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HT Talks Tech with Tammy Johns, Chief People Officer at Black Bear Diner

HT recently caught up with Tammy Johns, Chief People Officer, at Black Bear Diner, to talk about how the brand is leaning into technology to hire and retain employees.
Black Bear Diner Layton
Black Bear Diner has rolled out a number of tech initiatives that are aimed at further improving and elevating employee hiring, engagement, training and retention.
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HT recently caught up with  Tammy Johns, Chief People Officer, at Black Bear Diner,  to talk about how the brand is leaning into technology to hire and retain employees. Johns was one of the hospitality executives who shared her insights in HT's three-part Workforce Technology Series.

HT:  What challenges are you working to solve?

Tammy Johns, Chief People Officer, at Black Bear DinerThe pandemic created challenges for a variety of businesses, including restaurants, and Black Bear Diner has not been immune to these struggles. The ongoing industry-wide labor shortage has prompted us to take a hard look at our hiring, training  and retention efforts, and evaluate how we can use technology to improve and simplify these processes for both our potential and existing team members in order to increase hiring and training efficiencies, as well as employee retention rates.

HT: How have these challenges evolved in recent years?

Johns:  While faced with many challenges in 2020 and 2021, we are excited that in 2022 we were able to reach our goal of hiring approximately 100 team members for each new diner. Also, in 2022, we accomplished our goal of providing team members with increased benefits and competitive pay, along with successfully leveraging technology to enhance these benefits. Today, we remain focused on both recruiting new team members and retaining existing ones – in part through the technology we have at our diners that help to make our team members’ lives easier

HT: Tell us about how your company is using technology to help with finding/hiring, training, and/or retaining staff. What solutions are you using?

Johns:  At Black Bear Diner, we’ve rolled out a number of tech initiatives that are aimed at further improving and elevating employee hiring, engagement, training, and retention. One of these initiatives is DailyPay –  a tech provider that enables back-of-house, hourly team members to receive up to a certain amount of their pay daily, rather than waiting for their full paycheck. Since rolling DailyPay out, we have seen an incredibly positive reaction. In fact, as a result of the team member response, we are currently exploring offering DailyPay to tipped, front-of-house team members as well in hopes of further increasing retention rates across the board.

Another unique tech benefit we offer is the ‘HealthiestYou’ app, which our team members gain access to for the small fee of just over three dollars per paycheck. The ‘HealthiestYou' app gives team members who opt in unlimited access to teladoc appointments and consultations, mental health resources, better living tips, and more. The largest benefit of the app is it provides our team members with the ability to eliminate in-person doctor visits, and get in front of a doctor almost instantly – which in this day and age can be extremely beneficial for team members.

We have also leveraged technology to make applying to Black Bear Diner as simple and seamless as possible for applicants. We use the platform TalentReef, which gives applicants options to apply to open positions both online, as well as via text or chat. This allows us to cast a wider net by meeting applicants where they choose.

Not only are we using tech to retain and attract employees, but we are also leveraging it to increase team member engagement and enhance talent development. For example, we’ve deployed our state of the art online learning management system, “Bears in the Know.” Through the online learning management system, team members can find a number of useful training resources, including harassment and discrimination training, culinary training, Covid protocol training, and more.

Finally, to improve engagement, we’ve leveraged technology to create effective team member communication. We recently rolled out a company-wide text communication plan, which we can utilize to text all 3,000+ Black Bear Diner team members at once, giving reminders about upcoming holidays, menu changes, benefits, training, and more. 

HT: What has been the result/ impact?

Johns:  We are very proud of our enhanced hiring, training, engagement, and retention at Black Bear Diner. In terms of results, this past year we saw a 10% decrease in manager turnover, and our company-wide turnover rate has remained below the family-dining segment’s average, which is another thing we are quite proud of.

HT: How have hourly worker job expectations changed in recent years?

Johns:  Our values are the heart of Black Bear Diner, and they are something we want every Black Bear Diner team member to embody. This commitment to our history and our culture has never wavered, regardless of the economic climate. In the last few years, we have been able to focus on hiring managers and team members who welcome every guest with open arms, and serve up joy, belonging, and love with every meal.

HT: What's your best advice to other restaurants to retain hourly workers?

Johns: I think one of the most important things a company can do, and one of the things we are really focusing efforts on at Black Bear Diner, is training managers on how to be the best possible mentors, role-models, and coaches for their team members. At Black Bear Diner, we teach our managers how to give effective, constructive, and productive feedback. Additionally, we teach our managers not only about their personal benefits but about their team’s benefits as well, this way they can further enhance each team member’s experience working at Black Bear Diner. While we of course want our managers to run a seamless operation, we also know that it’s crucial we foster a positive work culture where people are excited to come into work every day. It’s our job as leaders to ensure our managers are equipped to communicate effectively and create a safe, and enjoyable environment.

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