Because the founders of Margaritas Mexican Restaurant feel the restaurants should give the guests the experience of being in Mexico without getting on a plane, they began taking their management on plane excursions to capture the authentic flavor and culture of Mexico and make sure it’s reflected in the eateries.
“We always have our Mexico experience in mind in whatever we do, from designing and decorating each restaurant to creating new menu items and even menu design,” John Pelletier, CEO and founder of the 25-unit, full service chain, told Modern Restaurant Management magazine. “Having had our managers there to experience the culture and feel of life in Mexico, they really drive home the feeling of Mexico in the restaurants to their employees and ultimately to the guests.”
Pelletier said visits to Mexico provided appreciation for the people, food, décor and culture and inspired what the executives wanted to recreate in the look and feel of the restaurants. To date, close to 100 staff members have taken trips since the chain was founded in 1986.
“We thought it would be fun to show our people in-person all that we love about Mexico, so we decided to start bringing our team with us,” he said. “Our plan is to continue them on a limited basis moving forward so we can continue to keep that Mexican influence alive and breathing throughout our organization.”
The whirlwind trips are usually about a week long with a jam-packed itinerary designed to let the Mexican culture just soak in.
“From the moment we arrive we are sampling all the food at the local markets and meeting the local people,” said Pelletier. “Every day we wake up to a fresh authentic Mexican breakfast prepared especially for us, then we head out on walking tours to go visit the artists and craftspeople that we do business with. We tour their workshops and see them making the actual décor that will be in our restaurants. Throughout the trip we are eating fresh new foods that we find. From fresh tortillas to spit-roasted goat – it’s a culinary adventure, but so delicious. We will take a day trip to Tequila where we will visit the distillery and learn about the tequila making process.”
The trip also lets them explore food and décor items that would work well in the chain and view new trends so they can be ahead of the bubble on fresh ideas as they begin to migrate north.
“Everything we eat and drink, we try to evaluate to see if it would translate to our restaurants and if guests would enjoy,” said Pelletier. “We are also keeping our eyes open for new design or decorating trends or ideas. There are spots in our restaurants now that reflect what we have seen in Mexico, like our niche brick walls and our tiled archways. We have menu items like the Zarape, which we discovered on a trip, and even our Paloma tequila drinks, which we tried at the Sauza distillery. The influence is everywhere at Margaritas.”
Pelletier added that another purpose of the trips is to serve as bonding experiences for the managers themselves, assist in job retention, and help inspire them to become better brand ambassadors.
“Any time you bring a dozen or more people to a place that they have never experienced before and you have this intense week of learning, exploring and fun, you build a strong team,” he said. It’s not necessarily life changing, but it takes our people to a new level of commitment to what we do and what we are about. It makes them believers and people who will spread the word. It has affected the longevity of our team members at Margaritas in a positive way and we hope it will continue to do so.”
For Pelletier and crew, the trips are ultimately about staying true to their roots and bringing that authenticity back to their guests.
“The trips build upon the education of our people who are directly working with the frontline people and guests. Any manager or employee that has ever been with us on a trip comes back bringing that knowledge and understanding and that seeps into everyone around them. It’s the shared experience spreading that keeps our brand committed to the appreciation of the Mexican culture. The trips help us build a stronger team as we share our commitment to Mexico with them. It’s one thing to talk about what the culture of Mexico is all about, but when you have showed it to them and shared it with them, it strengthens everyone’s commitment to what we are all about – showing guests a great time and delivering delicious food and drinks.”