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Christine Schaefer


Baldrige Award-Winning Restaurant Makes Education Its Business

You train people and they leave, but suppose you didn’t train them and they stayed?

Published: Tuesday, September 15, 2015 - 23:00

In 2001, the fast-food restaurant chain, Pal’s Sudden Service, received the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Today founder Pal Barger continues to share why he considers his company’s investment in employee training to be cost-effective despite being in a high-turnover industry.

Other business leaders reportedly ask Pal, “What if you spend all this time and money training someone and then they leave?’” His response to them: “Suppose we don’t, and then they stay?”

Throughout the past 15 years, an extraordinary commitment to customer-focused excellence and workforce development has continued to benefit Pal’s Sudden Service. The 27-restaurant chain based in Kingsport, Tennessee, has received wide attention and recognition for both its strong customer focus and uncommon practices in educating employees.

In the article, “The secret sauce in Pal’s Sudden Service’s success? Streamlining” (The Washington Post, Nov. 15, 2014) the authors note that Pal’s inventory turns over 143 times a year, compared to an industry average of 27. They attribute Pal’s high productivity to streamlined work processes designed around “laser-like intensity on one thing: the customer.”

Inc. magazine included Pal’s in The 25 Most Audacious Companies list in April 2014, reporting that each day Pal’s CEO and every other company leader, from general manager on up, spend 10 percent of their time helping employees to develop skills.

David McClaskey in Pal's BEI training room
David McClaskey (far left) in Pal’s BEI training room

The training Pal’s Sudden Service provides goes beyond standard practices to cultivate behavioral traits for its workers to become future leaders, whether at Pal’s or in another business. And the company offers training to leaders and employees of other organizations, too: Pal’s Business Excellence Institute (BEI) provides classes to help organizations around the world improve performance.

Pal’s BEI was created when Pal’s Sudden Service began its commitment as a Baldrige Award-winning company to share its role-model practices with other companies of all types. “[BEI] has been supporting the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award’s mission by systematically inspiring and enabling other organizations to learn and immediately apply simple and effective performance-excellence practices since 2000,” notes David McClaskey, Pal’s co-founder and president.

“Since 2012, 100 percent of the organizations that have attended [BEI] have applied one or more practices they learned within four weeks of taking a class,” says McClaskey. For example, in August 2015, school-nutrition employees in Kingsport received customer-service training from Pal’s instructors at the BEI facility. “They are now busy applying what they have learned,” he adds.

Pal's BEI training center (outside)
Pal’s BEI training center

“[Pal’s BEI] is a full-time operation providing training and consulting based on Pal’s role-model performance-excellence principles and practices,” says David Jones, BEI’s vice president. “We train over 700 per year from around the world in our Kingsport training center. Our reach extends to thousands more [in our role] as speakers at conferences and workshop leaders. About 50 percent of our clients are restaurants; the other 50 percent are from all types and sizes of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.”

David Jones (right) in Pal's BEI training room
David Jones (speaking) in center of Pal’s BEI training room

Training at Pal’s BEI covers principles and practices related to the Baldrige Excellence Framework, including the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence. “We make it a point to teach that adopting the Baldrige Criteria as a basis for the company’s management and work systems is what took Pal’s from good to great,” says Jones.

“Pal’s still uses the [Baldrige] Criteria to do internal assessments. So even though you haven’t heard from us on the applicant scene, we are still very much involved and generating even better results today than we did in 2001.”

First published Aug. 20, 2015, on Blogrige.


About The Author

Christine Schaefer’s picture

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer joined the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program in 2005, after nearly 15 years in nonprofit publishing, largely editing education-related periodicals and books. As an education team member, Schaefer writes, edits, and serves in other capacities at Baldrige including public outreach, the Baldrige Award process, and volunteer training. She has served as the editing team leader and a work group member on the Baldrige staff. Schaefer has a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary political and social thought from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from Georgetown University.