Tijuana Flats Finds the Perfect Recipe to Engage Employees By Isabel Dimaranan
When it comes to engaging your employees, having an effective strategy can be a difficult code to crack. According to ACCOR Services, 90% of business leaders think an engagement strategy has an impact on business success, but barely 25% of them have a strategy. While we all know the importance of connecting with your staff on a deeper level, it is difficult to do so if you don’t have a solid approach.
For Orlando-based Tex-Mex restaurant chain Tijuana Flats, employee engagement and strong brand values coexist in a way that benefits more than just their bottom line. The beloved restaurant chain with over 120 locations and 4,500 employees across the Southeastern U.S. has discovered a recipe for success when it comes to connecting with employees in meaningful ways.
Larry Ryback was recently named CEO of Tijuana Flats for his extensive 30-year experience in the restaurant industry. He was kind enough to talk to us about how philanthropy has played a huge role in strengthening his relationship with employees, and gave us a snapshot of the company’s vision as a whole.
Tijuana Flats’ Perspective on Company Culture
During our conversation, Ryback told us about Tijuana Flats’ involvement in the community. He says that philanthropic initiatives have made a positive impact on company culture, and connect employees to a bigger motive than just working at a restaurant. By getting involved on a deeper level, employees get a sense that their company really cares about giving back to people in need.
Tijuana Flats has its very own charitable foundation, Just In Queso. Since 2007, the foundation has raised over $3.5 million to give back to communities and is the heart of Tijuana Flats’ vision and to help those who are in need. From running in-store promotions, to supporting large organizations like the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, to hosting galas and casino nights to support local non-profits, the foundation empowers employees to give to causes they care about. The glue to all of this? All of Just In Queso’s board members are made up of Tijuana Flats employees.
From local events to supporting larger foundations, the company listens to what employees are passionate about and heads up initiatives to get them involved.Team members can easily submit causes they are passionate about directly to their store manager or through an online form, which is then sent to the Board of Trustees at Just In Queso.
The reason this program has been so successful at Tijuana Flats is because they’ve adopted a unique approach to defining their company culture. “People always talk about their company culture as if it’s something that needs to be strengthened,” said Ryback. “At Tijuana Flats, our culture was created by our employees, who already live by those values. It’s the way our employees choose to connect with our brand, and that’s what really defines our culture.”
How Philanthropy Helps Larry Connect on a Deeper Level
Community engagement allows Larry to build trust with his team during the early months of his tenure, while also bringing a sense of fulfillment to his work. On Saturday mornings, the folks at Tijuana Flats teach special needs kids how to play baseball. Larry says it’s given him a chance to get to know his workers on a personal level, while giving back with them.
“Building rapport is all about building trust and commonality. We work hard together and spend a lot of time together, but the company events we do outside of work are the glue that helps keep the company and culture together.”
Ryback hopes that these community events have as much of a positive effect on his employees as they do on the community. “When you go out to an event, you go with the intention of helping other people. But when you leave, you find that you’re a little more centered. It helps you put things in perspective and you’re grateful for going.”
Being a new leader at Tijuana Flats, Ryback has learned something crucial about employee engagement. Although he has the responsibility to engage with and inspire his employees, he sees how employees can be influential characters as well.
“The thing I’m most proud of is that everything that we do is made up of the people who work for us,” said Ryback. Larry noted that none of the Just In Queso initiatives are directed by him – they’re directed entirely by employees.
“I think that’s why people are so passionate about it. The ideas, the passion, the initiative, the enthusiasm, all comes from the people who work for us.”