A new era of restaurant employers

The pandemic hardly pushed labor to the forefront of operators’ minds. Hiring, retaining, and training workers has been central to the quick-service playbook for as long as restaurants have been in operation. Pre-COVID-19, it was arguably the A1 concern. National unemployment was 3.6 percent in May 2019 and brands raced to amplify benefits, bolster recruitment, and invest in other people-centric initiatives designed to win a “war for talent” that was tightening by the day.

Since, however, terms like “The Great Resignation” and “Staffing Shortage” have become constants in the sector’s recovery. As of August, following a month where restaurants added 74,100 jobs, the field remained more than 600,000 short of February 2020. In June, there were 1.304 million job openings in accommodation and food services and 1.004 million hires to go along with 918,000 separations. Wages, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, had climbed at a double-digit rate since April 2021 before retracting to 9 percent in June. Average hourly earnings fell in July for the first time since May 2020 (negative 0.16 percent), yet were still roughly 8 percent above year-over-year levels.

So the view looks something like this: Restaurants are paying more for labor, often have smaller staffs to operate with, and the nationwide unemployment rate, in July, was 3.5 percent.

What it adds up to is a higher stakes game than ever. The ability to identify talent, keep high-performing employees engaged, and create workplaces where people want to join and stick around, and, in turn deliver hospitality to guests, has become a differentiator that can’t be understated. To put it lightly.

In response to the continued importance of labor, QSR magazine, for the first time, put together its list of Best Brands to Work For. We polled restaurant brands and outside experts for submissions and then had a panel of industry pundits make their picks. The result: this group of 25 chains is QSR Best Brand to Work for Certified, and an example worth following for years to come. QSR will release this report annually.

Note: If viewing on desktop, please click the arrows in the photo to proceed. The list is in no particular order.

Image credits:QSR magazine


Locations: 71

When Portillo’s went public last October, it laid a roadmap to 600 locations in front of investors. We’re talking 900 percent growth over the next two-and-half decades for the classic chain, which began in 1964 when Dick Portillo took $1,100 for a first home and used it instead to purchase a 6-by-12-foot trailer.

Portillo’s, when it hit Wall Street, boasted 67 units in nine states (there are now 71). But it had shipped some 2.7 million sandwiches via its direct-to-consumer channel across all 50 states. The No. 1 landing spot? Texas. This offered Portillo’s ammo to circle the Lone Star state, as well as the Sun Belt in general, as a near-term target to bring its hot dogs, Italian beef, and sausages to the masses.

Yet there was an underlying current to all of Portillo’s plans that stretched beyond alluring financials (think average-unit volumes of $7.9 million). Among the brand’s secret-sauce traits, so to speak, were its employee proposition and the culture built through decades of centralized growth. It takes an average of 87 people to run a single store, which is miles clear of industry averages—roughly 23 employees in quick service, per Black Box Intelligence.

And still, in Q1 2022, Portillo’s hourly turnover rate hovered around the low-100 percent range, or 20–30 percentage points better than sector norms. Over the last year, more than 80 percent of Portillo’s managers were internal promotions—an equation that once was flipped.

According to William Blair’s yearly longitudinal analysis of restaurant employee satisfaction, based on more than 350,000 Glassdoor reviews, only Shake Shack and Portillo’s reported sequentially improving scores from elevated 2021 levels when it came to the percentage of workers willing to recommend their job to a friend. Portillo’s surged 47 spots to No. 40 overall.

Like its food and unique service ticks—rhyming employees comes to mind—Portillo’s reputation as an employer of choice has deep, 58-year-old roots in Chicago. Just as people expect legendary chocolate cake that has no business coming out of a fast-food joint, the same is true of workers who sign up. They know Portillo’s is different than the pack.


Image credits:Portillo’s Hot Dogs

Raising Cane’s

Locations: 640

Benefits: Health and welfare benefits: Medical (free virtual visits and preventative prescriptions); dental; vision; flexible spending accounts (FSA); income protection benefits: life and accidental death and dismemberment (company provided); short term disability (company provided); long term disability (company provided); hospital indemnity; critical Illness; accident Insurance; retirement: 401K; company match (50 percent up to 8 percent of deferrals); financial wellness tools; wellbeing benefits: prepaid legal; pet insurance; tobacco cessation program; PerkSpot Perk Program; education benefits: tuition reimbursement (no waiting period or field of study requirements); fully funded high school diploma program; tuition discounts; free online learning (available to family members as well); work-life balance: PTO; Crew member Assistance Program (services available to family members as well)

While every restaurant openly acknowledges it would be nothing without its employee base, Raising Cane’s takes that a step further with Cane’s Love—an entire department dedicated to showing appreciation to crewmembers.

As part of this initiative, leadership writes roughly 4,000 thank you cards per week to employees. Also, during the final systemwide call of 2021, Raising Cane’s surprised workers with more than $100,000 in giveaways. This included dozens of employees receiving $1,000 bonuses, five receiving $2,500 to help with tuition costs, and two receiving $5,000 to help pay bills.

“Cane’s Love brings to life something that has been a part of our business for the last 26 years—our culture that is rooted in appreciation,” co-CEO and COO AJ Kumaran says. “It is appreciation for our customers, who spend their hard-earned money with us at Cane’s. It is appreciation for all our vendors who work hard to support us in our growth and as we scale the business. And it is appreciation for our crewmembers, who put their heart and soul into their work as we grow the business.”

Cane’s Love was created with the idea that all Raising Cane’s employees are fry cooks and cashiers, no matter where they’re at on the organizational chart. The brand put that philosophy into action in 2021 when 50 percent of corporate employees—including the heads of finance, legal, and human resources—entered understaffed restaurants for a couple of weeks to pick up shifts and boost recruiting. The end goal was to go from 40,000 workers to 50,000 in 50 days, and at the 48-day mark, there were 53,000 employees.

Raising Cane’s also takes pride in its Restaurant Partner Program, which began at the start of 2020. It’s designed to give employees more than $1 million in net worth within 10 years. To qualify, one must be a general manager for at least one year and show strong results. Once selected, they go through a 12-month probationary period before graduating into the official program. As of late August, there were 150 Restaurant Partners, including 40 that joined this year.

At the time of publication, Raising Cane’s created 4,500 jobs in 2022. Those thousands of employees are entering a brand that’s increased crewmember wages by $200 million-plus in the past two years. The company also promoted over 1,200 employees this year.

More than 40 percent of corporate leaders began as worker inside a restaurant; two examples are the chief of crew experience and the senior vice president of restaurant services.

