White Castle got its turn on the new reality series Undercover Boss on Sunday. Dave Rife, one of the owners of the Ingram-family-owned company, spent a week working entry-level jobs at the company's restaurants and factories.
As is typical of the show's formula, Rife found several lapses in operational procedures while connecting on a personal level with a few employees.
At a new store in Hamilton, Ohio, he learned that the company's tradition of staffing such stores with experienced and new employees sometimes results in confusion and low morale. At another store, he met a manager who lives under the fear of being fired for violating the company's operations manual.
While he did share those concerns with other White Castle executives, those employees were not treated to a visit to company headquarters at the end of the show. Those Rife did meet with were given various opportunities. Those initiatives include:
A new company-wide wellness program for employees inspired by another employee with heart problems. Rife connected with her because he lost about 80 pounds in recent years in order to regain control of his health.
A new Leaders for Tomorrow program to foster career advancement and leadership among young employees, inspired by a Covington, Ky., crewmember with a positive attitude. Rife also gave the employee $5,000 to help with expenses for his visually impaired son.
Encouraging better team work between front line and supervisory employees at the company's Frozen Foods Factory, where an employee shared concerns over low morale and reduced quality control.
Rife also experienced frustration while manning various jobs at the company's factories, including the bakery where he destroyed 4,200 buns in one shift.
At the end of the show, he said he learned to put a face to the corporate decisions he makes.
"As a boss, it's easy for me to sit behind a desk and make decisions based on numbers," he said on the show. "Now every time I look at those numbers, I'm going to put a face to them and try to think how the decisions I make will impact those faces.
Industry reaction to the show's premise has been mixed. Advertising Age examined whether the public relations exposure is worth the risk to the brand for the companies involved, pointing out how Waste Management was flooded with positive e-mails after its episode aired. (Subscription required.) The Incentive Intelligence blog panned the show for its formulaic, predictable and obviously staged moments.
Christa is editor of QSRweb.com and contributes to FastCasual.com and PizzaMarketplace.com. She has experience in the restaurant industry as well as 15 years as a journalist.