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Why Does In-N-Out Pay So Well?

Photo:rocketboom/Flickr/Creative Commons License 


If you spent time last August checking out the nationwide fast food strikes, wherein workers left their posts in an attempt to get their bosses to start paying them a living wage, you may have noticed the workers of one particular fast food chain absent from the picket lines. Instead of chanting slogans and using work pens to create inventive signs with their brethren, the workers in the white hats and red aprons simply worked.

In-N-Out on strike day is the same as In-N-Out every other day of the year: Business as usual. Those lucky enough to work there don't have to go on strike, because they already make a worthwhile wage.

In an industry that tends to treat their workers as they do their animals, the California-based burger chain is in a class of its own. While most fast food restaurants pay their workers under $8 an hour -- with Taco Bell, not so surprisingly, coming in dead last at $7.37 an hour -- In-N-Out starts their employees at $10.50 an hour. That's the highest of any fast food chain in the country, and second place isn't even all that close. (Chipotle clocks in at that runner-up position with $8.53 an hour.)

And the higher-than-average pay doesn't stop simply at the young workers manning the cash registers. While the median wage for a manager of a fast food store is $48,000 per year, employees at In-N-Out can eventually work themselves up to $120,000. That's otherwise unheard of in the industry. Oh yeah: They also give vision, medical, and dental benefits to both their full- and part-time workers.

In the world of fast food, where most CEOs tend to focus on nothing but on pure profits, never even considering raising their employees' pay until they're forced to do so by law or public sentiment, how and why does In-N-Out buck the trend? To find out, I talked to Carl Van Fleet, the Vice President of Planning and Development for the burger giant.

Got a taste for the past? Watch Lost LA "Semi-Tropical L.A." to learn about how Los Angeles marketed itself as a “semi-tropical” destination in the early 20th century.

Why does In-N-Out pay as high as they do?

Carl Van Fleet: There are quite a few reasons why we pay our associates the way we do. Our founders, Harry and Esther Snyder, started In-N-Out Burger in 1948 and were focused on taking great care of our customers, taking great care of our associates and maintaining an intense focus on quality. That focus remains firmly in place today and paying our associates well helps us maintain it.

Does the higher pay affect the profits of the business?

Van Fleet: I'm sorry but we are a private company and we don't really share discuss sales, profits, or financial information. I can say that we do enjoy relatively low turnover and that, of course, leads to a more experienced team working in our restaurants. The raises that our associates earn for mastering different positions makes it possible for them to earn more as they gain that experience.

How else does the higher pay structure affect the In-N-Out culture?

Van Fleet: We strive to create a working environment that is upbeat, enthusiastic and customer-focused. A higher pay structure is helpful in making that happen but it is only part of our approach. It is equally important to treat our associates well and maintain that positive working environment in all of our restaurants.

Now, those are canned answers that don't necessarily give us any great insight into the company's thought process. (Not surprising from the notoriously media-shy company; even a Reddit AMA with an In-N-Out line cook has mostly been redacted.) So the only way to really get the inside scoop is by speaking to someone not with the company. And while Yahoo! Answers is generally not the place for the most accurate reporting, the main answer to the "Why do In-N-Out workers get paid so much?" question is a pretty good place to start:

They only look to hire good workers. The In-N-Out in the area where I grew up was almost impossible to get an interview at. You needed a referral from an employee just to get your foot in the door.

Actually hiring good workers, and then paying them a decent wage to stay with the company. What a novel concept. As always, In-N-Out remains the standard bearer that every other fast food company could stand to learn a thing or two from.

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