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Surprisingly, Here's a Fast-Food Restaurant That's Actually a Great Place to Work (Hint: It's Not McDonald's)

By Rich Duprey - Dec 27, 2014 at 8:30AM

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It isn't glamorous and it can be hard work, but one chain shows how to make it fun and enjoyable

Who'd think slinging burgers could be such a rewarding job? Photo: Aaron Friedman via Flickr.

Fast-food restaurants are not generally viewed as among the best places to work. They're chaotic, stressful, and as recent labor protests would suggest, they don't pay top-dollar wages.

So what's In-N-Out Burger doing on Glassdoor's 2015 list of 50 Best Places to Work? For the second time in seven years, this relatively small, regional chain centered in and around California has ranked among the top 10 U.S. employers with more than 1,000 employees.

That means the burger joint was viewed as a better place to work than FacebookAppleNike, and perennial favorite Costco.

At No. 8 on the list, In-N-Out Burger was only behind companies such as Google, consulting firm Bain & Co., and Nestle's Purina PetCare division.

This is a fast-food restaurant, people, what gives?

It's lonely at the top
In fact, to find another restaurant you'd have to go all the way down to ... oh, wait! There is no other restaurant on the list, fast food or otherwise. In-N-Out Burger is the only eatery that made the cut.

As it's the employees themselves rating these businesses, why do In-N-Out Burger workers rank their employer so highly? Let's count the ways.

1. Good family roots
In-N-Out was started by Harry and Esther Snyder in 1948 as California's first drive-thru hamburger stand, and it remains family owned today with the Snyder's only grandchild Lynsi Snyder running the business.

Also, the burger shop doesn't franchise. Each of the 290 or so restaurants is company-owned.

A history as a family owned burger chain continues until today. Image: In-N-Out Burger.

2. Good pay and benefits
All employees just starting out with the chain get paid at least $10.50 per hour, some 17% above the median hourly wage of $8.94 nationally for frontline fast-food workers and 44% above the federal minimum wage. Glassdoor reports In-N-Out hourly employees can earn as much as $14 on average.

Benefits also get rave reviews, from flexible schedules that accommodate school and other activities, to paid vacations, free meals, and comprehensive training.

According to one employee reviewer of the burger chain on Glassdoor's site:

"Great leadership and great salaries and benefits. I loved working here while I was in college. I would recommend this company to all young men and women."

In-N-Out also offers all employees insurance that covers dental, vision, life, and accidents, while establishing a retirement program with a defined contribution profit-sharing plan and a 401(k). Employees also get other perks including a 15% discount at the company store and company-sponsored events.

3. Good management
The burger palace also has a policy of promoting from within so that all of its store managers have come from within the company.

Moreover, CEO Snyder also gets high marks from employees scoring a 96% approval rating. That's on par with Larry Page at Google.

4. Good menus
Unlike some restaurants that seek to try out new food items on a regular basis, frustrating managers (and front-line workers) with an ever-changing menu, Glassdoor reports In-N-Out Burger is a model of simplicity.

In-N-Out adheres to the K.I.S.S. method when it comes to menu options. Photo: Phil Whitehouse via Flickr.

The menu has but four basic items: hamburgers, cheeseburgers, the Double-Double (two patties and two slices of cheese), and French fries. Customers, however, can personalize their preparation. It also doesn't use microwaves, heat lamps, or freezers.

Compare that to Yum! Brands (YUM 0.38%) Pizza Hut chain that just initiated a menu makeover that gives customers some billion customizable options. Talk about brain freeze.

Yet even McDonald's (MCD 1.12%) is coming around to understand less is more. It just announced it was streamlining the selections that are available on its 100-plus-item menu. For example, it will only offer one Quarter Pounder with Cheese instead of four; one Premium Chicken sandwich instead of three; and one Snack Wrap rather than three. That's not nearly enough to turn its business around, but at least it finally realizes its menu has become unwieldy..

It's all good
In short, working the burger line at In-N-Out is just as difficult as it is at McDonald's, but because management seemingly doesn't treat employees like just a cog in the wheel, they respond in kind.

Three weeks ago, on the two-year anniversary of the campaign to raise wages at fast-food restaurants to $15 an hour, protestors were found picketing outside the likes of McDonald's and Burger King (BKW.DL). Sure, they're much larger restaurants and have become the face of what some would call the plight of the fast-food worker, but In-N-Out Burger employees actually like what they're paid and how they're treated.

Slinging burgers for a living isn't a glamorous job, but In-N-Out Burger shows it doesn't have to be a grind.

Follow Rich Duprey's coverage of all the restaurant industry's most important news and developments. He owns shares of Nike. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Costco Wholesale, Facebook, Google (C shares), McDonald's, and Nike. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Costco Wholesale, Facebook, Google (C shares), and Nike. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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