Whataburger gave out more than $90 million in bonuses to its workers over the past year, the company announced.

Given the company’s 46,000 employees, the average bonus for a worker lands just shy of $2,000.

In a press statement, the San Antonio-based company said it was rewarding workers for their “extraordinary service” during the pandemic and the severe winter weather across its 10-state footprint.

The company said it had a record performance in the last 12 months.

Ed Nelson, Whataburger’s CEO, said in the statement that the past year had “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.”

He added that the company wanted to ensure its workers and their families were “taken care of,” and to “thank them for continuing to go the extra mile to serve our guests with great pride, care, and love.”

Employees also received “Extra Mile” bonuses, emergency pay, and a doubling of their 401(k) plan matching for 2020.

Fast food restaurants have done comparatively well under the pandemic because most get the majority of their revenue from drive-thru orders, said Doug Fisher, president of food services consultancy FHG International. But that’s not to say companies like Whataburger still haven’t taken a hit from the pandemic’s tightened economy.

“I think they really are just saying thank you,” Fisher said. “A company surviving the pandemic really is based on your staff willing to put on a mask and come into work and take some level of risk.”

And, he added, “it’s good PR.”

Retaining loyalty among workers might also play a role. Restaurants across the board have faced a labor shortage in recent months, said RJ Hottovy, a restaurant analyst at Aaron Allen & Associates.

Many restaurants laid off workers or cut hours through shutdowns, restrictions, and generally depressed consumer demand. Now that demand is ticking up again, it has proven difficult for many operators to find new personnel.

The bonuses are a “good way to keep them around,” Hottovy said. “This is a way to maintain workers.”

He said his firm has calculated that it often costs at least $2,000 per employee to train them. “And so paying out bonuses like this is often cheaper than trying to rehire employees.”

Whataburger was founded in 1950 as a roadside burger stand in Corpus Christi, but has since grown to more than 840 locations across 10 states, with most of its restaurants located in Texas. Its sales top $2.5 billion annually.

Whataburger has undergone tremendous growth in the last two years.

In 2019, the fast food chain was bought out by Chicago-based BDT Capital Partners, which announced plans to expand to new states such as Missouri and Tennessee, after the company had spent decades mostly focused on Texas. It is also granting franchises for the first time in two decades.

Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham writes about business and technology. Contact him at waylon@sareport.org.