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Simplicity can be innovative in hourly hiring, and Meritage proves it

Meritage Hospitality Group helped Wendy's hire better and faster, simply by being simple.

This article is about simplicity. 

Pretty simple intro, right? And it got the job done. See, sometimes more is more — but usually “simple” is better. Simple is easy. Simple works

Simple even sounds simple, in theory. But in practice it's so hard to get right. When it comes to hourly hiring, it can feel nearly impossible.

Some employers are finding success, though. Meritage Hospitality Group, for instance, has turned simple into an award-winning strategy: The premier restaurant operator was recently recognized for having the “Most Innovative Employee Recruiting” at the Franchise Update Media Awards.

What’s so innovative? They made 300+ Wendy’s restaurants’ hourly hiring experience simpler.

“Candidates don’t want to go through a long application process and wait for an HR person to get back to them,” said Josh Swem, manager of talent acquisition at Meritage Hospitality Group. “They just want a really simple process. So we found a solution that would allow us to meet candidates where they were, on their phones.”

Simple

That word came up a lot when I chatted with Swem. Meritage knew that the “old way” (see: time consuming, inefficient, stressful) of hourly hiring wasn’t working, and that if they could simply simplify the process, it would mean happier — and also more — candidates, and better store managers. 

“Our managers are at their best when they can be out in the restaurant interacting with customers and providing those good guest experiences,” said Swem. “That’s where they really add value; they don’t add value when they’re just stuck back in their office reviewing candidates or setting up interviews and playing phone tag.”

The solution: distilling the candidate experience down to only the essentials, making it mobile-first to meet talent where they are, and utilizing a conversational assistant across 340 Wendy’s franchise locations. Hiring new employees went from a weeks-long process that required hours of manual work from store managers to an automated, friction-free, text conversation between applicants and “Alex,” Wendy’s unique assistant persona. 

With this new experience, weeks became days, tedium became easy, and candidates became employees. After officially launching Alex at the end of 2019, Meritage’s Wendy’s restaurants:

  • Generated more than 148,000 applications and achieved an average time of application to offer of 3.82 days

  • Saved store general managers 2+ hours of administrative work per week by automating initial screening, interview scheduling, and candidate reminders

  • Saw 91% of candidates complete the chat application via Olivia, with an average time to complete of just over 4 minutes

  • Saw candidates accept an interview within an average of 2 days from their first conversation with Olivia

The simplified process powered Wendy’s through a successful launch of their new breakfast menu on March 2, 2020, just nine days before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic — and through the next 18+ months to present day as hourly hiring continues to be a challenge for the restaurant industry. 

Looking back, Swem said the decision to overhaul Meritage’s recruiting and hiring process was actually an easy one — because sometimes the most innovative ideas are the simplest

“We had a vision for a new hiring process, but the epiphany moment really came after we turned Paradox on,” said Swem. “It was like tasting ice cream for the first time. It looked good, but when we actually experienced it, it was so much better than we ever thought it would be. We didn’t realize what we were missing out on.”

“Paradox  — and I don’t mean this in a bad way — is just simple.”

No offense taken, Josh.

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