Thursday, January 2, 2020

Q&A With Cousins Subs’ Senior Director of Operations and Talent Alan Lundeen

Lundeen details how the brand recruits and retains talent backed by its “Our Culture. Your Family” philosophy.

Recruiting and maintaining high-quality employees are the keys to any successful business, and no company prioritizes this more than Cousins Subs. The sub franchise is steadfast in its long-standing commitment to hiring top talent who embody the brands four core values – optimistic, passionate, purposeful and grounded – and treating them like family.

We sat down with Lundeen to discuss the growing brand’s best practices for employee recruitment and new techniques it will implement to bolster hiring efforts in 2020. 

How is Cousins Subs enhancing the ways in which it recruits and retains talent?

Lundeen: We recently launched our very first recruitment commercial, which gives future employees a glimpse of why we hire for culture, and the fun and friendly work environment we foster at Cousins Subs.

To ensure we’re being very purposeful about how we define our employee experience, we introduced a new slogan – “Our Culture. Your Family.” We believe the slogan pays homage to our roots as a family-owned business and depicts how it defines the positive and purposeful work environment our store teams enjoy.

To provide more line-of-sight into our store culture, we revamped the copy in our job postings. The enhanced content showcases the dynamic roles our crew members have and illustrates how each position contributes to our upbeat, fun and family-friendly atmosphere.

To ensure the right people hold the right positions, we redeveloped our interview guides to include more questions related to our four core values and our eight qualities of a Cousins Subs employee.

Once we hire the right people, we need to retain them. One way hope to do so is by offering a larger referral bonus. We reward employees for their assistance in filling open positions with high-quality talent by gifting them a $100 referral bonus.

Our employees also enjoy a slew of perks. All Cousins Subs employees receive a free meal during their shift and a 50 percent off-duty discount. Employees who are working for Cousins Subs while pursuing higher education can apply for a Cousins Subs Legacy Scholarship – a $2,500 check to help off-set the cost of their post secondary education. Cousins Subs store managers work a 45-hour week and all crew members enjoy flexible scheduling so they can enjoy life outside of our store walls.

Are there any hiring or culture initiatives in the pipeline for 2020?

Lundeen: In 2020, we will implement a robust recruitment plan to engage new and current employees in fun and fresh ways.

We developed a recruitment logo that will be prominently placed on our advertising materials, that says ‘’ The logo gives interested job candidates clear direction on where they can go to learn more about our career opportunities.

We are also looking to introduce or re-introduce new and creative recruiting resources, including bus ads, radio ads and career events to target high school students. This talent pool makes up a lot of our night and weekend employee base. It’s especially important to me that we engage with high school students because when I was their age I started my successful career with Cousins Subs. We through our stimulating store environment young adults will recognize they can establish a long and rewarding career with Cousins Subs.

Further, we piloted “text to apply” at three of our locations through which prospective employees texted the word “better” to receive information about our hiring process. One test location reported it saw a lot of success, and, as a result, we will utilize the technology more broadly in 2020.

In what ways is Cousins Subs overcoming challenges, such as high turnover, in the restaurant industry?

Lundeen: We are grounded in our strong roots as a family-owned business. We’re proud to foster a family-like environment in all of our stores and regularly recognize team members on a small and large scale to show how much we value them.

A small way we recognize employees is by giving them a birthday card on or within a few days of their birthday. We also regularly give out thank you cards to employees for a job well done and hand out small tokens of appreciation – like movie passes and gift cards – to those who go above and beyond and/or consistently demonstrate our four core values.

We have a tenure program through which we recognize employees’ milestone anniversaries at one year, three years, five years and every five years after that with a gift. For major milestone anniversaries – like 35 years – we plan the ultimate surprise. This year we were fortunate to celebrate two store managers’ 35-year anniversaries by surprising each with a cake, balloons and a card, which were hand delivered to their stores. Then each manager was treated to a nice lunch, with members of the Cousins Subs Leadership Team, following the in-store surprise.

How does Cousins Subs support its franchisees when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent?

Lundeen: We have a very purposeful and personalized franchisee onboarding experience. Franchisees participate in a 30-day training program that includes spending time at our corporate support center and in a restaurant to learn every aspect of our business.

When training at our corporate support center, new franchisees meet with all departments to learn how Cousins Subs operates effectively. During franchisees’ time with our HR team, they delve into our handbook and discuss best practices for retaining and rewarding talent. This training gives them the tools and resources they need to efficiently train their own team and the confidence to really hit the ground running with recruitment.

Training doesn’t stop after 30 days. We provide ongoing education through through CousinsU – our proprietary online learning center. We also distribute a quarterly newsletter and other pertinent system documents to keep franchisees abreast of company news and industry best practices. The level of detail Cousins Subs provides during the onboarding process is really second to none.

Wisconsin-based Cousins Subs®, a family-owned, fast casual sub shop established in 1972 by Bill Specht and his cousin, is driven by the mission to Believe in Better – both in the quality of food it serves and in the communities it supports. Cousins Subs and its franchisees operate nearly 100 sub sandwich shops throughout Wisconsin and Illinois, providing guests with quality deli fresh and made to order grilled subs using only the freshest ingredients on its signature bread baked daily. For more information, visit You can also find Cousins Subs on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.