforce needs.

Groundbreaking is planned in spring 2018 with completion in autumn 2019. Project architect is DesignGroup. Gilbane is construction manager.