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Well-honed company cultures helped Wingstop Inc. and Snooze AM Eatery successfully navigate their teams through the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wingstop, Snooze executives highlight team-building investments

Human resources leaders share their pandemic ‘human-capital strategies’ at Restaurants Rise session

Well-honed company cultures helped Wingstop Inc. and Snooze AM Eatery successfully navigate their teams through the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the companies’ human resources leaders.

Brianna Borin-Lygizos, senior vice president of people, at the 44-unit Denver-based Snooze, and Donnie Upshaw, senior vice president of people of the 1,479-unit Dallas-based Wingstop, shared their experiences in the Restaurants Rise powered by MUFSO session, “Fast Tracking Human Capital Strategies in an Ever-Changing Landscape.”

Liz Stone Brewster, senior vice president of The Elliot Group, moderated the session, which was sponsored by Agilence.

Both restaurant brand leaders said a high level of communication was crucial to keeping team members engaged during the coronavirus challenges.

During COVID-19 shutdowns, for example, Upshaw said Wingstop “had a video blog every week, where we were connecting with our team members,” and a task force to address concerns in real time.

The quick-service company, he said, developed platforms to take care of team members, such as providing work flexibility and other programs, such as work-from-home stipend and laptops for families that didn’t have them

Liz Stone Brewster_622x813.jpgLiz Stone Brewster, senior vice president of The Elliot Group.

Snooze had to rethinking the full-service dining workplace, Borin-Lygizos said, which gave priority to keeping team members and customers safe and secure.

Snooze, for example, offered mini-grants, what it called the Compass Challenge, of $50 to $200 to help employees develop a sense of purpose and make them feel safe. The grants could be used for anything from learning a new language to getting a real estate license of building a garden, Borin-Lygizos said.

Snooze stayed close to employees during periods of layoffs, and the brand had an 85% return rate amongst laid-off employees, she said.

Wingstop closed its dining rooms and corporate office space early in the pandemic, Upshaw said. “Safety has been paramount to all of our decisions,” he said.

Briana Borin.jpgBrianna Borin-Lygizos, senior vice president of people at Snooze.

Wingstop also offered benefits like “appreciation pay” for frontline workers and hand wrote cards to team members who were taking care of customers.

The brand’s turn-over rates have declined during the pandemic, Upshaw added.

The companies have worked on ways to maintain culture during the pandemic.

Wingstop, for example, recently brought in food trucks to the corporate campus to provide a socially distanced lunch, Upshaw said.

Borin-Lygizos, who started with Snooze 13 years ago when it had one restaurant, added that “culture is the decisions you make when no one is looking.”

She said that is placing people first and realizing they are your best asset and knowing what inspires them.

Donnie Upshaw.jpgDonnie Upshaw, senior vice president of people at Wingstop.

Moderator Brewster said both brands were able to navigate the pandemic successfully because the human resources teams had a role in decision-making during a turbulent time.

“You both truly have a seat at the executive table,” she said. “You’re trusted business leaders.”

Upshaw said the human resources leaders have to be the voice of what is right for the team.

“Oftentimes in my career,” he said, “I’ve had to ask for forgiveness vs. permission because it was what was the right thing to do.”

Register for MUFSO 2020 here, running virtual events from Oct. 1-29, Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon to 4:30 pm EST. Watch the session here.

Title sponsors for MUFSO include the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo Foodservice and Johnsonville Foodservice.

Contact Ron Ruggless at Ronald.Ruggless@Informa.com

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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