In recent years, the limited-service segment has taken great measures to expand its reputation as a workplace for only teenagers and students. Restaurants are now signaling that they’re ready for older employees, too.

For some brands, that pursuit extends all the way to senior citizens. This past spring, category leader McDonald’s teamed up with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to seek retirees as potential hires.

Bringing older workers into the fold can be a doubly rewarding proposition. Not only does it foster a more inclusive workplace, but it also taps into a previously forgotten—or ignored—demographic.

And as McDonald’s chief people officer points out, 55-plus-year-olds are the fastest growing segment of the workforce and could account for a quarter of the working population within the next five years, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Melissa Kersey

Chief People Officer, McDonald’s

We believe baby boomers are redefining retirement. This is the first time in history that five generations are together in the workforce. It provides a unique opportunity for McDonald’s and its franchisees to connect eligible workers from each generation with roles that provide opportunity, flexibility, and resources for wherever they are in their life or career path. We wanted to take a step to not only destigmatize this subset of the workforce by actively seeking their experience, mentoring, and skills, but to also embrace them as we have the younger generation of workers.

Interestingly enough, we find that all generations are looking for flexibility, just in different ways. Based on what we see in the McDonald’s workforce, the 50-plus-year-old workers want a steady schedule that fits with the pattern of their lifestyle. Younger employees want more on-demand flexibility that allows them to change and swap shifts if needed. The great thing is that we can provide both.

Our new hospitality-centric roles like table service and guest-experience leaders also require a skill set that a lot of younger employees are still learning. There’s a shared objective for two-way mentorship between the workers that AARP is connecting us to and the traditional base of 16–24-year-olds that support growth for all.

Kyle Gerstner

Multiunit Franchisee, Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers

We recently started seeking seniors as team members for a multitude of reasons. They have great life experiences and a strong work ethic. They are very friendly and personable, which is a big part of our Freddy’s culture with our guests. Lastly, they have a lot of patience for the right things.

They really help build that family atmosphere, as most of them have kids and grandkids who are our team members’ ages. They have also taught some team members that life doesn’t have to be with a screen in front of your face.

For one of our senior employees, Alvin, the No. 1 thing he gets out of working at Freddy’s are the smiles he helps create from guests. He’s able to share his knowledge from 39 years in the restaurant industry with the younger generation. He also enjoys getting out to some of our events. His favorite event is our weekly USO lunch celebration, as he is a retired Marine.

I would most certainly agree that there has been an age prejudice in the restaurant industry, but it boils down to misunderstanding. That’s changing and many are seeing a big value in the senior community and what they can bring.

Heather Tinsley-Fix

Senior Adviser Financial, AARP

Older workers possess an abundance of soft skills, including relationship building, empathy, professionalism, consistency, the ability to think many steps ahead, and resilience, which translates into, among other things, calm under stress. We also hear frequently from employers that the older members of their workforce are more reliable in terms of scheduling and punctuality. We have had a number of restaurants and restaurant chains sign the AARP Employer Pledge over the last 3–4 years.

Retirees who choose to “unretire” and return to work often do so for nonfinancial reasons, including primarily the opportunity for social interaction and to make a contribution to the workplace.

There are so many ways that older workers make invisible contributions to workplace productivity. Work also provides a structure and focus for one’s time, which can be welcome after the initial period of rest that retirement brings.

Age discrimination has been and continues to be a long-time problem, but there has been some progress. More than 1,000 employers around the country have signed the AARP Employer Pledge that calls for a level playing field for workers of all ages.

Employee Management, Restaurant Operations, Story, Freddy's, McDonald's