Flipping burgers, mixing up milkshakes and deep-frying French fries aren’t exactly on par with brain surgery but the life of a fast food franchise employee is far from easy.
Over 60 percent of low-wage earners are fast food franchise employees that log hours for big corporations, like McDonald’s, that are hugely profitable (90 percent of big corporations last year posted a profit). Most low-wage earners make $8 an hour and do so without paid sick leave or healthcare coverage. Not to mention, patience is probably in short supply for most fast food employees. Last, and not surprisingly, fast food establishments experience a high turnover rate.
But one burger joint, In-N-Out, has mastered the balance of happy employees and satisfied customers.
The 232 restaurant chain might be best known for its celebrity encounters (Paris Hilton was on her way to In-N-Out when she was charged with a DUI) and foodie following (famous chefs Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller are devotees) but many of In-N-Outs “regulars” are probably unaware of how much the company has done to maintain its original standards.
Founded in 1948, In-N-Out has resisted franchising and going public, despite the fact that, if it did, it would probably give newly successful burger franchise Five Guys a run for its money. Despite turning up its nose at franchising, In-N-Out bests both Burger King and McDonald’s in sales per unit, the primary measurement of store success.
How is it possible for a fast food chain to best two restaurant franchise behemoths? In short, it’s because In-N-Out does its best to keep employee turnover low, to invest in the future of its employees and to create a company culture that its customers and employees love.
In-N-Out hasn’t changed its menu since 1948, which has given the fast food favorite time to perfect what is on its menu: burgers, fries and milkshakes.
According to In-N-Out Burger’s website, its commitment to its food begins with its burger meat, which is free of additives, fillers and preservatives. All beef comes from In-N-Out’s own facilities in California and in Texas where each burger is made from high-quality beef chuck, which In-N-Out Burger’s butchers inspect and grind themselves.
The green stuff on your burger– lettuce– is hand-leafed at each In-N-Out Burger location right after your burger is cooked to order. Cheeseburgers feature the real deal American cheese. Each burger bun is baked–not bought. Milkshakes are made with ice cream and milk.
Good food is part of what keeps customers happy and coming back for more but it’s not the only component. Happy, helpful staff is also a major reason why many become repeat customers.
First and foremost, In-N-Out offers xx things most fast food enterprises don’t:
- opportunity for advancement
- pay above the hourly minimum wage
- employee benefits
You Pay For What You Get
Since the beginning, In-N-Out paid employees more than minimum wage. According to an article in BusinessWeek, In-N-Out, “Associates always made at least $2 to $3 above minimum wage,” and that as of early 2008 part-time workers at In-N-Out were making more than the full-time workers at Wal-Mart. Store managers at In-N-Out Burger make at least six figures and are eligible for monthly bonuses commensurate with store performance and sales.
Work Your Way Up
About 80 percent of In-N-Out’s store managers started at the very bottom before finding their way to the top. In 1984, Rich Snyder, the son of In-N-Out’s founder, established In-N-Out University. As a harbinger of quality food it made sense for In-N-Out to also produce well-trained managers. The university program is meant to reward hard working associates who have worked full-time at an In-N-Out location for a year. Rich recognized that a multiple hour shift cleaning up spilled fries seemed miserable, but wanted associates to feel like they were a part of something bigger. One reason that the chain hasn’t expanded so rapidly is because of its dedication to turning out the right kind of manager from In-N-Out University.
Most managers work for In-N-Out an average of 14 years. Part-timers remain on with the company for an average of two years.
It’s Not All About the Benjamins
Rich established an expansive set of benefits for full and part-time employees. For part-time workers, In-N-Out provides 401(k) plans and paid vacation. Full-timers are given health, dental and vision plans on top of what the part-time workers receive.
In a world that glorifies corporate profits above all, In-N-Out proves that appropriately paid and cared for employees need not drive up prices or reduce quality. After all, quality extends beyond what kind of beef you use or how often you change your menu. While it might “just be flipping burgers” at In-N-Out, that’s something to be proud of.