“Cane’s is a great place to work, and because of that, we hear from Crewmembers a lot that they want to grow within the company,” Kumaran says. “We work hard to make sure that all paths for growth at Cane’s are clear—whether that is staying on the track they are currently on or not. For example, next steps in our restaurants are well defined [i.e. moving from hourly worker to hourly manager to salaried manager to Restaurant Partner] but so are the paths outside of the restaurants As a growth company, the opportunities to grow with Cane’s are never-ending.”

Image credits:Raising Cane’s

Team Schostak Family Restaurants

Locations: 164

Benefits: 100 percent of tuition cost at Cleary University for all eligible employees and their families. This program includes full scholarships for bachelors and masters degrees.; TSFR Care Fund that offers financial assistance for those experiencing a catastrophic life event. It’s provided 500-plus grants worth more than $550,000. More than 75 percent of workers contribute to the fund; instant pay; hourly employees can accrue up to 80 hours in paid time off; 401K, medical, dental, vision, life insurance, accidental injury, critical illness, and hospital Indemnity; 50 percent off food for team members. Employees can even bring your family; referral bonus program; Teladoc services and flexible spending accounts; discounts with companies such as Sketchers, Verizon, Dell, the Detroit Zoo, and Sams Club; Nationwide pet insurance; $120 per year for health and wellness; free COVID vaccinations for workers and guests.

Team Schostak Family Restaurants, which operates Applebees, Olgas Kitchen, Olgas Fresh Grille, Wendys, MOD Pizza, and Del Taco, has a common saying—“We wont be best on the block until we are best in the workplace.” A major part of that promise is TSFR University, a two-day training program in which managers from all brands meet with senior leadership and learn about the company’s vision. On one day, Executive chairman Mark Schostak presents the company’s history while CEO Bill Angott talks about Team Schostak’s five core values—Our People, Delight our Guests, Community, Act with Integrity, and Achieve Results. On day two, managers learn how to communicate and supervise a team, including coaching, directing, praising, and on-the-spot corrective action.

There’s also the LEAD program—a series of three classes throughout the year for high potential managers. The agenda covers execution, planning and organizing, situational leadership, and the seven habits of highly successful managers. Team Schostak emphasizes building talent from within—more than 75 percent of managers started at the company.

“Our approach is to provide a career path that takes an employee from an entry-level position to director of operations, during which time the employee gains the necessary skills and qualifications that is key to their professional development as a whole,” says Christian Camp, Team Schostak’s vice president of “awesome people.” “It is understood that not everyone will be interested in taking on the added responsibility that comes with a promotion; however, for those who are interested in growing his/her career and, therefore, growing with the company, we lay out this process clearly. The same opportunity would be available to all who begin working for TEAM Schostak Family Restaurants.”

Each year, the company holds an annual leadership conference to recognize top achievers. On a more routine level, Team Schostak uses internal platform TSFR Connect to showcase everyday wins. These small triumphs create daily culture and reinforce purpose.

The company also values candid conversations and feedback, which is why it surveys workers twice per year to establish where it stands. The end goal is always to make the lives of employees better, like the TSFR Care Fund, which helps those in need regardless of whether they contribute. Because of this benefit and more, Team Schostak has consistently found itself in good standing. It’s been honored as a Top Workplace by the Detroit Free Press for four consecutive years.

“The honor of being selected as one of the top workplaces is a distinct tribute, as we are being compared to not only our competitors, but myriad other industries such as industrial, technical, financial, marketing, automotive, etc.,” Camp says. “We are excited to communicate that we are a top workplace, from email signatures to freeway signs and beyond. In order to earn this citation consistently, we must be consistent in our communication and interaction with our employees by ensuring that they understand their value to the company, and by demonstrating that they matter most and are key to our success.”

Image credits:Team Schostak Family Restaurants

Noodles & Company

Locations: 457

Noodles & Company carries itself through four key values—We Care, We Show Pride, We Are Passionate, and We Love Life. The fact that “We Care” comes first isn’t a coincidence. It reminds everyone that Noodles puts its people first. Depending on their role, every team member may be eligible for medical, dental, vision, life insurance, counseling services, disability and the company’s 401k match. Other key perks include mental health support, immigration reimbursement, stock purchase plan, tuition reimbursement, InstaPay and automated savings, and more.

Eligible employees can receive up to 100 percent of their pay for part of their maternity or paternity leave. And in the late stages of pregnancy, schedules can be reduced while still receiving regular pay. Noodles also offers up to $10,000 for adoptions or surrogacy.

Additionally, Noodles supports career growth and has increased the tenure of its operations leaders for the past several years. For instance, In Q2 2018, the average general manager spent 4.4 years with the brand; that grew to 5.6 years by Q2 2022. For managers, average tenure was 5.6 years in Q2 2018; but by Q2 2022, it reached 8.1 years. This year, the fast casual launched its General Manager Equity Partner Plan, which rewards general managers for their positive impact on the company. Workers who meet certain metrics are automatically enrolled and remain so as long as they are employed by the brand.

The chain’s efforts toward diversity and inclusion have improved year-over-year, including 53.2 percent female representation at the management level in Q2 of this year. Noodles has also been recognized two years in a row by Forbes as a Best Employer for Diversity. In 2022, the company was the top-ranked restaurant on the list. 

Image credits:Noodles & Company

Hawaiian Bros

Locations: 31

Benefits: Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a confidential counseling service for employees and dependents; an onboard referral program to reward team members for adding to the Ohana by offering $500 for every new hire referred; encouraging academic success by offering cash for every “A” on a staff member’s report card or transcript; free meals for any employee; flexible schedules; health insurance with vision, dental, and 401k benefits; competitive salaries; generous vacation offerings for all employees; a positive atmosphere with many high-fives and encouragement; An ‘ohana of inclusivity and opportunity for personal growth; coaching and mentoring with honor and respect.

Hawaiian Bros recognizes restaurants are known for burnout, low salaries, and long hours. The chain operates with a philosophy that it doesn’t own employees and that it should respect their time. Every role—from cashier to executive—is designed to be a fun and positive experience. The No. 1 priority is to put team members in the best possible position to achieve a healthy work-life balance. Hawaiian Bros believes in separating itself from the crowd by not providing a definitive script on how to fulfill employees’ needs. The company understands that narratives differ and so should its response.

CFO Breck Templeton, who joined Hawaiian Bros this year, referred to the brand as having “limitless potential” because of leadership and its employees. The foundation is built by a combination of superior food, service, and operations.

