How the HR chief at Restaurant Brands International holds all of its executives accountable for diversity and inclusion

Jeff Housman
Jeff Housman is chief people and services officer at Restaurant Brands International.

  • Jeffrey Housman is chief people and services officer at Restaurant Brands International.
  • Housman has made DEI a priority. All senior executives are now held accountable for DEI goals.
  • Food service overall has a diversity problem. People of color are often concentrated in lower ranks.
  • This article is part of our “HR Insider” series about HR leaders and their noteworthy strategies.

The value of human resources at Restaurant Brands International has always been “pretty clear” to Jeffrey Housman.

But the pandemic made Housman appreciate even more the “role HR can play in supporting people,” he said.

RBI is a 6,300-person company whose brands include Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes. About 100 restaurants belong to RBI (most restaurants within RBI brands are owned by franchisees). Housman, RBI’s chief people and services officer, joined RBI from Burger King Corporation in 2016 and has climbed the ranks since. Housman was named one of Insider’s 2021 HR Innovators.

When he took on his current role, in 2019, Housman led RBI in doubling down on its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Now every senior executive is responsible for cultivating DEI and for making RBI a place where all employees can do their best work.

The foodservice industry overall has been criticized for its lack of diverse representation at the top. According to a 2014 report from the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance, ethnic and racial minorities represent 50% of all hourly employees, compared to 31% of general managers. The report looked at 60 brands, including Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, but didn’t include Restaurant Brands International.

RBI has publicly recognized the challenges. A statement published on RBI’s website in July 2020 read, “We acknowledge that we do not have enough diverse employees in our company and in leadership positions,” adding that, “By openly acknowledging our shortcomings, we are creating urgency for action.”

RBI makes DEI every executive’s responsibility

One of the first DEI initiatives Housman’s team spearheaded was a change to the interview process. RBI hiring managers now ask job candidates in their first interview what diversity means to them, and how they’d champion diversity if they joined the team.

And at least 50% of all candidates in the final interview round must be “from groups that are demonstrably diverse, including race.” This goal is tied to bonuses for the entire leadership and executive team at RBI. Chipotle, McDonald’s, and Starbucks have also said they’re linking diversity targets to executive compensation.

Housman’s team accelerated their efforts to build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace in 2020, a year in which many business leaders vowed to address systemic discrimination in their workplaces.

RBI released a diversity report that highlighted where the organization was falling short. Leadership, for example, was mostly white and male. Thirty percent of senior leaders were women – an improvement from the year prior – and about 43% of senior leaders were non-white. RBI’s total workforce included 40% women and 47% non-white employees.

Housman’s team led other efforts around inclusion in 2020. Leadership talked about subconscious bias in staff-wide meetings and ramped up training around implicit bias.

Housman is cautiously optimistic that RBI will be able to achieve its DEI goals. “We still have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to be,” he said. “But in 2020 we acted on our D&I strategy and made really good progress.”

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Popeyes is bringing its fried chicken to the UK, and it plans to open 350 restaurants over the next 10 years

Popeyes chicken sandwich
Popeyes is a major player in the chicken sandwich wars.

  • Fried-chicken chain Popeyes plans to open its first UK restaurant later this year, it said Tuesday.
  • Popeyes hasn’t decided on its first location, but plans to open 350 UK branches within 10 years.
  • Popeyes, which kickstarted the chicken-sandwich wars, has more than 3,400 restaurants globally.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Popeyes, the fried-chicken chain, said it would open its first UK restaurant by the end of 2021, and that it planned to open hundreds more over the next decade.

The US chain – a major player in the fast-food industry’s chicken sandwich wars – planned to open 350 restaurants across the UK by 2031, it said Tuesday.

David Shear, president international at Popeyes parent company Restaurant Brands International (RBI), told Insider that the company hadn’t yet decided where the first restaurant would be, but that the sites would be spread across both suburban and city-center locations.

Read more: Smashburger president lays out why the brand is looking for prime real estate, not ghost kitchen space

People would be able to order food for delivery through Popeyes’ own app or through other delivery services, Shear said.

Shear said that it’s too early to say whether the new UK restaurants would have food lockers, but Burger King, which has the same parent company, is rolling them out at its sites.

