Chain restaurants tend not to have the rosiest working conditions. Wages are low, benefits lacking, paid sick days rare, opportunities minimal, and the work itself often grueling. Nothing brings this home harder than the newly updated "2012 Diner's Guide," from the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a New York-based nonprofit fighting on behalf of low-wage restaurant workers.
Read ROC-United's complete list of offending restaurants here, and the 4 absolute worst here. But a few gems sparkle out from the report, with working conditions that set them apart from the competition. So if you're job-hunting or you want to support restaurants that support their staff, take a gander at one of the seven chains below, based on the ROC-United report and a dash of our own research.
Five Guys Burgers And Fries
Five Guys Burgers And Fries sales leapt 33 percent between 2010 and 2011, and 38 percent the year before that, making it the fastest-growing chain restaurant in the country. The company's cult following has exploded since it franchised 10 years ago, and that's good news for Americans looking for a burger-flipping gig. ROC-United gave Five Guys three stars for how it treats its employees, and an award for taking the "high road" to profitability. At least half of current employees have been promoted, and they all get paid sick days.
Chipotle's mission statement, "Food With Integrity," outlines their focus on organic ingredients, and the burrito chain is the largest restaurant seller of naturally-raised meat (cows and chickens and pigs not pumped up with hormones and antibiotics). It shows some integrity with its workforce too. While not all of its employees make at least $9 an hour, they do all get paid sick days.
"Strange things are afoot at the Circle K," Keanu Reeve mutters in the 1989 stoner classic "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure." But one thing is not strange at the international convenience store chain (defined by ROC as a "quick serve restaurant." When one of its employees gets the flu, they don't have to forsake a day of wages to get some bedrest.
Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against a Del Taco franchisor, alleging that one of its restaurants illegally fired a woman after she complained that her boss was harassing her. And while this may not paint the prettiest picture of the Mexican-food chain, there's a definite upside to working at Del Taco, at least according to ROC-United. The chain may not pay amazingly well, or offer paid sick days, but at least half of all employees have been promoted.
Hardee's isn't taking the "high road" in ROC-United's opinion, and workers don't earn at least $9. But at least half of the current staff have been promoted, so at least you may not have to wallow around unrecognized at the deep-fry station until your dying day. "Good chances to move up," a commenter on Glassdoor.com says of a Virginia Hardee's. "If you are able to do the fast pace work and stand on your feet for 12 hours without a lunch break," says another, back-handedly, "the medical insurance is great,"
San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf resisted fast food restaurants for years, hoping to keep the district's family-owned feel. But in 2001, they warmly welcomed an In-N-Out Burger into the fold. "Ordinarily, all of us would be in arms about a fast-food operation coming to Fisherman's Wharf," said one local business leader. "This is different."
And In-N-Out Burger is different. They print Bible verses on their wrappers, and will serve up a four-patty burger that's not on the menu, if you know to ask. They also treat their employees decently well. It's non-tipped workers earn at least $9 an hour, what ROC-United considers a minimum livable wage. Employees also get paid sick days.
As you tuck into your Friday night pork ribs and garlic-cheddar biscuits, take comfort that the people that cooked and served them to you aren't dripping mucus on them. Because if they're sick, they could just stay home and still get their wages, according to ROC-United. That isn't true at The Cheesecake Factory, Buffalo Wild Wings, T.G.I. Friday's, IHOP, Cracker Barrel, Hard Rock Cafe, Hooters, Houilhan's, Pizza Hut or many others.
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