As Rick Silva's turn on "Undercover Boss" began this past Friday, he spent time singing the praises of his company's high standards. The CEO of the Checkers and Rally's fast-food burger chain demands "perfection," he said, and makes regular use of focus groups to test the chain's burgers.
But on his in-disguise visits to three restaurants, he heard an entirely different story: His company's infrastructure is lacking, and you can't hear orders on the speaker system at the drive-through. Buttons are mislabeled at preparation stations. And some of his floor managers have barely received any training.
But the real eye-opener came from working alongside three rank-and-file employees. The trio of crew members who found themselves training a man named "Alex Garcia" taught him what perfection is really about.
Take Todd, a member of the grill-and-fry station at a branch in Homestead, Fla. He needs his job not just for his livelihood but also for his mom's. And so he endures the abuse of the store manager, who threatens his employees with physical beatings to get them into line. But when questioned outside by a man whom he presumed to be a random contestant on a reality show -- Silva in disguise -- about the situation, Todd overcame any fear about standing out and stood up. The treatment makes him feel "worthless," he told Alex.
Joyce works as a late night manager in Carol City, Fla., and operates the restaurant as if it's a variety show. She hops around the floor singing and dancing, adding gobs of good cheer. "I sell hospitality," she told Alex. She also demonstrated her mischievous side during the episode. "He's a concrete block," is how she described Silva's efforts at tending the station.
But it's a tale of two Joyces, as we learn (during a chat with Alex) of her Dickensian struggles. In the span of six months, she lost both parents to alcohol-related issues, as well as a brother to AIDS. "I never, ever would have imagined you've overcome this much," Alex said to her. She's also in debt, we learn.
Johanna works on the sandwich board in Mobile, Ala., the birthplace of Checkers. And she showed herself to be the Cheryl Miller of the station. Like the former basketball stars, she has a killer combination of speed and accuracy. Later in the show, Silva tells her she was "smoking," but during his apprenticeship, he can't keep up with her. "Fast food ain't called slow food," she said in a confessional. It came as no surprise when Silva told the camera he was scared he might lose her to the competition.
Silva, for his part, took swift and direct action to rectify the problems. This, too, came as no surprise. When talking about his own background, we learned that Silva was a member of the Cuban generation that left the island nation after 1959's Fidel Castro-led revolution. After relocating to Florida, Silva said that he was a target of racism and called a "spic." But when the epithet was spray-painted on his home, he stood up to the bullies. He never was bothered again, he told us. And he took the incident as a code for life.
And so it's exactly in that spirit that he approached Stevens, the manager in Homestead who bullied Todd and threatened the other crew members. "He's barking orders," was how Silva described Stevens' conduct. Silva called him out for being disrespectful, and when Stevens challenged him over his own alleged lack of experience in fast food management, Silva couldn't help but identify himself as the company CEO.
"Do our advertisements say we serve lukewarm burgers?" he added as a dig.
Then Silva took the extraordinary measure of closing down the branch on the spot. He assured the workers that no jobs were going to be in jeopardy, a claim that would be a bit hard to believe were it not for the CBS cameras following him. But he nevertheless gave Stevens more chances to explain himself, and went on to learn that his manager was working without full training. "If the rest of my journey continues like this, all of our amazing results could be at risk," he observed.
Indeed, Silva's time on "Undercover Boss" was a true chance to see the chinks in the armor of a fast food empire that has 20,000 employees and more than 800 restaurants. Silva used the reveal to champion the trio of workers, but also make use of the insights he gleaned.
Johanna, who ran circles around him in Mobile, had also told him about a lack of incentives for crew members. She found this particularly frustrating, given the rewards program for managers whom, she noted, wouldn't be anything were it not for their workers. And so Silva announced a new program for all team members. And as for Johanna, he told her that he would be personally taking her on as a protege, as part of a new training program. She's also to be promoted, which will come with a 25 percent raise. And to boot, a $20,000 reward, which elicited a singular, heartwarming shriek.
Joyce will be getting a new speaker system, Silva notified her in her reveal. He also handed over $20,000 with the requirement that she spend half on herself. She responded by saying that she'll use the funds to buy an urn for her brother's ashes. And in her honor, a new council will be created at the company where employees can share ideas. Silva was particularly impressed by her suggestion that desserts be selected with regional interests in mind, as opposed to a blanket offering for all 30 states that the chains appear in.
Todd received $15,000 for expenses to help his mom, as well as the guarantee that all costs will be covered so that he can finish his culinary training. And Silva also confirmed to Todd that Stevens is being retrained, and he announced a new training program in which respect and values will receive greater emphasis.
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