Communities across the country continue to approach something that seems like a return to “normal.” As consumer sentiment around a yearning for experiences mounts, the near-term may present foodservice organizations with tremendous opportunities to increase engagement and customer loyalty through the experience they offer. 

A strong guest experience starts with empowered and engaged foodservice staff. And, according to Sylvain Charlebois, foodservice industry expert and Senior Director of Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, foodservice staff engagement starts with a strong investment in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I).

“Restaurants and other foodservice establishments have, for a very long time, been hubs of the communities in which they serve,” says Charlebois. 

“They are places where family and friends go to enjoy themselves and each others’ company and to enjoy a memorable experience. And, they are places for all members of the community to gather. As such, it’s incredibly important for everyone involved in the foodservice industry to place greater emphasis and focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives within their organizations in order to reflect the clientele they serve and the workforce that they employ.”

DE&I is a movement of sorts within industries, institutions, and companies looking to focus on improving corporate and organizational cultures and creating more welcoming and supportive work environments. It’s a movement that has continued to gain significant momentum throughout the pandemic as societies everywhere pay greater consideration toward social issues and causes. And it’s one, says Charlebois, that presents foodservice organizations with tremendous opportunities if they can develop or enhance existing DE&I programs and initiatives within their workplaces.

“There are so many benefits available to organizations that implement this type of philosophy and approach to doing business,” he says. 

“For one, of course, it’s simply the right thing to do. Everyone deserves equal opportunity, compensation, and treatment, despite their race, gender, sexual preference or identification, or lived experiences. Nobody should ever be restricted within their careers or inhibited from growing for any reason. A dedicated and committed focus on DE&I within the workplace ensures equal opportunity and respect, posing potential human, organizational and financial benefits to companies who adopt this kind of approach.”

Here are 3 more ways DE&I initiatives can help drive memorable guest experiences

1. Highly engaged staff

According to the 2021 U.S. Department of Labor, 47.8% of all foodservice employees in the United States identify as part of a minority group. In addition, the 2020 State of the Restaurant Worker indicates that 54% of all employees within the country’s foodservice sector are women. In light of these numbers, says Charlebois, it only makes sense to ensure that policies, treatment and considerations are paid to each member of the workforce. That the return on this type of investment by companies is most noticeable in the impact that it has on employees.

“By ensuring diversity within your workforce and the staff that are servicing customers in your establishments, you’re ensuring a more accurate reflection of the communities that you operate in,” he says. 

“Most importantly, however, by treating your employees properly, you’re sending them an incredibly strong message of support and care. And when this message is delivered consistently in everything that you do, it results in a highly engaged staff of employees that are proud to be working their jobs and feel confident in the fact that they belong and are important contributors toward helping to achieve the company’s goals and objectives.”

2. Deeper brand connections

Charlebois goes on to explain that engaged employees exhibit heightened loyalty toward their roles and responsibilities, eliciting from them discretionary effort that, in turn, enhances the experience that restaurants offer guests.

“There is a very powerful correlation between the culture that an organization develops for its employees and the experience that the guest receives,” he says. 

“When employees are happy and engaged, they’re really invested in the jobs they’re doing and are willing to go above and beyond to make sure that guest expectations are met and exceeded. In addition, when staff are an accurate reflection of the communities that they serve, customers also feel more welcome and feel inclined to engage with the brand at a deeper level, inspiring repeat visits and patronage.”

3. More feedback and ideas driving revenue and growth

A recent survey conducted by The Harvard Business Review of 1,700 companies around the world found that those operating with an above-average level of diversity within their organizations experience 19% greater innovation revenues and 9% higher earnings before taxes. They are results that Charlebois says are not surprising. In fact, he says that it’s an equation that, from a business and human perspective, makes perfect sense.

“When you engage your workforce with initiatives as positive and encouraging as those related to DE&I, results for the business will be just as positive and encouraging,” he says. 

“Because staff are energetic and inspired and focused on delivering exceptional service to the customer, those guests will return, resulting in increased revenue. And, employees that feel engaged and valued are more likely to share honest feedback and ideas to improve operations or the guest experience. When everyone is feeding in and involved in the success of the organization, limitations are removed, opening up boundless opportunities for growth.”

Though there have been some previously existing barriers that have prevented frontline organizations from actively pursuing and enhancing their DE&I initiatives, Charlebois believes that there may be a much-needed shift in mindset happening at the very top. It’s reflective, he says, of the recognition of brands concerning the opportunities that exist and their willingness to institute positive change.

“There are many within the industry that are now placing far greater emphasis around the issue of DE&I. Excellent work is being done at organizations like Wendy’s, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Domino’s, and elsewhere. The entire industry is stepping up its game with respect to stances on DE&I and the progress that’s being made by organizations toward improving the experiences they offer to their employees and customers,” he says.

“The world is changing. People are continuing to pay much more attention to social issues and the things that impact others around them. The foodservice industry is really beginning to take notice and seize the opportunities that result from creating and ensuring a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture.”