With 50 restaurants soon to be open across the country, Nando’s has gained respect and popularity amongst Canadian restaurant-goers. Globally, they have over 1,200 restaurants and an employee base of 45,000 people who are proud to be part of the Nando’s family. Nando’s was hatched in South Africa in 1987 and is changing the way the world thinks about chicken. Their restaurants can be found in cities such as London, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, Cape Town, Sydney, and Toronto. In 1994, Nando’s opened its first Canadian restaurant, which is located in Richmond, BC.

We sat down with Krista McLay, Manager of Brand Communications Strategy at Nando’s Canada, to talk about marketing strategy, what makes campaigns successful, and the keys to engaging restaurant staff in activating those campaigns. We quickly discovered that their saying, “behind most things at Nando’s is an extraordinary story”, holds true – especially in terms of their approach to the employee experience and building a family-friendly culture. From the names of their restaurants (‘Casas’) and staff (‘Nandocas’) to the Nando’s guest journey, storytelling is a key component to Nando’s brand and global success.

To view the full interview, listen to the podcast below or read on!


People as a marketing strategy

If you’ve ever been to a Nando’s, you’d know PERi-PERi is at the heart and soul of their brand. However, it’s clear there is another ingredient in their secret recipe of success: their people. “We believe that the frontline – our Nandocas – are the most important people in our business. They are the ones who talk to guests as they walk in the door and determine if those guests will have a really great experience or not” said McLay.

While entertainment, design, and amenities are elements that may pull new guests into their restaurants, it’s the exceptional food and service that keep them coming back for more. Nando’s restaurant staff, from managers, to grillers and cashiers, are truly part of their brand identity. As McLay described it, “If you’ve worked at Nando’s and have been a Nandoca before, you’ll be a Nandoca for life. All of our employees are considered part of the global family.”

Of course, this type of workplace culture was designed with the guest experience in mind. When Nandocas come into work, they’re expected to treat the restaurant like their own home, hence the name ‘Casa’. As McLay explained, staff are encouraged to “make sure the food is cooked perfectly every time, like you would if you had a family member at your house”. The same goes for keeping the restaurant clean. Nandocas keep restaurants in tip-top shape like they would if they were hosting a party or get together.

There is a learning curve to creating this consistent guest experience and helping guests understand how to ‘do Nando’s’ properly. Nando’s has a unique fast-casual dining experience, which entails ordering at the counter and being served at the table. “Our first-time guests need more guidance, so we have certain steps that we train our Nandocas to walk them through”, said McLay. Every time a guest walks in the door, a staff member will ask if it’s their first time at Nando’s. If so, the guest will be guided through the Nando’s guest journey, which includes everything from how to place your order or encouraging them to eat with their hands. “Once you know how to ‘do Nando’s’, it’s an amazing experience. You don’t have to wait for a server – you can get up and leave when you’re done. You can eat as much sauce as you’d like. If you want something else, you can just get up and get it!”, adds McLay.


Successful campaigns rely on the frontline

While Nando’s has cracked the code on ensuring brand consistency, launching campaigns across their entire workforce is one activity that is a constant challenge. When it comes to a new campaign, effectively communicating with employees to ensure they’re educated and excited about the matter at hand can challenging. As McLay explained, “We’re in the people business. It’s always going to be a challenge to effectively communicate unless you are able to sit down with every single person, explain what we’re doing and what that means for them.”

Despite having a large, fragmented workforce, having face-to-face conversations with all team members is exactly what Nando’s tries to do. When rolling out new campaigns, McLay noted: “bringing everyone together and getting them excited about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it is really important. Doing this and allowing them to ask any questions before launching a campaign gives us the opportunity to succeed.” Nando’s continues this approach while campaigns are in-market, too. In discussing the importance of collecting feedback and acting on it, McLay added that “Nandocas are the ones in the field. They’re the ones seeing things in action and can share what is working well. Taking those learnings and sharing them with the entire team is important for us.”


Engaging the frontline: A continuous improvement process

While Nando’s takes a people-first approach to executing on their marketing campaigns, it’s the touchpoints between face-time and phone calls that can get lost. “Sometimes you write this beautiful training manual, send it out, and it just doesn’t get picked up. These things can end up falling to the wayside within the busy environment of a restaurant.” Regardless of whether you are about launch a new campaign or need to get out day-to-day operational information, effectively communicating to your entire employee base is hard. “[At Nando’s] we’re always learning. I don’t think we, or anyone in the industry, has the answer to the perfect way to communicate and engage with their team members,” observed McLay.

The key to the communication and performance gap facing foodservice brands may be found in leveraging technology. In discussing how to close these gaps and ensuring every team member stays updated, McLay noted that “communicating to staff in a way they wanted to be spoken to” could help improve their strategy, and ultimately execution on marketing initiatives. Implementing up-to-date technology, such as a mobile-first app or portal, is the next step for Nando’s. “It’s amazing how we embrace technology in so many ways in our personal lives – but internally, in the restaurant industry, we’ve been slow to adopt,” said McLay.

For Nando’s, leading a customer-centric organization starts and ends with engaging their frontline employees. McLay reiterated that Nando’s will always take a people-first approach, which includes designing marketing campaigns centered around staff participation and engagement with all levels of the organization. “Nobody wants to be just a transaction” she added.

Frontline staff play an integral role at Nando’s, from activating marketing campaigns to living the brand promise every day, providing valuable feedback, or simply engaging with guests in a meaningful way. As McLay summed it up, “If you have a really engaged team that believes in what you’re doing and what you’re trying to create, then you will definitely see that message flow through your organization – from headquarters to hourly staff.”

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