What Makes In-N-Out Burger the Best Place to Work

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In-N-Out Burger has an average of more than 4.5 stars on Indeed.com, where employees of the fast food chain praise it for its “fast-paced,” “rewarding,” and “challenging” career path and describe the company as taking, “excellent care of employees.”

In-N-Out also made it into the top ten of Glassdoor’s annual Best Places to Work rankings, with employees extolling its "great pay rates" and "fantastic hours." It even beat out Facebook and Apple, two famously generous tech companies when it comes to employee benefits and working conditions.

It’s not every day that a fast food chain is recognized for being a great place to work. (In fact, no other restaurants, fast food or otherwise, even made the list.) But it’s good business: keeping your employees happy means less turnover, which means less money spent on recruiting and training. Ultimately, this reduces your operating costs and leads to better service and more satisfied customers.

Clearly it’s important to build a workplace that’s positive, growth-oriented and challenging in the right ways. But of course that’s always easier said than done. So what exactly is In-N-Out Burger doing right?

1. Better Pay

In 2014, several cities experienced fast food employee strikes. Their primary complaint? Low wages and the inability to unionize. In New York, L.A., D.C. and beyond, workers demanded that their pay be raised to $15.

The “Fight for 15” campaign may well be the largest of its kind, but it’s only the latest example of workers rebelling against poor conditions at fast food companies around the country. With 40 percent of restaurant workers living in poverty and just over 14 percent of non-union restaurant workers receiving benefits from their employers, compensation has become a hot-button issue.

In-N-Out Burger, bucking the trend, starts hourly employees at $10.50 an hour, which is 17 percent higher than the median hourly wage nationally for these jobs ($8.94). It’s also 44 percent above the national minimum wage. Moreover, front-line employees can make up to $14 an hour on average.

Additionally, according to a former employee, store managers often make six figures, at least once they have significant tenure under their belts, and that’s a number not commonly seen in fast food.

In-N-Out also offers benefits to all employees, including part-time workers, which is nearly unheard-of in fast food. Other perks include paid vacations, free meals, comprehensive training and even a 401k plan. Competitive pay and benefits are a great way to attract and retain employees in an industry where turnover is frequent and can be very painful to the business.

Among the challenges restaurants will face in 2015, many cities and states are set to increase the minimum wage, so restaurant district managers would be wise to get ahead of this trend. As we explained here, one way to offset the cost of increasing wages is to get smart about automating business processes, especially tedious chores like compliance reporting.

It’s clear that paying employees well is a best practice for restaurants of all types, so it’s smart for district managers to follow In-N-Out’s lead and start offering higher wages and better benefits to employees before the laws force you into it.

2. Better Hours

Another common challenge for many fast food workers is inflexible hours. Many employees struggle to get enough hours or to build schedules that allow them to care for their families and handle other responsibilities. While these problems may be less obvious on the surface than low wages, they can have a significant impact on employee satisfaction and turnover.

In-N-Out does a great job of offering employees the kind of flexibility they need to do things like go to school, take care of their children and maintain a reasonable work-life balance.

One former employee wrote, “I started this job many years ago while attending college and they were wonderful about allowing me to work the hours I required while balancing my academic studies. The management team is very accomodating [sic] when talking about balancing time and work.”

Another explained, “Working at In-N-Out Burger during my time in high school and college was great. It was a good job to have because the hours were very flexible, the associated [sic] were great and the environment was fun.”

If your restaurant is struggling to attract and retain employees, take a good look at how you are allocating hours and how much flexibility and autonomy you afford to your workers. In many cases, a small shift in how you build schedules can have a big impact on employee satisfaction.

As we explained here, there are some great tools out there today to simplify the scheduling process and make it easier for managers to offer this type of flexibility to their workforce without increasing operating costs.

3. More Growth Opportunities

Finally, perhaps the most important way to bring in hard workers and keep them at your restaurant (or chain) long-term is to offer growth opportunities. This way, employees will start to see working for you as a career path, rather than a gig they can leave whenever something better comes along.

We’ve previously profiled Chipotle, a QSR that provides excellent career opportunities and has built a loyal following among employees. In-N-Out is another great example of a quick-service restaurant that uses best practices such as promoting from within and offering a clear path for advancement.

Because In-N-Out recognizes the value of loyal employees, they offer ongoing training programs and all of their managers are developed and promoted from the hourly associate level. This encourages workers to stick with the company over the long haul by giving them goals to aim for and a clear path for advancement of their careers.

In-N-Out’s commitment to these values coalesced as far back as 1984, when then-president Rich Snyder set up In-N-Out University, a training program designed to produce qualified managers for the chain. Around 80 percent of the store managers at In-N-Out began at the bottom of the totem pole as hourly wage workers. Rich Snyder’s dedication to professionalizing fast food management has been a major key to the company’s success.

As BusinessWeek put it, “The result was that many part-timers came for a summer job and stayed for a career.” Mission accomplished.

How to Steal In-N-Out’s Special Sauce

Almost all district managers can learn something from In-N-Out Burger’s dedication to treating their employees right and reap similar benefits as this forward-thinking fast food chain. To begin, focus on raising wages and offering competitive benefits wherever you can. Make sure that your scheduling practices are both equitable and flexible, making it possible for workers to attend school or care for their families while employed with you.

Finally, recognize that the best way to ensure the long-term success of your company is to build a workforce of dedicated managers who view their time with you as a career, not just a short-term gig. That will help you continue to offer the quality and service levels needed to keep your business successful over the long haul.

What does your restaurant do to attract and retain high-quality workers?