The results of these efforts speak for themselves, such as the brand having an internal promotion rate of 27 percent. Also, Hawaiian Bros boasts an average-unit volume of $4 million, which is on par with the likes of McDonald’s and Shake Shack. The concept experienced 39 straight periods of same-store sales growth as of late August, and it’s seeing a return on invested capital of 60 percent. In 2021, the company earned $55 million in sales, an increase of 169 percent year-over-year. Customers feel the workplace passion, as well. Hawaiian Bros has a 4.7/5 guest rating from more than 100,000 reviews, and 98 percent of customers are very likely/likely to recommend the brand.

Image credits:Hawaiian Bros

Blaze Pizza

Locations: 314

Blaze Pizza emphasizes a “Free to Be You” brand promise in which workers don’t have to shy away from being their authentic selves. For the fast casual, it’s not about making a polished impression; the true objective is having a genuinely good time while providing the best services to customers. Tattoos, piercings, colorful hairstyles, particular style of dressing—all are welcomed with open arms. To make restaurants an enjoyable place to work, the company partners with employees to generate a new musical playlist that includes 80 percent of their favorite songs. The company recognized that moments of joy for guests and employees could be accomplished at the same time.

“It’s the underpinning of an entirely new customer and team member centric brand platform,” says CMO Vincent Szwajkowski. “It’s our internal North Star that’s going to guide everything we do. It’s impacting how we think about marketing campaigns, how we think about digital innovation, operations, training … all of those aspects related to how we’re moving the brand forward.”

In addition to highlighting self-expression and individuality, Blaze offers a plethora of benefits for corporate and field staff members, including full health benefits, accrued vacation, wellness program, tuition discounts, employee discounts on admission to theme parks and hotel stays, birthday PTO, 401k with an up to 3 percent match, and more. Also, corporate employees are given unlimited PTO days. To ensure worker success, the chain provides development and coaching through its Blaze training program. And to recognize unforeseen life events, the company offers schedule flexibility. Upward mobility is encouraged, from working ovens to supervisor, manager, and even becoming a franchise owner.

Image credits:Blaze Pizza

Dog Haus

Locations: 51

To prove how much it values all corporate employees, Dog Haus doesn’t keep a defined hierarchy structure or titles. The brand considers itself a horizontal organization in which employees work alongside partners and executives. At the corporate office, Dog Haus keeps a casual dress code and encourages wellness, like its “calm mat” for workers to meditate, take breaks, and stretch. The chain also pays for employees to participate in 5K/10K races.

The brand maintains an open-door policy so workers consistently feel heard and valued. In turn, partners welcome feedback and constantly check in with their employees for comments. This gives workers freedom to expand their role to as big as they aspire. For some, this could mean becoming a franchisee owner down the line. Dog Haus was founded by a small group of family and friends, and the fast casual intends to keep that feeling around its office space.

No corporate employees were furloughed during the height of the pandemic, and no one’s salary was reduced. Fewer than five corporate employees have left the company since it began more than 10 years ago, and there’s been a 15 percent-plus average pay raise for those who’ve earned it. Workers are covered by medical, dental, vision, and life insurance, and they also receive annual bonuses and presents. To avoid burnout, Dog Haus offers floating holidays, generous PTO, summer Friday hours, an annual retreat, and free parking at Old Pasadena, a shopping center in Southern California. A kitchenette is stocked with snacks and coffee, with beer and wine on tap. For a mental break, there’s ping pong tables, happy hour, and holiday and birthday parties

Image credits:Dog Haus

Flame Broiler

Locations: 150

Benefits: Medical, dental, vision benefits; bereavement leave; accrued paid time off for in-store leaders; flexible scheduling; most corporate locations closed on Sunday, stores close early evening during the rest of the week; stores closed Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years, Easter, and Fourth of July; California paid family leave; competitive wage; free meal during shift; career development pathways.

When Flame Broiler asked one employee about their experience, they responded with “Flame Broiler has values, a mission, and a purpose that the whole team lives by. One of the values being ‘Exemplify with love.’ The company cares about their employees and gives everyone who is hungry to learn, the opportunity to grow and have a career with Flame Broiler.” In that statement, the operative word is opportunity. When the fast casual brings a worker on board, there’s an immediate focus on possible career path development. The team believes a solid cultural fit from its internal team member bench is the best way to approach filling leadership roles.

In fact, Flame Broiler has an internal promotion rate of 72 percent in 2022. Total headcount has increased 22 percent year-over-year, and 25 percent have been with the brand for at least 23 months. Diversity is a crucial part of this, too—70 percent of in-store leadership are women.

During the toughest parts of COVID, the chain doubled down on culture as opposed to profits and consciously decided against laying off or furloughing any employees. For new workers, Flame Broiler heavily invests in training to reduce initial frustrations. The company is also committed to flexibility and accommodating requested time off. Flame Broiler’s four core values are written as a narrative: We Exemplify Love and Help Others Win with Fanatical Excellence to Feed Communities. It’s the chain’s DNA and informs every action, including balancing the desires of employees with business needs.

Image credits:Flame Broiler


Locations: 36

Regardless of an employee’s future, Hopoddy’s intention it to help motivated team members achieve their dreams. That could mean the fast casual is a steppingstone toward another career. It could also lead to Hopdoddy becoming a career choice. The chain has a team member to general manager program that develops knowledge, skills, and abilities. Sixty-four of Hopdoody’s general managers started as hourly workers.

One example is Chris Hill, who began as a bartender in Houston and is now the general manager of the brand’s certified training restaurant. He attested to the restaurant’s impact, saying, “Before Hopdoddy, I was missing this one piece in my life. I was lost and unsure of my next move. Now, everything’s changed. We own a house, we’re financially stable, raising our five kids. I have ability to support my family, feel good about what I do, and the ability to impact people’s worlds. It’s changed my life for the better in almost every single way.”

Hill exemplifies a level of loyalty that Hopdoddy encourages and rewards. The company developed a 512 Program that offers five-year general managers a year’s salary bonus and 28-day sabbatical. So far, three workers have achieved this goal. To ensure its mission is being carried out appropriately, Hopdoddy holds an annual town hall at every location to interact face-to-face with employees and managers.

All full-time workers, whether at the support center or in Hopdoddy restaurants, receive health, vision, and dental insurance policies for under $2 a day. The chain also offers earned paid time off and paternal and maternal leave for birth or adoption after one year. Additionally, employees enjoy a 50 percent discount when they dine at any store outside of work hours.

Image credits:Hopdoddy

Jeremiah’s Italian Ice

Locations: 87

Once a new employee is hired, Jeremiah’s Italian Ice sends a letter welcoming them to its “Frog Squad.” It outlines the chain’s brand promise to provide personal and professional development opportunities. In turn, workers agree to abide by the brand’s core values, otherwise known as “Frogma”: Cool, Bold, Genuine, Vibrant, Generous, and Strategic. These standards are intended to instill ownership and promote empowerment among all team members.

