Island Grill banks on workers’ ideas

BY SHAMILLE SCOTT Business reporter

Wednesday, July 11, 2012    

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GREAT ideas can come from anywhere. Scyon Gardner proves this point.

The Island Grill maintenance supervisor is the inventor of "Foil Paper Friday" — the fast-food outlet's next culinary delight — stuffed fish, wrapped in foil.

"Even though I work in the maintenance department, I don't only generate ideas for that department," Gardner said.

"When I look at Island Grill's menu, it says Jamaican," he said.

Thinking that nothing could be more Jamaican than fish, Gardner came up with the idea of stuffing red snapper with potatoes, carrots, okra and scotch bonnet peppers, giving the meal a unique, Island Grill flavour.

The dish would be perfect for a group of colleagues hanging out at the end of the week, he said, adding that the stuffing would be an extra treat.

Gardner's "Foil Paper Friday" will take the company's fish in foil meal to the next level.

The company is currently testing the dish before a formal launch in a few weeks time.

The first attempt, stuffed with callaloo, didn't work out because the fish looked too dark and managers fear that potato might take too long to cook.

Grass-roots innovation is a growing trend among big businesses too.

International restaurant chain Domino's Pizza recently boasted in a TV advert about its new, employee-inspired parmesan bread bites.

Patrick Doyle, Domino's chief executive officer (CEO), said: "In a big company, great ideas don't usually come from the local store level."

Like Doyle, Thalia Lyn, Island Grill's CEO, believes that the best ideas come from front-line staff. "They work directly with the customers and know their needs," she said.

Like many bigger companies, Island Grill uses a management system pioneered at Harvard University called Balanced Scorecard, which makes department and store managers responsible for hitting their own targets.

One manager in Ocho Rios, for example, noticing that her staff often looked grumpy and fearing this would affect sales, installed a mirror by the cash register so that staff could check their expressions.

As part of this decentralisation, the company has an ideas bank to which staff contribute.

It aims to attract a minimum of 48 ideas a month and typically pulls in 70 to 80. In April, 73 ideas streamed in

If an employee's idea is selected, they are given an incentive, adding to their feeling of accomplishment and purpose, said Lyn.

It seems to have worked on Gardner, who earlier came up with the idea of recycling water from the ice machine to clean the floors.

Another idea in the wings, this one from a member of the IT department, is to install Wi-Fi in the restaurants so that customers can use the Internet.

"Every member of staff is engaged because of the acceptance of their suggestions," Lyn said. "We may not use all the ideas, but we consider them all."



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