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Montana’s Cookhouse serves up recognition

By Laurie J. Blake
| www.cos-mag.com

Immediate, on-the-spot, peer-to-peer, and manager-to-associate, Montana's Cookhouse launched its new rewards program to reward and  encourage positivebehaviours and service from it's friendly Gen Y staff.

{mosimage}With the husband away, the daughters and I decided to play - by having dinner at our local Montana’s  ookhouse one evening. Quickly seated, our sever, Brennan, a cute Justin Timberlake look-alike, had my  2-year-old brighteyed and grinning as he sat in the booth beside her to take our order. Flirting lightly with my  daughters (and, yes, I confess, with their old mom, too), Brennan was always just steps away, ready for drink  refills or just “checking to make sure everything is still okay.”

And, while soaking up the Cookhouse atmosphere in preparation for writing this article, I realized that  Brennan wasn’t the only friendly staff member in sight. There were lots of Montana’s staff in distinctive black  T-shirts, all of them busily moving among the restaurant guests. And as I heard some of the others joking with the guests, I realized you can’t really buy this kind of friendliness.

Well, no, you can’t buy it, but you certainly can reward it when you find it - and that’s the purpose behind  Montana’s recently launched “Kickin’ It at the Cookhouse” recognition program. Immediate, on-the-spot, peer-to-peer, and manager-to-associate, the program is intended to reward and  encourage precisely the positive behaviours my daughters and I enjoyed during our visit to the Cookhouse.

“It’s not really about the rewards, though,” says Leslie Newhall, Montana’s director of people development.  It’s about the recognition, particularly peer-to-peer recognition, which is powerful, as is the management team saying a formal, appreciative thank you!”

But Montana’s just-launched program isn’t just about the restaurant manager recognizing good work. It’s also about the staff - called associates - recognizing and celebrating each other’s dedication and successes. Associates (or managers) who want to recognize another who has gone above and beyond can send an  "Applause” e-card instantaneously to recognize the remarkable job done. And paper versions of the Kickin’ It recognition cards can be posted on the restaurant’s bulletin board for all to see.

Vibrant program wanted

Montana’s Cookhouse is one of the brands of Cara Operations Ltd., along with Milestones, Kelsey’s, Harvey’s, Swiss Chalet, and others. Cara and its brands already had various kinds of recognition

opportunities in place, but management learned via annual employee surveys that there was a need

to formalize a program. Montana’s responded to this need.

Prior to the “Kickin’ It” July launch, Montana’s was looking for a program that would engage a generation of  workers that isn’t shy about telling management what it likes and what it doesn’t. To be run under the  auspices of Montana’s human resources group - known as people development - the program needed to be timely, sincere, public, and operations friendly,” says Newhall.

Montana’s polled many of its associates and restaurant “general managers” for ideas, and also turned for help to I Love Rewards Inc., which provides the technology vehicle to help deliver the program. This vehicle is the “My Montana’s” portal, which all associates can access. The portal provides up-to-date electronic  communication on incentive programs, guest feedback comments, recognition, new-product-launch information on e-learning programs - “a one-stop shop to connect them to all things Montana’s!” says Newhall.

For the recognition program information, associates just click on the “Kickin’ it in the Cookhouse” link, where  they can learn about the types of behaviour and activities they can recognize. Through the portal, they can send a Kickin’ It certificate to the someone they want to reward.

At the back end of the program, restaurant managers can keep track of who’s being recognized. They can  reward points to those who go above and beyond, which the associates can accumulate and redeem towards rewards they choose from a catalogue of name brand products.

Recognition categories include:

• providing the perfect guest experience;

• being a Cookhouse leader;

• associate teamwork; and

• operational excellence.

Special behaviours include:

• creating a positive environment for all associates;

• consistently leading by example; and

• striving to create a perfect experience for every guest, every time.

The portal offers examples of situations in which the behaviours could be demonstrated. So far, the early feedback has been very positive.

Just launched across Montana’s 64 corporate stores at the end of July, the pilot program was introduced via DVD by Newhall and Montana’s president Andy O’Brien as a mock newscast. The program will be evaluated  from the launch until the end of 2008. Newhall notes that the Cookhouse culture is still evolving and the program will continue to evolve with it as the associates continue to give feedback. And, among other things, head office is looking at streamlining a service awards program, which will also be points-based.

That night at dinner, my daughters and I recognized Brennan’s excellent service with a pretty big tip. I do

hope that one of his colleagues saw my daughters’ smiles, recognized the “perfect guest experience,” and sent him a Kickin’ It card, too.

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