From the beginning, Jeremiah’s dedicates itself to transparency. The company has “tasty targets” in which it teaches workers how to not only build sales and labor goals, but how to accomplish them, as well. Accountability is important, too; workers who consistently reach and surpass these objectives are given a chance to receive a systemwide award.

These honors are distributed at the Franchise Frog Squad Operations Summit, attended by franchisees and area representatives. At this annual event, invitees attend leadership workshops and breakout sessions, where operators are able swap advice and business ideas.

Jeremiah’s gives out an Operator of the Year Award for the highest-performing manager, and announces recipients of the Frog Fund, a 1,000 scholarship that employees use toward their education. The financial sum is used for tuition, books/supplies, room/board, and other needs.

Jeremiah’s enjoys a “high-level” of employee retention, which demonstrates workers attachment to the brand. The company often sees employees rise through the ranks to the corporate office or become franchisees. While climbing that ladder, team members work alongside schools, religious organizations, chambers of commerce, and charity organizations to build long-lasting connections with their communities.

Image credits:Jeremiah’s Italian Ice


Locations: 875+

Mentorship and development are core to Culver’s and its family-rooted brand. Founded in 1984 by Craig and Lea Culver, along with Craig’s parents George and Ruth, as a single spot in Sauk City, Wisconsin, the chain still holds to many of its early aims. Among them, fostering a hospitality-first environment that spotlights the people delivering it. Cofounder Craig Culver told QSR earlier in the year “probably well over 100” employees in of the “True Blue Crew” started as teenagers and climbed the ladder. Culver’s provides access to e-learning resources, workshops, equipment training, and national team training opportunities. One vivid example is the concept’s Culver’s Mentorship Program, which connects aspiring franchisees with an experienced leader to guide them through the ownership journey. More than 200 franchisees have graduated. This is one arena Culver’s separates in. It has career and clear development pathways from entry level to management, but also to store ownership.

“Culver’s is in the people business—and that includes both our guests and our fantastic team members,” says Matt Klug, Culver’s VP of human resources. “One of our greatest priorities is showing them how much we value and support them not only as a member of our True Blue Crew, but as a person with goals, ambitions, and needs.”

On the front lines, Culver’s boasts a Crew Challenge initiative that rewards the system’s top teams for excellence in service and hospitality, with a total of $100,000 in total annual prize money. Culver’s Foundation Scholarship Program has also awarded north of $5 million to support employees’ educational goals since 1993.

At Culver’s, we want to provide our team members more than just a job—we’re offering an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally as part of a team that truly cares about them and has true career possibilities,” Klug adds.

One thing Culver mentioned to QSR as well was the chain’s “heart,” and why, to a certain extent, it’s kept the brand behind the tech pack in the past. Although Culver’s has caught up on options like online ordering, the core remains unshakable “In an industry that increasingly trends toward technology and automation, Culver’s is proud to continue championing face-to-face hospitality—and that begins with team members that feel heard, seen, and valued as people,” the company says.

“Providing an exceptional experience for our guests is only possible because of our incredible team members,” Klug says. “Their hospitality and positive energy brighten the day of everyone they come across, and we’re thankful to have such a passionate group of people representing what Culver’s stands for.”

Image credits:Culver’s

Shake Shack

Locations: 261

Benefits: Medical, dental, and vision insurance; transit discount program; 401K plan with company match; paid time off program; flexible spending accounts; employee dining program; referral bonus; online training program; ongoing hands-on training; career development; team member managed 501c3 charity (HUG Fund); corporate fitness discount programs; choice of global cash card or direct deposit; expanded reproductive and maternal benefit enhancements

The burger chain’s commitment to people goes back to the start, when industry luminary Danny Meyer and Union Square Hospitality Group founded the brand. And its evolved since into one of the sector’s most robust and diverse workplaces. In 2021, there were 2,835 internal promotions, with 56 percent going to women and 73 percent to people of color—nearly double the number from 2020. Shake Shack also increased the representation of people of color in leadership by 4 percent and women by nearly 7 percent.

Shake Shack’s guiding principle, the brand says, is on employee development programming. Over the past year and a half, Shake Shack expanded its Shift Up platform, which is a leadership development initiative that provides shift managers with tools to advance to managers. The brand doubled the number of graduates from the ongoing cohort. Additionally, GMs are offered equity grants.

On a granular level, Shake Shack offers about $15 per hour as an average national starting wage. It invests in diversity and inclusion in part through a formal program called, “All In,” which housed Shake Shack’s “Stand Together Series in June 2020.” The online platform enabled employees to share stories and included 36 independent speakers at all levels. More than 2,000 people participated as the company addressed social issues and broader themes, such as how to overcome dependencies and racial issues. Shift Up is a pillar of All In. Employees asked for a more defined career ladder and the skills to climb it, so Shake Shack invented the 18-week paid development option with the goal of eventual promotion within Shake Shack’s corporate structure.

In its efforts to diversify, Shake Shack, in one example, teamed with the LGBT community center Ali Forney Center, which helps homeless youth, on recruiting. For the fourth year, Shake Shack earned a 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for its support of LGBTQ+ team members in the workplace. Shake Shack has five Employee Resource Groups, too—options dedicated to women, Black/African American, Latino, Asian Pacific American, and LGBTQ+ team members. Shake Shack recently expanded benefits to include mental health resources and now provides access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to the entire company upon hire. The EAP offers free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services for those who need personal and/or work-related resources.

Grabbing headlines, Shake Shack also continues to explore alternatives to a traditional workweek. Throughout 2018 and 2019, it launched and piloted a four-day setup in select stores. It’s currently testing with hourly employees and managers along the West Coast.

Image credits:Shake Shack


Locations: 61

The story at PDQ is real-world experience and preparing employees for success, whether that’s within the corporate structure or their post-PDQ lives. One of the chicken chain’s benefits, for instance, is a scholarship program that invites and encourages employees to continue their education and career building in areas they’re most passionate about. PDQ offers anywhere between five to 10 every semester (47 thus far). During COVID, the fast casual also began offering hourly workers bonuses through a retention program. It provides quarterly and end-of-year awards. To date, PDQ has doled out more than $600,000.

In 2022, PDQ launched a wellness program with access to an activity tracker with team step challenges, nutrition classes and recipes, an at-home workout app, and Crunch Fitness discounts. PDQ also gave all workers access to an Employee Assistance Program. “These benefits help to make sure every team member is taking care of their mind and body outside of work,” the company says.

