Food & Beverage

Executive Perspectives: Charlie Morrison

Most people won’t feel comfortable going back to ‘life as usual;’ it’s imperative that brands position their businesses accordingly, says the Wingstop Restaurants CEO.

In 2015, three years after joining Wingstop Restaurants as CEO, Charlie Morrison took the company public. By 2018, six years after taking the helm, the chain’s revenue had grown by more than 500 percent from the time Morrison stepped in. The industry vet previously held posts at Pizza Hut, Boston Market, FedEx, Steak and Ale, and Pizza Inn. 

How are you and your company coping amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis?

“Our core values of being entrepreneurial, service-minded, and authentic (what we call The Wingstop Way), have been a guiding light in navigating the COVID-19 crisis and ever-changing landscape. At the onset, we moved quickly with our entrepreneurial spirit to proactively deploy a cross-functional taskforce that met twice daily with a focus on collaboration between departments. This enabled us to rapidly access and disseminate information across the organization, with the health and safety of our team members and guests at the forefront of every decision.

“Wingstop was one of the first to close our dining rooms and will likely be among the last to reopen, in an approach we’re calling “FiLo” (first in closing, last to open). Our emphasis on digital prior to COVID-19 enabled us to quickly pivot to 100 percent off-premise, with digital sales shifting from 40 percent pre-COVID-19 to more than 65 percent as of April 2020.

“A portion of our strong tech stack also included our partnership with DoorDash, which we leveraged to rollout free delivery from March 21 through April 30 to help alleviate some of the burden our guests may have faced during that time.

How are you maintaining your company culture?

“The spirit and humility of our team is what makes Wingstop unique, and that was something I knew we couldn’t lose as we shifted to this virtual world. We started by digitizing our “You Rule the Roost” cards so team members could recognize their peers from afar and began a weekly cadence of all-team themed Zoom meetings to catch up on business initiatives and life in general. We even released Wingstop Zoom backgrounds so team members and fans could show their digital love. In addition to our weekly all-team calls we gave team members Starbucks gift cards so they could treat themselves to coffee on us in lieu of our traditional Friday breakfasts.

“We knew this transition would be challenging and we encouraged team members to continue being authentic—even if that meant kids sitting in laps or dogs barking in the background. That’s real life!

Have you found any silver linings?

“More than anything, our performance during this crisis is a testament to our strong culture and core values. I’m incredibly proud of the work the team has done not only within the business but within our industry and communities.

“While Wingstop experienced strong sales throughout COVID-19, we recognized our brethren in the industry were not as fortunate. We joined forces with Guy Fieri and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s Restaurant Employee Relief Fund to donate $1 million to industry workers who were facing financial hardships as a result of the pandemic.

“In our communities, we launched Flavor for Good, a week that consisted of supporting our frontline heroes, teachers, and neighbors through the donation of more than one million meals. Giving back is in our DNA and lived out through our service-minded mentality, which each of our brand partners embody. The Wingstop team is continually doing great work in the community and it was amazing to see those collective efforts pulled together to create such profound impact in our local areas.”

What will things look like for your company and industry in another six months?

“For Wingstop, things will look similar to how they look now. We’ll open our dining rooms eventually, but in our 25 years in business we haven’t changed much, and we don’t plan to. In that time, we’ve added three flavors, tenders, and boneless wings, but kept the rest constant. We’ll continue placing emphasis on digital in pursuit of our goal to digitize 100 percent of transactions and will continue serving fans that signature Wingstop flavor.

“For the industry, I believe we will see the trend of carryout and delivery continue for both safety and convenience reasons. Through our consumer insights work, we’ve learned most people won’t feel comfortable going back to ‘life as usual,’ which is why it’s imperative that brands position their business for continued off-premise consumption.

“Furthermore, not only is the pandemic top of mind but so is our concern with the social injustice present in our country. We recently formed a task force to create a plan centered around action and accountability for the long term. That is something I can guarantee will be in place six months from now and beyond as we leverage the strength of our brand to raise awareness, speak out about social injustice, and impact positive change.”

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