Staffed with beautiful servers in sexy plaid kilts and matching plaid tops, Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery has its roots deep in the tradition of Scottish, Irish and English pubs. Originally coming to life in Las Vegas, the contemporary, Celtic-themed sports pub is headquartered in Tempe, Ariz., and has been doubling in size for the past couple of years. Today, it has 3,500 employees, revenue of $240 million and locations across the country.
While many patrons may come to Tilted Kilt to view the attractive servers, President Ron Lynch wants to make sure the brand is seen for much more than that. To help him get a better view inside the restaurant chain’s stores and get a firsthand account of how its employees were performing, Lynch went undercover on CBS-TV’s “Undercover Boss” in 2012.
“Going undercover made me realize that we really employ a lot of young people,” Lynch says. “Human resources are always a challenge and more so in our brand because we do hire so many young people. For some of them, it’s their first job. Some haven’t even been employed as servers or kitchen help or bartenders for that long of a period of time.”
One of the biggest lessons Lynch learned from his time under wraps was that Tilted Kilt and some of its younger staff could greatly benefit from a mentoring program. In addition, he discovered that there were a number of superstar employees going unnoticed.
Here is how Lynch took his undercover findings and translated them to make Tilted Kilt a better place for patrons and employees alike.
Educate through mentoring
Many young people looking for some early work experience will often find jobs at an area restaurant. Tilted Kilt is no exception, and that led Lynch to launch a mentoring program to improve the Tilted Kilt experience.
“We assumed at the store level that the management/young-employee relationship was enough, but they talk more along the lines of taking care of the guests, providing good product, being upbeat and entertaining people,” Lynch says. “A mentor relationship can be more of a personal thing for them.”
The idea for a mentoring program surfaced because of the actions of one Tilted Kilt server in particular who appeared on “Undercover Boss” with Lynch. She was seen telling off-color jokes and using language that wasn’t acceptable.
“That doesn’t represent our brand,” Lynch says. “A mentoring program for those young people allows a more experienced server to talk to them and give advice. Coaching in these areas is for their own good.
“This isn’t just our brand. It could apply for any brand that hires young people. Sometimes they need a little bit of coaching when those young people are in the adult world.”
The mentoring program allows Tilted Kilt’s young employees, like the one seen on the show, to speak with more experienced members of the staff.
“The mentor program is set up so that they have monthly meetings and talk for a period of time,” he says. “We want to enroll all the 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds before they are legally adults at 21. That’s where we have started.”
What Lynch has found so far in the company’s mentoring efforts is that you have to be persistent at getting involvement in the program.
“No. 1 is you have to persevere at it because your young people are going to be resistant to it,” he says. “They don’t think they need it. That’s the hardest part. We may need to rename the program something like Big Sister, Big Brother program — anything other than the mentoring program.
“At that younger age, they think they know everything, and so they think they don’t need it, and that’s the difficulty we are having with it. We need to put a different face on it and call it something different but have it accomplish the same thing.”
Lynch and his team are putting their heads together because so far the mentors and mentees are getting together, but they feel obligated to meet instead of wanting to meet with a mentor. That’s a problem Lynch is looking to fix.
“It takes time, but it’s also the approach that our servers take,” he says. “Rather than them coming up to that person and saying, ‘Hi, I’m your mentor, and we need to meet,’ and they go, ‘Why?’ Maybe there is a better approach.”
Seek out superstars
Much like with the mentoring program, Lynch found out that Tilted Kilt had some real hidden gems inside its restaurants during his experience undercover, which made him realize the company needed a better way to find these employees and recognize them.
“Another thing I noticed was that we have some fabulous people in the field that are going unnoticed,” Lynch says. “I would have never actually seen some of these people without going undercover. So our operations people and I are going to spend more time, particularly in the kitchen.”
Tilted Kilt needed a way to find those superstars within its system and make sure they prosper.
“I’ve challenged our operations people to go beyond that and get into the kitchens,” Lynch says. “Observe and talk to the kitchen people, maybe work on the line a little and assist them where you can. Then a great way to meet the servers is to offer to help run the food with them. That will help get feedback as to who those superstars are.”
To find those employees who are high achievers but might be going unnoticed, you have to challenge your staff to dig in deep.
“I know it’s uncomfortable and you’re in a restaurant that you don’t work in every day, but you have to pick out those roles that you can function in and dig in. You have to help them run and help them prep food and meet those people who are actually doing the job for us rather than just the owners and managers,” he says.
Finding great talent already in your business is one thing. Having the ability to hire those high achievers from the beginning is another. Lynch is also devoting time and resources to improving the hiring process.
Tilted Kilt uses a hiring process called HOST, which stands for hiring only spectacular talent. It’s a process that takes a minimum of 30 to 45 minutes to do.
“We have that potential bartender or potential server role-play with us,” Lynch says. “One of the common scenarios is I play the customer and the new person is the server. We want to know if they will communicate with us and connect. Are they a people person? Will they smile at the customer? That’s very, very key to us in the hiring process, and we spend a lot of time on it.”
You have to make sure that if you have one person in charge of a hiring process that he or she doesn’t get complacent and tired of it.
“It’s an interruption in their busy day, which is wrong, because that is the most important thing — getting the right people,” he says. “The hiring process is the No. 1 priority and the No. 1 priority that they do it right. If you have one person in charge of that hiring process, that one person will do it over and over and get really good at it and have the experience of knowing what makes the best employees.”
How to reach: Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery, (480) 456-5458 or tiltedkilt.com