Additionally, PDQ recently unveiled a collective group of team members called “PDQ Champions” to provide feedback on behalf of their stores and to share insight.

So how is this all panning out? PDQ’s annualized turnover today sits at about 110 percent, well below the sector’s average of 169 percent, per tracker Black Box Intelligence.

Going forward, PDQ says it will continue listening to employees, and that includes on the ideation front. There have been myriad examples over the years where store-level workers offered a fix and it went live. PDQ implement a new point of sale and recruited cashiers to share feedback on the platform and ordering process prior to the rollout. The Toffee Coffee Crunch LTO shake also came from the field.

Incentivized performance is a big draw overall. PDQ presents employee challenges to specific goals, such as accurate and fast drive-thru service and loyalty member signups. When a restaurant meets the marks, PDQ hands out a monetary bonus or other prizes. There are employee reward programs, contests among individual stores and brand wide, sales and wellness training, and soft skills leadership training. “Our team members enjoy working for our brand because we make sure to put them first, offer them opportunities to grow and succeed, and listen to them. Everything from our scholarship program to leadership training and wellness initiatives have allowed our team members to enjoy working at PDQ,” the company says. “We understand that not everyone wants to become a manager or stay at PDQ in the long-term, and we make sure to recognize that and provide opportunities that inspire individual growth.”

According to analysis of Glassdoor data from financial services company William Blair, 71 percent of employees at PDQ said they’d recommend their job to a friend. In fact, the fast casual took the top overall rate for the first time, moving up from No.7 in 2021. The overall employee rating of 3.9 (based on reviews) shared the top spot with Raising Cane’s. PDQ also finished top 2 in culture and values (4.), senior management (3.5), career opportunities (3.6), and diversity and was No. 3 in diversity and inclusion (4.2).

Image credits:PDQ


Locations: 2,732 (year-end 2021)

Given Chick-fil-A’s 97 percent franchised model, each restaurant offers a unique slate of compensation and benefits packages. But many offer perks from health coverage to 401(k), and meal discounts. What is uniform, however, is the near-mythical nature of the chain’s hospitality. Chick-fil-A’s friendly staff and efficient operations is not an off-hand result. It’s been embedded in the company’s DNA for decades—a reality that’s only begun to feed itself over time. Or as the brand puts it: “Our signature hospitality and care in the communities we serve attracts next-level talent, appealing to people who have a true passion for customer service and giving back.”

Simply, at this point, employees who come to work for Chick-fil-A understand what they’re getting into. And that bar is set.

The brand is closed on Sundays and offers one of the industry’s most viable scholarship programs through its Remarkable Futures program. Since 1973, Chick-fil-A has awarded more than $136 million to over 80,000 employees. The benefits, through leadership and True Inspiration scholarships, can be applied to any area of study at any accredited institution. More recently, Chick-fil-A unveiled a Community Scholars initiative in August that, unlike the Remarkable Futures, was open to all members of the community; not just employees. Chick-fil-A set aside 12 grants of $25,000 to “community service-minded leaders” in an effort to help further education. Recipients will also have the chance to participate in a one-year leadership development program. One unique note, too: the program was open to people of all ages. Alongside bettering the community, these programs invest in potential future restaurant-level leaders. “Team members are offered advancement at their local restaurants, college scholarships, community engagement opportunities, and more,” the company says. “In fact, many Chick-fil-A team members stay and grow throughout the organization, including brand president, Tim Tassapoulous. As a former restaurant team member and scholarship recipient himself, Tim is living proof of Chick-fil-A’s commitment to growing and developing its employees, creating programs that keep and develop talent within the company.”

Chick-fil-A finished top 2 in every Glassdoor data set for quick-service concepts examined by William Blair: overall employee rating (3.9); culture and values (4.0); work/life balance (3.6); senior management (3.6); compensation (3.4); career opportunities (3.8); and diversity and inclusion (4.0).

Image credits:Chick-fil-A

Wendy’s (corporate)

Locations: 402 company-owned (5,535 franchised year-end 2021)

Benefits: Health: Medical, dental, vision, prescription drugs, telehealth, and vaccination. Plan participants may choose to complete their annual physicals with a doctor via a virtual visit. Additionally, through Inclusive Care, LGBTQ+ plan members can find providers and facilities identified by Wendy’s insurer as LGBTQ+ friendly. Employees enrolled in a Wendy’s medical plan have access to an online personal health tool. It answers users’ personal health questions and connects them to the right resources to meet their needs and offers the opportunity to earn up to $200 in rewards annually for setting and keeping to health goals. Wendy’s also has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) available to all company employees and household members—whether enrolled in a company medical plan or not. Mental health: Free, confidential 24/7 counseling support for all company employees through the EAP. Financial: Incentive bonuses, commuter and parking benefits, 401(k) program with a company match and pre-tax health and dependent care savings account options, company-paid life insurance benefits for all employees. Work/life: Paid sick leave for regular (non-intern, temp, contractor) company employees (including part-time restaurant team workers), parental bonding leave, adoption assistance, and a breast milk shipping allowance for eligible corporate employees.

As seen above, Wendy’s offers a deep suite of options for corporate workers. Also, there are employee resource groups available for support center employees, each with an executive sponsor from the company’s senior leadership. One corporate employee noted, the Women of Wendy’s ERG “has really provided me a network of women as well as men, champions and mentors alike. We have development events but also just social events where people can meet up and have a Frosty, and we had a stylist come in and just get to know one another on a more social and personal level because we’re all going through a lot of the same things. And it’s a great environment that bolsters your confidence and hopefully, it’s doing the same for other women.”

As part of Wendy’s Community Giving Program, every ERG was eligible to request a grant to support a charitable organization of its choice as well. In 2017, Wendy’s established WeCare to provide short-term financial assistance to employees within the system negatively affected by provincial state or federal-declared natural disasters or states of emergencies who were experiencing financial hardship. Since inception, about 300 individuals have received nearly $130,000 in financial assistance.

On a yearly basis, Wendy’s partners with a third party to administer its Voice of Wendy’s engagement survey for all company employees. Franchisees also have the option to engage in the survey for their own organization.

“We foster a culture of belonging by aligning our programs, process and policies to support an inclusive workplace. Using the voices of our diverse people, we have evolved the ways we support our company employees to help create a more energized workplace,” the company says. It’s a path that includes informal and formal flexible work arrangements for restaurant support employees. All new support team members are invited to a “Welcome to the Family” onboarding experience that provides new hires the opportunity to build connections and immerse themselves in the brand.

