Savannah Restaurants Corp.

Savannah

Savannah Restaurants Corp. implements the latest technology to stay relevant

among its customers and attract talented employees. 

By Janice Hoppe-Spiers, Knighthouse Media

It was 1962 and Alex Salgueiro’s family had just immigrated to Miami from Havana, Cuba after Fidel Castro assumed power. Burger King had been established in Florida for seven years at the time, but the fast food chain and menu was foreign to Salgueiro who would soon discover love at first taste.

“My first visit to Burger King was in downtown Miami. My brother had taken me to the movies and we decided to go there after,” he remembers. “I had never eaten a hamburger before and it was great. I loved it. Burger King became a regular thing. Every Sunday we would go to the movies and to Burger King after. I told my brother, ‘I’m going to own this place.’”

When Salgueiro turned 14 years old, he took his brother’s advice to apply for a job at Burger King to learn more about the company before he became the boss. He worked part-time throughout high school and was one of the few teenagers employed by the company as adults mostly worked in fast food at the time.  

After high school, Salgueiro planned to leave Burger King to work at his father’s boat yard while he attended college, but met founder James McLamore who would make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. “About a month later, I got a packet from my manager and inside it was paperwork offering me a full scholarship, a management position at Burger King with salary, health insurance and stock options,” Salgueiro remembers. “I took the deal and became the youngest general manager at 18 years old.”Safannah fact box

Salgueiro graduated Florida International University and was offered a position in Burger King’s International Franchising division. Over the years, Salgueiro opened Burger King restaurants in England, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Venezuela, Columbia, Panama, Ecuador, Aruba, Grand Cayman and Puerto Rico. In 1981, he relocated to Atlanta and became the area manager until he retired from Burger King Corporation in 1986.

“My original goal when I was nine years old was to own the place, meaning own a franchise, and I always had that in the forefront of my mind,” Salgueiro says. “I got immersed into work and moved up the corporate ladder. I did well, but there was a ceiling I hit when I got to Atlanta. I got a call on a grey November day while sitting in my office in Atlanta. They wanted me to sell five restaurants prior to the fiscal year end in May and I told them I already had a prospective buyer in mind – it was me.” 

Salgueiro and his wife, Fonda Maulden, purchased the five existing restaurants to become Savannah Restaurants Corp. in May 1986. Today, Savannah Restaurants operates 11 locations in the six surrounding counties of Savannah, Ga. “We selected great locations and I know the area and the industry very well,” Salgueiro says. “Savannah is a beautiful city and we are happy we chose this area.”

Joining the Family

Savannah Restaurants is committed to the goal of operating restaurants at the highest level of excellence to provide its customers with a quality product that is served fast in a spotlessly clean environment by courteous and happy people. “We create a family environment where everyone feels happy to come to work every day, and that’s hard to do today,” Salgueiro says. 

The company believes a great crew in its restaurant is mix of adults and teenagers. “Teenagers have been pushed out of the workforce during the last eight years because of minimum wage increases and other rules, but that’s changing now,” Salgueiro explains. “There is a 50 percent unemployment rate among teenagers, but they are starting to get hired back as the economy catches fire. We need those people as part of the employee mix as new technology is adopted in the restaurants because they are tech savvy. They also attract their own age group as customers, as well.”

The company focuses on training and employee retention because it understands that experienced employees are the most valuable. “We want people to like working here and provide them with advancement opportunities, good benefits, vacation and sick days, health and life insurance, and more,” Salgueiro notes. “It’s not like you are just some number. You are a member of our team and we hired you because we want you here, and we try to make it as positive as we can for you to stay here.”

Instant pay will become a benefit to employees at Savannah Restaurants, which has been beta testing the software with four of its employees. “The way it works is if you start work today, tomorrow you get a text asking if you want to receive half your pay from yesterday,” Salgueiro explains. “Our employees love it. We watched their behavior to see if they would come to work when they took the money. They do and say that now they can buy a bus ticket in advance or pay their phone bill on time. The money is being put to good use by these employees and it’s a great experiment that will revolutionize the employment of millennials because they don’t want to wait two weeks to get a paycheck.” 

Restaurant Upgrades

In addition to instant pay, Savannah Restaurants has already begun offering mobile ordering and pay to its customers in two of its locations. “You can order on your phone and once you get to the store, you hit ‘I’m here,’ and the order goes to the front of the line,” Salgueiro explains. “Millennials have jumped on it and will figure out real fast they can jump the line.”

Savannah Restaurants will be testing delivery and expects that and mobile ordering to supersede the use of kiosks. “Why do you need that if you have a smartphone to place your order?” Salgueiro asks. “I don’t think kiosks will be a viable piece of equipment when the smartphone offers more privacy.”

The company is also remodeling its locations to reconfigure the seating into more family and community tables. Every Savannah Restaurants location will have digital menu boards outside for the double drive-thru next year. “Digital menu boards will be a big improvement to get customers through quickly and ensure consistency with the inside boards,” Salgueiro says. “Speed is still big with QSR customers and I tell people we are in fast food not slow food. There will be a lot more technology coming online to make it easier for the customer to get our products in their hands.”

In terms of growth, Savannah Restaurants will continue to look for good locations, but will not build more restaurants just to increase its number. “Less is more sometimes,” Salgueiro notes. “Good high-volume restaurants can make more money than a lot of mediocre restaurants. We strive to open high-volume restaurants and are always on the lookout for that, but I can’t take the focus off our existing restaurants and their operations.”

In every decision Salgueiro makes, he is always focused on protecting three main groups: his customers, employees and bottom line. “All three of those groups interact together and I have to make decisions based on how those groups get impacted by any decision I make,” he explains. “We want good, high-volume restaurants with the latest technology and best trained employees, and continually concentrate on operating the restaurants we have as best as they can be operated.”

 

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