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July 31, 2001
Supersizing Fast-Food Jobs With Benefits
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t-food restaurants are attempting to pitch themselves as viable long-term career options by showering employees with stock options, 401(k)s, all-expense-paid vacations and even birthday cards, according to the Detroit News.

Teens often earn spending money by part-timing at McDonald's or Burger King, yet most would cringe at the thought of a lifetime spent "flipping burgers," the News notes

"They usually think of it as something to work their way through school until they get a real job,'" said food-service consultant David Talty, a professor at Florida International University's School of Hospitality Management.

But then there are people like Eunice Allotey, who immigrated to Detroit from the west African nation of Ghana 20 years ago. Beginning in 1982 with a minimum-wage job behind the counter at what was then Kentucky Fried Chicken, Allotey worked her way up to her current position as KFC's Detroit region operations coach.

She now oversees 53 company-owned restaurants in Michigan and has an annual base salary of more than $100,000, plus up to 25 percent more in bonuses based on individual and company performance, more than enough for the single mother to raise her two children.

"People who never thought of fast food as a career, I'm probably making more money than they are right now," Allotey told the News.

Sales at quick-service restaurants, as they're known within the food industry, are projected to reach $112 billion in 2001, according to the National Restaurant Association. But while they're not hurting for customers, fast-food operators are struggling to lower their notoriously high employee turnover rates.

The average quick-service restaurant replaces its entire staff at least once a year, said Talty, who teaches a course on fast-food management at Florida International. More than 60 percent of their workers are part-timers who likely have no intention of staying long-term.

People don't think of fast food as a potential career, he said, because as customers they see only the hourly employees working the cash registers and deep fryers. But at the managerial level and above, fast-food outlets are operated like any other business.

Low wages also contribute to the industry's lackluster image, and while chains are trying to pay more competitively, they're more notably focusing on benefit packages and reward programs.

Tricon Global Restaurants, which owns Louisville, Ky.-based KFC, gives employees up to five raises in their first year but admits that's still not enough to compete with other jobs.

"We don't believe that the key to success is to use wages. We'll never win on that," said Mark Cosby, KFC's chief operating officer.

"We try to make the environment a place where people want to work. What we have found is that the No. 1 reason people leave our business is not money. The No. 1 reason people leave is they don't feel they're recognized. We've put a lot of emphasis on recognizing people for their work."

Tricon, which owns and franchises 30,000 KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut restaurants worldwide, also encourages workers to stick around with 401(k) plans and by giving them birthday cards, anniversary gifts, flowers and other rewards for their performance.

"To this day, I still get a birthday card from my boss that I used to work with as a team member," Allotey said.

Dublin, Ohio-based Wendy's International Inc. invites employees to career day receptions to discuss advancement potential within the company.

Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's Corp., the world's largest restaurant chain with 28,000 units, allows hourly workers at its company-operated restaurants to choose from a menu of benefits including 401(k) accounts, credit union membership, day care, and a recently expanded health insurance program. Franchisees have the option to extend those benefits to their employees in addition to any they offer on their own.

As a result, the News reports, the company has seen turnover decrease steadily for the past six years, although it doesn't release specific numbers.

To view the Detroit News story, click here.
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