Image credits:Adobe Stock

In-N-Out Burger

Locations: 370

Benefits (support/corporate full-time employees): Medical; dental; vision; flexible spending accounts; basic life and AD&D; voluntary life and AD&D; associate assistance program; business and travel insurance; profit sharing and 401(k) plan; gym membership discount; free meals on work days; 15 percent discount at company store; casual dress; company sponsored events; two weeks of vacation accrual (one to five years); three weeks of vacation accrual (six to 10 years); four weeks of vacation accrual (11-plus years).

When it comes to the percentage of employees who would recommend their job to a friend (akin to a net promoter score), according to Glassdoor, In-N-Out has fronted the restaurant pack—all segments included—for seven straight years. It’s the only brand to maintain a top 10 ranking every calendar since 2016. Also, the number hasn’t dipped below 87 percent, which was the 2022 mark. It’s been 90 percent or higher four of those seven years. This past run, In-N-Out’s 87 was 8 percentage points higher than the next restaurant on the list, full-serve Barcelona Wine Bar.

There were a lot of factors driving In-N-Out’s performance. The first might be an obvious one in its outlier in hourly pay at $17 versus an overage of $11.50 (the brand’s California base plays a role here). In-N-Out also topped the report’s annual average for general managers at $56,500, an 8 percent-plus bump relative to 2021. Wendy’s was No. 2 at $56,400. But outside of pay, the legacy, privately held brand was No. 1 in every metric tracked through Glassdoor in regard to quick-service restaurants: overall employee rating (4.3); culture and values (4.4); work/life balance (3.8); senior management (4.0); compensation and benefits (4.3); career opportunities (4.3); and diversity and inclusion (4.3). Ninety-one percent of employees at In-N-Out said they approve of the CEO and 77 percent have a positive outlook of the company, which trailed only Cooper’s Hawk (78 percent) and Black Rifle Company (82 percent) in Glassdoor data. Needless to say, one of the cult-favorite chain’s secret weapons isn’t such a mystery after all.

Image credits:Adobe Stock

Organic Krush

Locations: 9

Benefits: Dental and vision for full-time employees and partners/families; paid sick leave for qualified hourly and salaried employees; PTO for all hourly supervisors and salaried managers; all hourly starting wages are above state minimum wages; annual merit increases; free uniforms; employee meal credit of $15 per shift; employee discounts during non-working hours; discounts on catering, cleanses and meal plans; referral bonuses up to $500; $300 anniversary bonus for all hourly employees; employee of the month gift cards; education assistance grants of $1,000; professional and personal development opportunities; holiday parties.

Founded by Fran Paniccia and Michelle Walrath in 2015, with Chef James Tchinnis alongside, the growing fast casual has kept to its principles of inclusion over the years. The brand’s executive leadership today is 50 percent female, and eight out of nine GMs are as well. Organic Krush’s hourly turnover is 84 percent, which is miles ahead of sector norms. Sixty-five percent of all employees are diverse and 88 percent of GMs are promoted from within.

And it’s a process that starts with purpose. “We are an upscale organic food concept with the most genuine hospitality, serving food that makes you feel amazing,” the brand says. “At Organic Krush, we are looking for ‘Krush Crew Members’ who are passionate about the power of whole foods, who care about how we take care of our planet, who believe we need to treat each other kindly, who care about their own health, and who want to become a part of something bigger.”

Organic Krush encourages employees to stay curious and lead with positivity. “We will help them grow—personally, and professionally,” the company adds. “We provide training at all levels for people looking to begin or grow their career, both in the kitchen and dining room, as well as in the home office.”

The fast casual hosts a benefits survey annually to earmark future resources. Educational assistance was the top request in 2021 and Organic Krush awarded $1,000 in grants to employees. Team members also asked for more communication from the founders, which led to the chain partnering with goHappy, a frontline engagement platform, to use text alerts to reach workers on topics such as health, wellness, promotions, and more.

We ask all of our team members, If you have a company complaint, share it with your manager, not your peers. Ask questions before jumping to conclusions. If you have a personal problem, share it with your manager, they may be able to help,” the company says. “We truly are focused on our employees; it’s in our vision and guides everything that we do.”

Image credits:Organic Krush

Dutch Bros.

Locations: 600-plus

Benefits: Team outings; employee discounts; education assistance (after one full year, employees are eligible for tuition assistance); paid volunteer hours up to 16 hours for helping out with the community.

The publicly traded coffee chain has among the loftiest growth targets in the marketplace today—4,000 shops in the next 10–15 years. And recent results support the reach; Dutch Bros. took 27 years to reach 328 locations, but has opened 275 in the past three and half years alone. It also hit a record $1 billion in systemwide sales for the trailing 12 months in the second quarter of 2022. Throughout this surge, though, the brand’s labor chops haven’t been forgotten. Its trailing 12-month shop-level turnover in Q2 was a remarkable 66 percent. It entertained 64,000 applicants in the period and hired 3,500. For managers, the brand says, turnover was in the low double-digits and operator turnover was almost “non-existent.” In the past year, Dutch Bros. promoted 50 operators. As of June 30, 115 of these employees were running 336 company-run stores, which averaged out to 2.9 units per operator.

“We’re not having any problem hiring good people, and that goes across the system,” CEO Ricci said in August. “Turnover moderated. And so, we haven’t really needed to play the market challenge game. I think a year ago, we were talking about hiring, bonuses, and things like that. Well, we never did any of that because we really wanted to focus on working at Dutch Bros and the value of working at Dutch Bros and why that was important and how we have that combination of good wages and tips.”

Dutch Bros. also shined throughout Glassdoor’s data. The brand was fifth overall on employees who would recommend their job to a friend, at 76 percent and fourth in regard to workers having a positive outlook (71 percent). Dutch Bros. held the top spot in Glassdoor’s “specialty rankings” for the second consecutive year, while notching the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in all five categories: overall employee rating (4.2); culture and values (4.3); work/life balance (3.8); senior management (3.6); and career opportunities (3.7).

On that latter note, Dutch Bros. provides a clear line of sight upward with hourly employees across four steps—“Broista” to shift leader to shop manager to operator.

Image credits:Dutch Bros

White Castle

Locations: 347

Benefits: Health insurance; dental/vision coverage, including a discount plan; life insurance; 401k; profit sharing plan; tobacco cessation program available through health insurance carrier; gym membership, weight loss program and vision discounts; wellness visit incentives; home and auto insurance discount; pet insurance discount; free uniforms; free meals while working; Ingram-White Castle Foundation Team Member Scholarship eligibility; employee assistance program; paid vacation; flexible schedules; on-the-job training; volunteer opportunities.

