It’s no secret that fast-food restaurants across the country are struggling to hire competent employees.
Look around: Every burger joint has a sign in the window, right next to clown holding a Mega Triple Double Bacon Cheeseburger … “now hiring managers and cooks and cashiers, all shifts, good benefits, vacations, cool-looking hats, name your hours, whatever else you want.”
There are many reasons for the employee shortage: low pay, high unemployment checks, stimulus money, better jobs in other sectors. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average hourly pay in the overall restaurant industry is $11.63. Fast-food employees don’t get tips.
In some parts of the U.S., adequate staffing is so difficult that fast food restaurant owners are forced to open late and close early, ask employees to work longer hours which causes burnout and mistakes with customer orders, shut their dining rooms and, oh-no, work the grill flipping burgers themselves.
Gasp — even ... Chick-fil-A?
This week, I saw a headline on Fox Business that said multiple Chick-fil-A restaurants — the last sure thing in American free enterprise — are closing dining rooms due to lack of employees.
I can’t have that. Here’s a little journalism secret that was passed on to me several years ago: Chick-fil-A has the best and most dependable Wi-Fi. If I’m working an assignment in the field, and I have to write the story fast and file on deadline, I hit a Chick-fil-A, grab a table and get to work. All while enjoying a 4-piece chicken strip meal with large fries and a large Coke Zero. (Editor’s note: This explains a lot.)
The Coke Zero is a key player since most fast food places don’t offer it, although I’m undecided on the new Coke Zero. If Coke wanted to fix a product, get cracking on Diet Coke, it’s awful.
I called Jesse Chaluh, owner of two Chick-fil-A restaurants in Houston — the one on Kirby and the Southwest Freeway and the one in Meyerland. The Kirby location is the No. 1 Chick-fil-A in Houston and No. 2 in all of Texas.
That’s saying something since Houston has more Chick-fil-A restaurants than any other city in Texas, and Texas has more than any other state. Houston has 103 Chick-fil-As. Texas has 448 locations. The top Chick-fil-A in Texas is in Grapevine.
Their pleasure to serve you — really
Whew, Chaluh (it rhymes) said he has no problems staffing his restaurants. In fact, since the Texas Workforce Commission stopped paying added pandemic-related benefits under the American Rescue Plan in June, applicants have been “coming in like crazy.”
Chaluh hasn’t shortened his restaurants’ hours or closed his dining rooms. The only changes he’s made: as of today he’s closing his playgrounds due to the Delta variant, he’s raised wages for employees, and employees who work inside the restaurants must wear a mask and have their temperature taken before starting their shift.
His stores, possibly because of their location in high-population areas of Houston, are the exception here, however. Other Chick-fil-A operators, especially in the suburbs, are having difficulty fully staffing their restaurants.
The shortage is spurred by college-age employees returning to school, a smaller pool of local candidates and other factors like wages and government-assistance programs. Operators also are looking for adults who can manage shifts and serve as team leaders.
When it comes to making the cash register ring, no fast food chain comes close to Chick-fil-A. According to QSR Magazine, the bible of the fast food industry, the average Chick-fil-A took in $4.5 million in 2019, the last year the world was normal. In second place, Raising Cane’s with $3.2 million, followed by Whataburger at $3 million. McDonald’s, the overall money winner because of more locations, has an average haul of $2.9 million.
True story: once I was talking to a fast food owner in a Houston mall and asked how’s business? He said pretty good, we all do about $2.1 million in the food court … except for that guy over there. He was pointing to Chick-fil-A. “He does about $5 million.”