Popeyes chicken
Popeyes is best known for its fried chicken.

The menu at the chain, founded in New Orleans in 1972, is dominated by fried chicken, which Popeyes marinates for 12 hours, and you can buy it in a sandwich or on its own. It also sells other items such as fried shrimp, red beans and rice, and a flounder sandwich.

When asked whether the UK restaurants or menus would differ from those in the US, Shear simply said that Popeyes would “differentiate ourselves just based on product quality … You get what I believe is the best, juiciest, crispiest fried chicken anywhere in the world.”

The UK is set to be Popeyes’ fourth European market, after launching in Spain, Switzerland, and Turkey. The brand already has more than 3,400 restaurants across 29 countries, and is planning a huge expansion in China, where it opened its first restaurant in May.

It’s also opened restaurants in Brazil, and plans to open hundreds of restaurants in Mexico, too.

Popeyes China
Popeyes has restaurants in 29 countries, including China

In October, RBI said it planned to open a Tim Hortons branch in “every major city and town” in the UK by late 2022.

Across its three chains, RBI owns more than 27,000 restaurants around the world, and CEO Jose Cil told investors in August that it planned to grow this to 40,000.

Other US fast-food and fast-casual chains have opened restaurants in the UK, too. Chipotle only has restaurants in London, and Shake Shack has just stuck to major cities, whereas Taco Bell, Five Guys, and Baskin Robbins have a bigger presence.

Popeyes was credited with starting the chicken sandwich wars in 2019, when its sandwich became an instant success following huge social-media buzz. It sold out just two weeks after launch, and the chain sold 250 million of the sandwiches within its first year of launch, Shear told Insider.

“The chicken was incomparably crispy, juicy, and fresh, and all the elements of the sandwich were well balanced,” Irene Jiang wrote at the time in a review for Insider. “Each bite was bursting with flavor.”

Popeyes will be the last of fast-food conglomerate RBI’s three fast-food chains to launch in the UK market, following both Burger King and Tim Hortons.

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Popeyes is launching a a new fish sandwich nationwide

popeyes fish
  • Popeyes is releasing a flounder sandwich on February 11.
  • The chain is still feeling the success of the chicken sandwich over rivals.
  • The fish sandwich release right before Lent might be a bid for Catholic customers.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Popeyes is releasing a new sandwich, but this time it isn’t chicken. The chain is launching the Cajun Flounder Sandwich beginning on Thursday, February 11 across the US.

The sandwich consists of flaky Pacific flounder with Cajun seasoning on a toasted brioche bun with tartar sauce and the fan-favorite pickles from Popeyes’ chicken sandwich. It will retail for $4.49.

As an added perk, the restaurant is offering “sandwich insurance” to customers who try the new offering. For an extra 15 cents on launch day, customers ordering through the Popeyes app can purchase insurance guaranteeing that the chain will replace the fish sandwich with chicken if you don’t like it.

Read more: Inside McDonald’s reckoning on race amid billion-dollar lawsuits and unprecedented new efforts

Popeyes joins many other fast-food chains in offering a fish sandwich, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Arby’s. Rival Chick-fil-A doesn’t currently have a fish sandwich on the menu, but it sold one in 2019 during Lent when chains often compete to win Catholic customers with non-meat options. Popeyes announcement comes only a week before the start of Lent, so the chain might be making a similar move.

Popeyes famously released a chicken sandwich in 2019 that became the fast food item of the year, leading to record sales and chicken sandwich wars between major face food brands. The competition is still ongoing, after KFC just released a new chicken sandwich and McDonald’s plans to roll out three new chicken sandwiches in late February, and Burger King was spotted testing out a chicken sandwich in October. Wendy’s also released a new “classic chicken sandwich” in October, replacing the older “homestyle chicken sandwich.”

The success of Popeyes’ chicken sandwich has likely kept sales strong as the pandemic led to decreasing sales across the industry. In the third quarter of 2020, Popeyes owner Restaurant Brands International reported sales were up 17.4%, even as sales declines at sibling brands Tim Hortons and Burger King.

Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain? Email this reporter at mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.

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