“I’d like a double ButterBurger with cheese, large fries, medium root beer and a small vanilla frozen custard.”
I was all-in on my first visit to Culver’s and brought the team with me for a little lunch excursion. Beyond the ButterBurger we wanted to better understand the brand and the guest experience in anticipation of my closing keynote presentation at the 2018 Culver’s Reunion, the annual conference for Culver’s franchise owners and suppliers.
Following a tour of the restaurant we settled into a corner booth for an epic feast from the always-fresh, never-frozen Culver’s menu. The commitment to quality food was undeniable, but what was also resonating was the commitment to people and culture. Our hosts, restaurant owner Don Fong and Culver Franchising System Director of Operations Steve Karls, made it abundantly clear they were in the “people” business first. Providing fresh, quality food with superior ingredients is seen as a secondary consideration when it comes to the success of the restaurant. That’s the story behind the brand.
Culver’s has always said that a ButterBurger and fresh frozen custard taste even better when they’re served with a smile, a “please” and a “thank you.” That commitment to hospitality goes back to Ruth Culver, who had a special way of making everyone who came to Culver’s feel welcomed. You still see it today each time a Culver’s team member holds open a door or stops to ask “How’s your meal?” or responds “It’s my pleasure.”
During our lunch conversation we hit pause when the Culver’s team suddenly erupted into a chorus of “Happy Birthday” a few tables over. We were all fortunate to witness what happened next and capture this little bit of Culver’s magic on video.
Helen was celebrating her 96th birthday at her favorite restaurant. On my way out I stopped to offer my own birthday wishes and Helen invited me to sit down. She’s a World War II veteran, and proudly pulled a photo from her purse so I could see her in uniform. She served her country and shared that she met the love of her life during active duty — and that it was important to celebrate her 96th with her daughter at Culver’s. When I asked “why Culver’s?” she simply replied:
“I love it here.”
I knew what Helen meant and it had nothing to do with the ButterBurger. It was so much more about the people and a familiar experience that makes you feel special. Culver’s captured this defining moment brilliantly, and doing that consistently is what turns guests and into loyal customers who frequent the restaurant more consistently.
Genuine Caring in Action
My lunch conversation with the Culver’s team quickly shifted to how a brand can capture these kinds of defining moments more consistently. What’s required to deliver on the mission of “every guest who chooses Culver’s leaves happy”?
Steve shared that the path to elevating the guest experience and creating meaningful moments of connection more consistently is “genuine caring in action.” Knowing that the formula is “consistency builds loyalty and loyalty builds frequency” helps everyone focus on making sure the guest experience is top of mind.
I walked into the Tampa Convention Center at 7 a.m. on Valentine’s Day for my sound check and AV setup at the Culver’s Reunion. After we finished up backstage, I walked out into the auditorium to get an introduction to the first team member who had arrived for my 9 a.m. keynote, Craig Culver. I wasn’t entirely surprised. Leading a passionate culture like this one starts at the top, and the commitment to his family business and the owners/franchisees he serves was evident in a few minutes of time together.
It was a true privilege bringing the 2018 Culver’s Reunion to a close. As I stepped off the stage I was greeted with high-fives and warm hugs from the two people sitting closest to the stage, Craig and Lea Culver. It was fun to be a part of the True Blue Family for a day, and you can bet I’ll be back for my next ButterBurger soon. After all, I’m a loyal customer now — and that isn’t about the food. It’s always about the people.
Ryan Estis is a Keynote Speaker & Management Consultant blogging about business performance.