White Castle is known for sticking with employees. More than 10,000 team members have been working there for 10 years or more, says Jamie Richardson, the brand’s vice president. Even more impressive, 442 of the 450 people in the general manager, district supervisor, and regional director positions started behind the counter at White Castle and worked their way up.

“The biggest benefit is feeling part of something a little bit bigger than yourself,” he says. “The fact we’re family owned, it really is attractive to people because we’re taking a long view and I think that creates a different culture and atmosphere.”

Another unique benefit White Castle offers is a profit sharing plan. Each year, the company puts a certain amount of money into a plan for workers. They become fully vested after about seven years.

White Castle has also touted a health benefit since 1924. In addition to health insurance, the company boasts an Employee Assistance Program, which can be a resource for full-time employees at no cost. This program can offer counseling, legal resources, and financial support information. The resource is especially helpful during hard times for everyone in society, especially the pandemic.

“The EAP is something that our team members really value and it’s something we’ve been happy to offer for over 15 years now,” Richardson says. “It’s just a little bit more of a personal touch—there’s enough to navigate just trying to get through each day, let alone having to do it all on your own. So our hope is that it’s a resource for people that they can use whenever they want.”

In addition to the EAP, the brand each year gives out 25 to 30 Ingram-White Castle Foundation Team Member scholarships, which have been around since 1989. They go toward college, university, or career, technical, or vocational school and can be earned by team members and their family members.

Employees don apparel that were created in partnership with the designer Telfar. The uniforms have a durag as a head covering option, as well as ballcaps, visors, headbands, and bandanas. Richardson says this collaboration is another way to show employees White Castle values them, and wants them to be comfortable at work.

“Our team members are the heart and soul of who we are and we want to celebrate them,” Richardson says. “Let’s make sure they always have been the stars and let’s make sure we’re saying that to the world and to them in terms of how we treat them.”

Image credits:White Castle


Locations: 12

Benefits: $5,000 per year education; free language learning program through partnership with Babble; 401k; health insurance packages; competitive salaries; hourly wages; bonus programs; free meals when working and discounted meals when off work; corporate staff members are given flexible work options such as work from home, in office or at a restaurant.

As of Q3 2022, the fast casual appreciated a growth rate of 59.5 percent, based on percentage of jobs created since 2022. As it expands, internally and store count wise, Starbird is making sure to tune into its people. An internal survey earlier in the year showed 84.9 percent of workers were satisfied with their overall experience; 78.2 percent said they felt Starbird was an inclusive environment; and 75.7 percent would recommend Starbird to a friend or family members.

The jewel of Starbird’s offerings is its education programs. The chain is committed to contributing tuition reimbursements of $100,000 per year and up to $5,000 per worker every calendar (up to $20,000 over a four-year period). Program participation can be applied for any area of study at an accredited institution. This includes any two- or four-way college or university that offers bachelor’s, associate’s or trade degrees. The same goes for online programs, technical/vocational schools or language courses.

Also, Starbird partnered with Babble, a language learning system, on free online membersip for all employees regardless of position. The chain encourages workers to spend at least an hour per week on their account to learn and improve a new language.

With career advancement opportunities and an unrivaled, tech-driven customer experience, Starbird employees are highly satisfied with the positive environment and supportive company culture that exists,” the company says. “Team members especially feel passionate and motivated by the company’s upward trajectory towards growth in the coming year through the launch of its national franchise program opportunity.

Image credits:Starbird


Locations: 135

Benefits: Health, dental, and vision coverage; flexible spending account (FSA); short- and long-term disability and life insurance for employees and family members; pet insurance; an accident plan; 8 paid community outreach hours for each employee to volunteer their time.

The sandwich chain’s approach centers not just on physical and mental health, but overall sentiment and wellness. It’s the emphasis behind the community outreach program, where employees get paid a full day’s work to go volunteer wherever they choose. The approach has helped boost internal promotion rates, the company says. “We have people who run entire departments in our corporate office who started out as team members in our store,” it notes.

Career development has keyed the approach. Capriotti’s says employees look for clarity on advancement opportunity and its coaching managers to provide that information on day one. “We’ve had a number of people from our shops move to management positions for the brand, and some even moved up to corporate positions as well,” the brand says. “The opportunity in addition to working with people who are positive, fun, and like family, are also among the reasons why people love working with us, too.”

Capriotti’s was recently named one of the Top Workplaces by the Las Vegas Review-Journal for the third year running. Recognition came from a survey given to employees to assess positioning on a multitude of workplace issues, such as corporate leadership, employee appreciation, direction, team communication, and company benefits

Image credits:Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop

CEC Entertainment

Locations: 564

Benefits: Three medical plan options; dental and vision coverage; the option to set aside cash for premiums through a flexible spending account or a health savings account; the option to purchase life and disability policies through CEC; 401k; 40 percent off college tuition via CEC partnership with University of Arizona Global Campus for employees and immediate family members; scholarship opportunities; the opportunity to earn Google Career Certificates; access to earned but unpaid wages through PayActiv; financial assistance for employees in need; lifestyle spending account for employees who participate in CEC’s medical insurance plans.

The parent company of Chuck E. Cheese, Peter Piper Pizza, and virtual brand Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings has one of the deepest employee packages in the business. Through a partnership with the University of Arizona Global Campus, employees and immediate family members can receive 40 percent off tuition, plus waived fees and free digital course materials. Additionally, in fall 2023, CEC plans to offer three eligible operations managers a chance to receive 100 percent of their cost toward the completion of a bachelor’s or graduate degree program at UAGC.

The company’s CEC Cares Opportunity Scholarships range from $500–$5,000 and, while meant to be competitive, don’t require an essay or feature right or wrong answers. Applicants are evaluated according to academic record, job performance, strength of application, and financial need. Also, CEC offers a Mike Tuck Memorial Scholarship, which was created in memory of an employee who worked at CEC for nearly three decades. It supports the career advancement of employees who share Tuck’s passion for behind-the-scenes technical work that keep the company’s amusement offerings running. Employees who work in a technical position and are pursuing a college degree can apply for the $5,000 scholarship.

These efforts are paying off: Over the past year, of more than 2,000 operations managers (holding managerial positions at our restaurant locations) across both Chuck E. Cheese and Peter Piper Pizza brands, 56 percent achieved their current positions through internal promotions. CEC’s GM turnover in the past 12 months was 23 percent.

