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How Popeye’s training strategies raised the bar for QSRs in the UK

QSR Media’s recent Rising Star awardee shares her strategies for training over 1,500 people.

As Popeye’s Senior Training Manager, Nicole Cockburn led a team of eight to train over, 1,500 people for the brand since being with the company in 2021.

Nicole’s team was integral in training Popeye’s employees across France, Poland, Czech & New Zealand, setting the standard of bringing ‘joy’ to each new site.

Because of this feat, Nicole recently won the Rising Star award at the QSR Media UK Conference & Awards 2023.

From left to right: Philippa Charlton of QSR Media, Edward Kerr, National Account Executive at Red Bull and Nicole Cockburn, Senior Training Manager and Rising Star awardee.

“It's an absolute honour to be recognised and nominated. I am so proud, we have had an amazing 20 months opening stores, training and developing our teams all over the UK,” Nicole said during an interview with QSR Media.

In another quick interview, QSR Media sat down with Nicole as she shared her winning strategies in maintaining quality training amidst Popeye’s rapid expansion plans, how to develop the gold standard in employee development, and how to adapt and create relevant and engaging training programs.

QSR Media: Popeyes UK has seen remarkable success since its launch, breaking global sales records on opening day. What factors do you attribute to this phenomenal accomplishment?

Nicole: My team and I travel all over the UK training, supporting and developing all of our joy creators. We engage with our teams and teach them the science and technique in making our gold standard ‘shatter crunch chicken’ We also help them understand the importance of Cajun hospitality and delivering great service within a quick environment and the best shatter crunch chicken every time. We continuously support and coach our teams to strive for success and develop their knowledge and growth within our brand, on our journey to become the most loved chicken brand in the UK.

What strategies or approaches have you found most effective in ensuring consistency and excellence in the training process?

In our industry, we recruit a lot of younger people, it's important that we keep our training very relevant and engaging to ensure they get the most out of every training session. We have online theory learning which all teams do before arriving for training to give them an understanding of the brand, food and service. 

We then spend nine days in a live environment with our teams, practically training them on all processes and procedures.

We always ensure our training is fun and engaging for our joy creators using games, competitions, speed challenges and stress tests. We have also created our team member training passports which allow us to personally track and recognise all joy creators' progression throughout our training

Can you share some of your more recent successes in your role?

We have recently opened our first drive-thru in the UK, which broke global Popeyes records with queues the length of two football pitches. We have also developed our training materials in the UK that are now being used in 3 other countries, not only are we training and developing our teams in the UK but we are also helping train and support new Popeyes teams opening in our countries around the world too.

We love that we can share our passion and joy for the brand across other countries and showcase our amazing stores and joy creators.    

How do you and your training team manage to keep up pace with Popeye’s rapid expansion plans whilst maintaining the quality of training?

We continue to grow and develop the training team all the time. Our training team are very passionate and has a genuine love for the brand. We continuously re-evaluate our training and openings to become more efficient and strive for success, by pushing ourselves as trainers and adapting our training model to ensure we can open as many stores with the highest of standards leading into the future. Quality and constancy always remain our key focus in training and we will always ensure we maximise every training session, twice a day to ensure we get the most out of our team's\ availability.

What unique challenges did you face when training teams in different cultural contexts, and how did you overcome them?

At Popeyes we have a value that ‘we celebrate our differences’ and everyone is welcome. We embody this within our training and our training team themselves reflect this diversity. We treat all joy creators in all our stores as individuals as well as a team and adapt to all needs, support and requirements. Everyone is welcome within our brand and everyone has a place at Popeyes.  

The training team at Popeyes UK has been described as bringing "joy" to each site. Could you tell us more about the approach or mindset that contributes to this positive atmosphere?

We try to bring a positive ‘can do’ attitude to all of our training sessions and new store openings. We are proud of our brand culture and try to bring the Louisiana vibes, through Mardi Gras joyful, fun-loving training. 

We allow our teams to show their personalities, and we encourage them to work together as a  team, whilst enjoying themselves through music, dancing and creating positive vibes. We believe and embrace our culture of ‘Joie De Vie’ the joy of being alive and making every day and training moment matter. We want to ensure our teams enjoy coming to work so that they share that joy with all of our guests, we do that by always enjoying what we do as a training team we are always fun, positive and high in energy, spreading this through the teams with games, team huddles and energetic training sessions.

What role do you see training and development playing in Popeyes UK's continued success and growth in the competitive quick-service restaurant industry?

Training and development within our brand will always remain a key focus, as we are a brand that is all about our people. As we grow, we want to ensure our joy creators grow with us along that journey. Aiming to find, train and develop future leaders of our business. We will continue to strive to develop more of our training that is not only true to our brand culture but reflects our joy creators and style in the UK, bringing Cajun hospitality and high service standards to the QSR industry.  

Looking ahead, what are your aspirations and goals for the future of training and development at Popeyes UK? How do you plan to continue raising the bar and setting the standard for the brand?

Our aspirations and goals for training and development in the future are to make sure our training is not only engaging and fun but also aligns with the movement of technology and innovation for the future. 

We are looking to create our gamification online learning and also development programs for all our employees within the brand. This will enable them to gain qualifications in all aspects of our business and within hospitality itself for their future growth. We want to ensure we are a brand that listens to our people. 

As a training department, we always strive to think outside the box and bring new and exciting ideas collectively which helps us reflect and constantly raise standards every store and new challenge. I am very fortunate to be very supported in my role where I can continue my self-development, which will help me continue to grow and lead the training team into a very busy future for Popeyes.

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