Lessons from the Fast Food Trenches: A Wendy’s Story

(What can an admissions office learn from a 19-year-old Wendy’s manager? In a recent article for university presidents, Capture Higher Ed CEO Steve Huey discussed a “light bulb” moment he had during his formative years in the fast food industry.)

When I was 19, I became the youngest store manager of a Wendy’s restaurant. I got the job because there was a labor shortage, so I was promoted too early. And I was pretty horrible at it. I struggled to communicate with and lead a young store management team with members all under the age of 23.

This was 1985. Food costs were up. Store sales were down. And, my store certainly was not winning any awards for cleanliness. During a slow moment in the day, I was standing near the front of the store staring at the “Employee of the Month” award on the wall. It was officially titled the “QSC Award,” which stood for “Quality, Service and Cleanliness.”

That’s when I had a light bulb moment.

QSC was an official system of priorities for Wendy’s team members. No one had actually trained me on it, but it was a term bantered around quite a bit. The priorities were so simple:

  • Serve a quality product.
  • Do so as fast as you can.
  • And, make sure your restaurant is a clean and pleasant place to eat.

Most of the store’s employees, including managers, were making things worse by not implementing the QSC priorities in the best way. They were cleaning while guests were waiting in line, or rushing to fix an order in which a sandwich was made incorrectly.

I decided to adopt a simpler, efficient QSC priority system for my store where I could emphasize the successful outcomes and more clearly communicate the methods to implement the program.

Simple Priorities, Better Decisions 

Whether you’re working in a fast food restaurant or a formal office setting, the most common mistake managers and employees make is wasting time by working on the wrong things. Implementing a structured system of priorities — and effectively communicating it to your organization — provides a template that enables the modern worker to make decisions even when their leader is not around.

Let’s face it! You don’t want to make every decision for your team anyway. Not to mention you can’t.

The questions you should ask yourself are: Does my team know and understand the priority system? Are they able to follow the system? A simple priority system allows everyone to make better decisions on how they focus and manage their time each day.

An Adaptive Organization 

Discovering, communicating and coaching the priorities are a way to build an adaptive organization. One of the biggest challenges our generation faces — a challenge our past generations did not face — is an accelerated pace of change. We live in exponential times. We need to build flexible or, again, adaptive organizational systems to survive.

One of the biggest tips I give to start-up founders is to concentrate on building a flexible, adaptive culture. The first step to that is to formulate a simple priority system, so the people working with you can make decisions without you.

What was the payoff for me back in 1985 after adopting Wendy’s QSC priorities? Less than nine months after the day I stared at that QSC award, my store was judged to be the best in the region and our entire management team — the four of us, all under 23 years of age — were promoted.

By Steve Huey, CEO, Capture Higher Ed