As of the end of May 2022, 58 percent of CEC’s total workforce was female, including 51 percent of GMs. The company is composed of 29 percent Black, 18 percent Hispanic or Latino/a, and 10% percent of two or more races.

In regard to the Google Career Certificates, CEC enables employees and immediate family members to get certified in data analytics, digital marketing and ecommerce, IT automation, IT support, project management, and user experience design. These certificates, taught by Google employees over the course of three to six months, come at no cost to employees.

PayActiv gives workers access to earned but unpaid wages between paychecks. Enrolled workers can access up to 50 percent or up to $500 of their earnings. No hidden fees or credit check required. The wages received in advance are simply deducted from their next paycheck. Another offer to employees is exclusive discounts and savings through Benefithub.com. Team members get savings on everything from movie tickets to travel to electronics.

CEC’s employee relief fund has distributed more than $325,000 in grants to employees since 2022, including 750 during the first year of COVID. For the past two years, CEC also added to the retirement savings accounts of eligible 401k plan participants by contributing 25 percent up to the first 4 percent of eligible employee contributions during the previous year.

Image credits:CEC Entertainment

Original ChopShop

Locations: 17

Benefits: Competitive pay; health, dental, and vision coverage; 401k with a 4 percent company match; general managers have 19 days paid time off, paid parental leave, and a 5-year service anniversary bonus of $20,000; comprehensive salary structure for general managers allowing them to earn $100,000 annually; expanding team member mental health benefits in October 2022.

Original ChopShop is on the growth track. The company reached annual sales of $36 million in 2021 across $2.4 million average-unit volumes. Same-store sales bumped 47 percent versus 2020 and 35 percent against pre-pandemic 2019. Also, overall revenue last year lifted 47 percent over 2020. The fast casual says its top-line success has run parallel to its people strategy., Year-to-date 2022, Original ChopShop was generating comps at over 45 percent versus 2012. Meanwhile, it’s witnessing average tenure for GMs of three years in an industry where 12–18 months is closer to the norm. Sixty-three percent of all leadership roles have been filled by internal promotion.

CEO Jason Morgan has fostered a number of initiatives to court this approach, including a career pathing program that shows employees how they can advance from hourly operations to management; quarterly merit increase opportunities for salaried managers; a 401k program with matching; and a five-year service anniversary bonus of $20,000 for GMs. Additionally, Morgan introduced a comprehensive salary structure for GMS, which, as noted above, allows them to earn $100,000 in salary and benefits annually.

Today, Original ChopShop has more than 700 employees. Throughout COVID, it kept all GMs and assistant GMS and paid more than 100 percent of manager bonuses. “This created deep-rooted employee goodwill, which led to an increase in general manager tenure,” the company says

Image credits:Original ChopShop


Locations: 10

Benefits: Paid time off for all team members in a shift leader position or above, average hourly wage of $15–16 per hour; free meals on work days; local operating partners participate in profit sharing and receive 15 percent of net profits for their individual location; shift leaders and managers are eligible for health benefits after 60 days and all other team members are eligible after one year.

When former NFL quarterback Nate Hybl put together his first investor pitch book for gusto!, he placed a quote from Dale Carnegie on the cover: “Today is life—the only life you are sure of. Make the most of today. Get interested in something. Shake yourself awake … let the winds of enthusiasm sweep through you. Live today with gusto.”

Hybl says this culture-first construct began with gusto!’s workplace. Company-wide, its employee turnover rate was 108 percent in 2021, well below average rates, which generally run north of 140 percent. The brand offers paid-time off for employees in a shift leader role and above. Shift leaders receive five PTO days per year, managers seven, assistant operators 10, and local operating partners up to 15. In addition to work-life balance, gusto! stresses career development and has created a path to becoming operating partner for employees who want to chase it. Dan Jones, in one example, began as a catering assistant in 2017, was promoted to assistant catering manager, assistant operator, and is now the local operating partner at gusto’s original location—one of its top-performing units.

Compensation is central to gusto’s offerings a well. The fast casual’s average hourly rate (tips included) lands around $15–16 per hour compared to the $11.05 average in Georgia. Each employee receives free meals on work days, which equates to $2,600 worth of meals per year. Local operating partners participate in profit sharing, too, and receive 15 percent of net profits for their individual location. To compensate for labor and supply chain hurdles over the past two years, gusto! created a “pandemic stipend” for local operating partners to make up for lost profits and earnings due to market conditions. Furthermore, shift leaders and managers are eligible for health benefits after 60 days and all other employees can sign up 12 months in.

Gusto’s approach to feedback is unique as well. The chain hosts “Heard Sessions,” where, instead of dishing out critical feedback, leaders practice active listening to learn how they can improve the work experience. It used these during COVID as check-ins. They not only evaluate overall performance, but also create open lines of communication to discuss career paths, improvement areas, and personal concerns that may or may not relate to the restaurant. “It shows the strong emphasis gusto! places on getting to know team members below the surface and letting them know they’re here to support them when times get tough,” the company says.

“It’s not very often you get to have an opportunity to be a part of something special. The opportunity to be part of a company that is growing big and fast,” adds Cullen Copland, a local operating partner. “Being part of this growing brand is special and is a passion of mine to share to as many people as I can. The most special part about working at gusto! is the people. From my team at gusto! Decatur to the base team, it’s an opportunity to be surrounded by people who make working for gusto! the dream.”

Speaking of growth, gusto!, which is committed to staying 100 percent corporately owned and operated, has six new openings planned over the next nine months.

Image credits:gusto!

District Taco

Locations: 14

Benefits: Medical, vision, and dental insurance; tuition assistance; paid leave; free food; paid training; retirement planning; and sign-on bonuses.

This year, District Taco became SafeZone certified, which means employees are educated about the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, microaggressions and how to handle them, and how to create a safe and inclusive environment. Employees have begun to ask for preferred pronouns during onboarding, and the brand says there’s been an noticeable difference in conversions in the office focused on the topic.

Founded by two friends, Osiris Hoil and Marc Wallace, the brand started from a used hot dog truck and is now plotting a franchise program. District Taco will continue to support a community-based brand, it says, and ramp up employee appreciation. This includes PTO to all employees and a Pioneer Program of peer-nominated rewards. “Now more than ever they feel how much we value them and by connecting our field staff with our support services staff, we all feel part of something much greater than our respective departments or restaurant locations,” the company says. District Taco stayed opened during COVID and doubled its catering business, which allowed it to create new positions as well.

“We create programs that allow us to honor our team members for creating outstanding customer experiences, a collaborative work environment, and a shared company culture of teamwork and participation,” says Stephanie Chusing, human resources generalis.

Image credits:District Taco
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