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Starting Out As an Hourly Worker

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Drive by or walk into a fast food restaurant today, and you will quite frequently see "Help Wanted" signs. You can also see billboard advertisements for workers. Newspapers and radio and television ads are frequently asking qualified people to apply for jobs in fast food chains. There is a definite labor shortage in the fast food industry, both in hourly and supervisory jobs.

Because of this labor shortage, fast food restaurant operators have had to expand benefits for hourly workers to include such things as transportation, performance bonuses, child-care allowances, paid sick leave, and educational scholarships. Furthermore, most companies have had to bypass the traditional minimum wage for beginning hourly workers and start them at higher wages. Some companies are even paying cash awards to employees who recommend new workers who are hired. In addition, there are incentives for staying on the job for specific periods of time. Fast food companies are now offering a variety of impressive programs to get workers and then to keep them happy once they are on the job.

The 1980s and 1990s are an excellent time to start a career as a fast food worker, not only because of the anticipated shortage of workers during these years, but also because of the continued expansion of the fast food industry. There are two major routes up the management ladder in this industry. One is to begin as an hourly worker. The other is to have some training after high school which allows an employee to enter the field as a salaried worker in a supervisory position such as assistant manager of a fast food restaurant.

In this chapter, the position of hourly worker in a fast food restaurant will be discussed. This is not a dead-end job, but rather an opportunity to learn about how fast food restaurants operate, which is absolutely essential knowledge for anyone planning a career in this area. A large number of today's fast food company executives are former hourly workers who worked their way up. The chairman of the board of McDonald's was once a grill man. And no one in the White Castle organization except for people holding certain specialized jobs can be in management without having started at the bottom of the ladder as a crew worker. Even recent graduates of the Harvard Business School must begin their White Castle careers as hourly workers.

Who Works In Fast Food Restaurants?

A job at a fast food restaurant is often the first formal job that a teenager may hold. According to Fast Food Jobs, most workers are young people between the ages of 16 and 20, and more are females than males-almost twice as many. Many of these young workers are in school; however, some are dropouts working at the only jobs they can get. There are also college students trying to earn money for school expenses. And recently, more and more workers in these restaurants are homemakers who want to work part-time or retirees who enjoy working or welcome the extra income. Although a more diverse group of people are now fast food workers then previously, the majority of them are still teenagers. There are also more white employees overall than members of any other racial or ethnic group.

Education Level of Fast Food Workers

Since the fast food industry is one of the few places where unskilled young people can get jobs, many people seem to have the idea that a very large number of fast food workers are high school dropouts. This simply isn't true. According to a study reported in Fast Food Jobs of over 4,000 hourly workers, the majority of the workers had either completed high school or was presently enrolled in high school. What is even more impressive is the fact that half of the workers who participated in the study planned to attend a two-year college, and 30 percent said they wanted to attend a four-year college.

The characteristics of fast food workers that Fast Food Jobs describe may not be the ones that so many people attribute to these workers. Today's typical fast food worker is most likely to be female under 21 and a high school graduate with aspirations of continuing education beyond high school. Furthermore, fast food workers are typically good students who receive grades of C+ or better in their high school studies. If you decide on a career in fast foods, these are the people with whom you will be working at entry-level positions.

Duties of Fast Food Workers

Whether you decide to work at Arby's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald's, Roy Rogers, or some other fast food restaurant, your duties will be quite similar. You won't have just one task to do, like serving drinks, working the fryer, taking money, cleaning equipment, or clearing tables. Instead, you will do a variety of tasks each shift. The preceding table shows how often different job tasks are performed by hourly workers.

In Fast Food Jobs, the jobs that the majority of workers do all or most of the time are described as "front of the store" duties. These are the jobs related to serving the customers, the jobs that the public actually sees fast food workers doing. They include the tasks of taking orders, taking money, assembling or packing orders, and suggestive selling, which means asking customers if they would like additional food items to go with what they have ordered.

The jobs that customers don't see workers doing are called "back of the store" duties. This includes such tasks as cooking and preparing food. Workers also spend a lot of their time cleaning equipment and sweeping or mopping floors. In fact, most fast food workers are told if they have "time to lean, it's time to clean."

According to Fast Food Jobs, even hourly fast food workers have some managerial responsibilities. Notice the fairly high percentage of time that these workers spend training and supervising other workers. Also, some hourly workers have the opportunity to do work such as payroll, paperwork, and inventory, which is usually done by managers and assistant managers.

According to Fast Food Jobs, many of the jobs that hourly workers do are usually assigned to a certain sex. If you are a male, you are more likely to have "back of the store" and maintenance duties. However, you are also more likely to be assigned administrative responsibilities. Females, on the other hand, spend more time at "front of the store" duties and hostessing. Finally, the longer an employee of either sex works at a fast food restaurant, the more likely the worker is to have administrative responsibilities as their primary responsibility.

Typical Hours and Average Length of Employment

Many people think of fast food jobs as part-time jobs, and for a large number of hourly workers they are. Linda worked at "Dairy Queen" a variety of hours, from as few as 12 to as many as 42 in a week, depending on whether she was attending school. Mike worked at Fuddruckers from 20 to 30 hours a week. Mike was definitely a part-time worker, and Linda would also be considered a part-time worker because she did not regularly have full-time hours. Many companies offer benefits such as insurance and paid vacation only to employees who consistently work full-time hours. The definition of full time varies among companies but is usually a set figure between 30 and 40 hours a week. It is often more cost-effective for a company to hire two part-time workers instead of one full-time employee.

According to Fast Food Jobs, the average number of hours worked in a week for hourly workers is 29.5. The study also found out several interesting things about hourly workers:
  • Older workers are more likely to work longer hours than younger workers. In fact, the younger the worker, the fewer the work hours per week will be.

  • Male and female fast food workers work almost the same number of hours.

  • More black workers work more than a 40-hour week than do white or Hispanic workers.

  • The longer those workers are employed, the more likely they are to work longer hours.

  • Workers in company-owned stores often work more hours each week than those employed in franchised stores.
The average length of employment for fast food employees in the group studied was one-and-one-half years. Older workers who had had the opportunity to work longer because of their age were the ones who had actually worked longer in the industry. Only 12 percent of the workers participating in the study had worked for three years or longer. There is a considerable turnover of workers in the fast food industry.

This high turnover rate is very costly because training is wasted and productivity is lowered when workers quit or are fired. In fact, worker turnover is one of the major problems that the fast food industry is facing today.
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