Whataburger announced Wednesday it’s promoting all of its general managers and pushing their salaries to at least $100,000.

The position will now be called “operating partner,” and also comes with a bonus of up to 150 percent of their target incentive. CEO Ed Nelson, who was promoted to the position in August, described operating partners as the “heart and soul” of Whataburger. He also referred to them as “business leaders who run multimillion-dollar restaurants, take care of their teams, and serve as the face of Whataburger in their communities.”

Pam Nemec, senior vice president of human resources and brand culture, said Whataburger has been helping employees, or “family members,” build careers for more than seven decades.

“From internally promoting our very own brilliant minds to attracting ambitious outside talent, we are committed to providing competitive incentives and great career opportunities in the communities we serve,” Nemec said in a statement. ”This generation of restaurant leaders is bringing Whataburger goodness to communities across the U.S. while embracing self empowerment to build and tailor their own leadership paths.”

The San Antonio-based chain has also given staff more than $90 million in bonuses for their work during COVID and extreme weather events. In 2020, workers also received “Extra Mile” bonuses, emergency pay, and a doubling of their 401(k) matching.

The news comes as Whataburger enters “the largest growth phase in its 70-plus year history.”

“The past year reshaped how we live, work and play, with the restaurant and hospitality industry being heavily impacted by the pandemic and this year’s crippling winter storms. We are so humbled and grateful for the loyalty of our customers during this time,” Nelson said in a statement. “And we wanted to help ensure that our Family Members and their families were taken care of and thank them for continuing to go the extra mile to serve our guests with great Pride, Care and Love. Our Family Members and guests are the foundation of our success, and we are grateful for both.”

Whataburger earns more than $2.5 billion in annual sales and currently has more than 840 locations and 46,000 employees across 10 states, with a majority housed in Texas. In May 2019, the burger chain sold a majority interest to Chicago-based BDT Capital Partners. The Dobson family, which founded the chain in 1950, maintained minority ownership. At the time, Tiffany Hagge, managing director of BDT Capital, said the firm would help Whataburger “innovate and pursue accelerated growth in existing and new markets.”

Since the pandemic began, several brands have provided extra pay to employees to reward their efforts. Darden Restaurants, the parent of Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, has invested $200 million in employee benefits since March 2020. The company also raised the minimum wage of tipped and non-tipped workers, including tipped pay.

In the quick-service segment, Chipotle paid out more than $40 million in bonuses and assistance pay to restaurant employees during the COVID-19 crisis and Shake Shack said it gave workers nearly $6 million in additional pay in 2020.

Before COVID, Taco Bell revealed that it was testing $100,000 annual salaries for general managers at stores that have an AUV around $2 million. 

Employee Management, Fast Food, Story, Whataburger