Erwin Schmit: Not lost in translation
Erwin Schmit has improved foodservice at Grainger Headquarters by:
- Increasing participation by more than 20% and average daily sales by nearly 15% through innovative programming
- Building close relationships with his customers through one-on-one conversations to solicit feedback and responding quickly to requests
- Using his culinary background to create new takes on successful restaurant ideas
- Challenging his staff to think innovatively and to remember to always keep improving
A big part of maintaining these relationships with customers is delivering exceptional service, which in Schmit’s case means embracing changes to the menu.
“I don’t let things get stale,” Schmit says. “As soon as some of our branded concepts or the foods we put out get [routine] and it’s noticed, we change things very rapidly before we hear the feedback. I’d rather be proactive and take a risk instead of having to be told that I need to change something.”
Creative concepts: Developing and marketing new concepts is another of Schmit’s strengths, according to Jenna Sawyer, Aramark regional brand manager.
“Erwin is very creative, innovative and extremely meticulous,” Sawyer says. “In our environment, we have a pretty captive audience, therefore change is very important to keep them coming back. It is also equally important to create an atmosphere where people want to dine during their workdays or we will lose their business. [Erwin has the ability to] create station destinations in a café environment that are trendy [by creating what feels like] retail restaurants,” she adds.
Among the concepts that Schmit has developed and implemented are Bombay Bibs, fresh lettuce wraps; Prime Cuts, which offers prime rib sandwiches; and Ascalano’s Pizza, which allows guests to build their own flatbread pizzas or sandwiches. Schmit says he’s found the greatest success satisfying customers by looking at what restaurants are doing and improving on it.
“Say you are driving by a restaurant and see a sign for something they are doing,” Schmit says. “My process is, OK, they are doing that. What can I do to do the same, only make it much better?’ Then the key is to market what we’ve done to make that item better. The food and presentation make the items special. When we create a concept we also create the signage for how we’re going to market it and how we’re going to set it up. Plus, we look at the investment. You have to spend money to make things look nice. You don’t just want to throw things out there. I believe that pride of presentation comes from my chef background.”
Challenge extended: Schmit also uses his culinary background to engage with his staff.
“My enthusiasm of working with staff also comes from being a chef and working with chefs,” Schmit says. “With Aramark I was a regional chef for a period of time. I would go in and coach, train and develop staff members so that No. 1, the relationship between the two of us would grow and No. 2, they would have an understanding about how these things should be done. I think I have a higher standard than the normal person. I [manage] like it’s my name on the door and it is my name with the customers, so those are the standards that have to be met. It’s all about the details. You can do a million things right, but it’s really in the details of what [the staff] are doing. I try to really coach and train them that the details are what it is all about.
“I ask them what their favorite restaurant is and why they go there,” Schmit adds. “Nine times out of 10 they go there because of the service, food and the cleanliness. If two of those are right, you’ll go back. If all three of them aren’t there then you’ll just walk out. It’s the same standards here. I coach staff to look at things as a customer.”
DeFilippo-Flynn says Schmit’s mentoring and coaching attitude has led to his promoting four of his associates into supervisory positions within the organization. Schmit says his management philosophy is based on challenging his staff to always be thinking how to make things better.
“I’ve had some great mentors over the years and my management philosophy comes from them,” Schmit says. “I try to challenge people. I don’t think there has ever been a point where I’ve finally felt that things are done, a point where I can’t make this hamburger any better. One of my mentors said if you can’t find one thing wrong with what somebody is doing to improve them you are not doing your job. I really try to challenge my staff to think the same way.”