HR News & Education

Check out the latest news and resources for small businesses covering topics such as human resources, employee engagement, and management.

3 Ways In-N-Out Creates a Bottomless Pool of Hardworking Applicants

Kitchen staff working at in-n-out

Hiring staff in the quick-service restaurant industry is a tough gig, plain and simple. Most of the time, the cost of traditional recruiting practices doesn’t make sense for the return on investment in a high-turnover industry. And over the last year, restaurant operators have had to also compete with upgraded unemployment benefits that potentially resulted in higher pay than a quick-service employer could offer. 


It’s true— a large part of attracting qualified people comes from paying higher wages, but there are alternative methods as well. 


You’ve probably noticed how long the drive-thru lines at In-N-Out are, but did you know they often times have a line-up of qualified candidates ready to fill open positions as well? According to employees and former employees, the California company offers more than just exceptional wages that make job openings desirable. Here are three strategies you can learn from In-N-Out to create a bottomless pool of hardworking candidates.


1. Employee Referral Programs

It’s becoming increasingly popular for companies to turn their employees into recruiters and brand ambassadors. It makes sense, too— your employees know your company the best and are the ones working in the trenches, so they typically have a good idea of what makes a good fit for the position. 


A former In-N-Out manager told Thrillist that the company has an employee referral program called “Multiplying Winners”; if an employee refers someone who gets hired, they get paid. 


No wonder everyone looks so happy behind the counter; they’ve hand-selected their all-star team. And as we all know, it’s not always about what you do, but who you do it with. Not to mention, a quick cash bonus can do a lot for morale in a minimum wage job. Referral programs backed by incentives allow employees the opportunity to make more money outside of traditional ladder climbing. 


One way to test this strategy out is to offer the program to your champion employees first. Select the team members who embody the traits desired in a position and challenge them to find similar job seekers they believe would be a good addition. 


Here’s a tip if you are considering implementing this strategy— you have to sell employees on the program to gain momentum. You can focus on the financial gain aspect and promote it as an internal side-hustle (everyone loves a “side-hustle” these days), or you can sell the notion of working with friends and enjoyable people. That alone can be a massive draw for a younger applicant pool. 


P.S. While we may not be in the QSR industry, we have had great success within our own company, Symply, through implementing an employee referral program. It’s resulted in some of our best team members.


2. Build Up Existing Employees

In-N-Out employees have shared in Quora threads and Glassdoor reviews that a defined system for internal promotions allows people to quickly move up in the company. This practice has also become a trending topic in the human resources world, known as “upskilling” It’s essentially the process of continuously teaching your employees additional skills and responsibilities, which usually results in higher pay opportunities for them.


At In-N-Out, everyone starts at Level 1: maintaining the dining room, greeting guests, and learning in’s and out’s of the company. They then have the opportunity to progress through 7 more levels before even reaching a management position.  You can see the responsibilities of each level on the In-N-Out website.


Systems for internal growth make your entry-level position more desirable than the establishment next-door’s. It’s also incredible for retaining all-star employees longer than the average employment life-span in the industry. The more employees you keep, the fewer job openings you need to fill. 


3. Free Meals

Most people who have never worked in the foodservice industry are shocked to find out that free meals are a rare perk of the job. Discounts, sure, but a free meal on shift: golden. 


In-N-Out has done the opposite of most restaurants by instead of providing various friends and family discounts to employees, they receive a completely free meal every day they work (sometimes two free meals).


It’s all starting to make sense why their employees are so happy; they’re never walking around on an empty stomach! The last thing you want is “hangry” employees taking orders and delivering delicious food they can’t even eat.


By now, you may have noticed a common pattern throughout the methods In-N-Out uses— it’s culture. It’s creating a reputable culture for your business that results in a fly-wheel of hard-working applicants. Once you’ve got the right perks and an enjoyable atmosphere, word-of-mouth can usually take over from here. Creating a company people want to work for should always come first, and that can take time, but as you can see, the long-term benefits are invaluable.


New call-to-action