Inside Risk: Julie Price, Cheddar’s Casual Café Inc.
Cheddar's Casual Café boasts scratch kitchens and a director of risk management with a winning recipe for success.
By Eric Gilkey
Focusing on quality, handmade food in every location’s scratch kitchen has helped make Cheddar’s Casual Café a top-ranked full-service restaurant by consumer groups like Zagat and Consumer Reports. CLM Fellow Julie Price explains how “infiltrating” her own organization is the secret ingredient in her recipe for success.
Q. Did risk management find you, or did you find risk management?
A. Risk management is in my blood! My father was a risk manager in the transportation industry, and my brother, sister, and nephew all are in the business, too. I have been in hospitality risk management for 15 years, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love what I do because it is different every day.
I was in the hotel sector for some time, but started in the restaurant industry when I moved to Austin, Texas, for my first director of risk management position. The people in the restaurant industry are a special group—we all work very hard but we also connect and have a good time while taking care of our guests and team members. I have been director of risk for several restaurant concepts—Johnny Carinos Italian Grill, Fuddruckers, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, and now Cheddar’s Casual Café—but I love it here so much because it is such a great concept. We are a scratch kitchen, and that is not something you see much anymore. It is more labor intensive, but the results are worth it.
Q. What is your overall approach to risk management?
A. I think the key is really thinking about any and everything that might happen—and always thinking outside the box for solutions. However, sometimes things happen that you never would have imagined.
Additionally, it is crucial to work very closely with all departments and ensure that you know what is going on throughout the company. Communication is so important, as is training our management team in the field. Getting our operations team on board with risk management and creating a safety culture is huge. Preventing issues and ensuring that best practices are in place is truly the foundation for a great risk management program, and that begins with a thorough risk management training for our management team in the field, which I think makes a major impact.
Also, I try to never lose my ability to empathize and care about the people with which I am dealing. I always try and put myself in a guest’s or injured team member’s place by asking, “How would I feel if that happened to me?” The ability to empathize and understand goes a long way in keeping a claim or issue from exploding into something bigger than it needs to be.
Q. What makes a great risk management program?
A. A really good risk management program touches all areas of a company. “Infiltrating” your company and becoming a natural part of the overall team is essential. As such, I work closely with operations, finance, marketing, culinary, and human resources to employ true enterprise risk management techniques.
Q. What is your day-to-day life like as director of risk management?
A. Busy, busy, busy! I can start my day with a set “to do” list, but I have to be very flexible because I never know what is going to happen once I walk in the door. I am a department of one, so I handle pretty much everything related to risk management and safety, which includes but is not limited to: training, building a culture of safety, day-to-day handling of guest and team member issues, litigation management, and crisis management.
Q. Describe some of the risks you manage. What is your biggest exposure and why?
A. Here at Cheddar’s Casual Café, the sheer volume we handle at our restaurants is my biggest exposure. The scratch kitchen we employ to prepare our food creates a significant work injury exposure because of the detailed cooking and preparation techniques that we have in place.