Workers Reveal What It's Really Like To Work At Qdoba

Are you familiar with Zuma Fresh Mexican Grill? How about Z-Teca? You may not recognize these names, but you may have guessed the cuisine in question. Before landing on the name "Qdoba" in 1999, the popular Mexican fast-food chain went through a few years of an apparent identity crisis, cycling through all the above names before exploding nationwide in the 2000s. There was another minor name change from Qdoba Mexican Grill to Qdoba Mexican Eats in 2015, but we're all just calling it Qdoba anyway. 

Today, Qdoba operates more than 700 locations in nearly all 50 states, dishing up hand-smashed guacamole alongside tacos, burritos, queso, and freshly chopped salsas daily, raking in more than $900 million in sales in 2019 alone. It's clear that Americans love to chow down on Qdoba, but do they love to work there? 

Hundreds of stores means thousands of employees, and we were as curious as you to find out what daily life was like for them. Whether you're considering a job there or just curious consumers like us, you may be surprised to learn that working at Qdoba is not just like every other fast-food job in the country. But don't take our word for it; rather, listen to workers as they reveal what it's really like to work at Qdoba.

They get to wear chain mail gloves

Fast-food jobs can be fairly run-of-the-mill, with many of the same pros and cons popping up across national brands. However, Qdoba does offer at least one quirk you won't find at most other fast-food establishments. And if you're the renaissance faire sort (you know, the type who likes to dress up in late medieval garb), you're especially likely to get a kick out of this one. 

Qdoba employees get to wear chain mail gloves while chopping the restaurant's fresh ingredients, protecting them from the serious dangers of guacamole perils like avocado hand, among other kitchen accidents (via HellthyJunkFood). It may not be quite as cool as a full suit of chain mail armor, but a chain mail glove is just about the most you'll find a practical use for in today's battle-barren society. 

Popular YouTubers HellthyJunkFood took a spin at working in a Qdoba for a day and had more fun with the chain mail glove than just about anything else. While it does seem like an unusually fun perk, at least the first few times you get to wear one, it's probably best not to goof around with the gloves too much since they're definitely there for safety in knife handling above all. Still, it's pretty cool.

Training is anything but uniform

With a franchised chain as large as Qdoba, it's understandable that the execution of any number of policies and procedures can vary across the board, with different ownership, different management, and different store cultures each playing their own parts. But one area of Qdoba life that seems especially inconsistent, at least based on current and former employee reports, is training, which appears to range from nonexistent to stellar.

Let's start with the good news. Enthusiastic Qdoba employee and Redditor jk6i reported two full weeks of training before entering the restaurant on his Ask Me Anything, and added that there was plenty of training on the job after hitting the floor. On the other hand, former employee Will Shrigley told YouTube that he received absolutely no training before starting at Qdoba, and was put on the line on day 1, left to assemble menu items with no direction or preparation. A former employee from Moorhead, Minnesota, agreed that there was little training before starting

A Qdoba manager in Denver, Colorado, advised that management hopefuls first get a job with Chipotle or Applebee's in order to receive proper training before taking a position at Qdoba, presumably because they won't find receive any once they're there.

It comes with a strange smell that's hard to shake (and identify)

Among the less appealing aspects of fast-food life are the smells that come along with long days behind a grill or from the repeated use of cheap uniforms that some employees are forced to wear. According to employees, Qdoba definitely leaves an unsavory stench on its employees, but no one really seems to agree on exactly what that smell is.

Redditor DrippyUnicorn16 delivers what is possibly the worst news regarding the Qdoba smell, and that's simply that employees smell like Qdoba for the rest of their lives. Clearly an exaggeration, but we get the message, and it stinks. Another redditor, 3par666, says her boyfriend, a former Qdoba employee, called the aroma the "doba must," and griped that it took hours of scrubbing to eliminate. 

One former line worker in Rapid City, South Dakota, describes the lingering smell as one of grease and queso, but a former Qdoba cook in Clarksville, Indiana, found it to be more like the scent of a fryer of tortilla chips. While Qdoba employees can't quite seem to come to a consensus on the more accurate description of the smell, they do agree it's there, it's unwelcome, and it's beyond hard to get rid of.

There are discounts, but they vary

One of the greatest perks of any restaurant job is the opportunity to sample the wares for less than the regular menu price. Free food is obviously ideal, and some restaurants do provide that to varying degrees, but discounts are generally far more common.

While one Qdoba employee, Redditor Necklet, claims that free food is offered to employees on the clock (along with a 10% discount for friends and family), other employees tend to report only a discount. That discount varies pretty dramatically, though.

Redditor adolfophotographyden reports a 50% discount for employees on the clock and a 25% discount for those stopping by for a meal or snack off the clock, but Redditor UhTheDragonFromShrek boasts of a 75% discount on Qdoba food with no mention variation, either on the clock or off. 

The wide range of discounts that appear to be offered across Qdoba locations is a bit questionable, but one former Qdoba team leader from Richmond, Virginia, did note on Glassdoor that franchise restaurants have different benefits from those the corporate stores, so that may account for at least some of the discrepancies. Regardless, whichever Qdoba you may find yourself in, rest assured there is some level of discount, and maybe even freebies, for the staff.

There's not much stress

You'd be hard pressed to find a single job that didn't involve any stress at all, and we're certainly not suggesting that Qdoba offers such positions, but plenty of current and former employees of the fast-food Mexican chain do report surprisingly low levels of stress across most positions, and that's worth noting (via Glassdoor).

To begin, one former employee from Manhattan, Kansas, said working at Qdoba was relatively easy, even as a shift manager (though did confess to being overqualified for the job), and an employee from Missouri went as far as to claim that Qdoba offered a "very stress-free environment" with low expectations and easy work. Another employee told Comparably that Qdoba was not just a friendly place to work because of kind managers and coworkers, but the environment was downright cozy! In another Comparably review, the work is described as repetitive and routine, requiring little direction and easily becoming second nature.

It's fair to wonder if Qdoba is really as lowkey as it sounds, or if these employees just didn't care enough to notice they weren't living up to their maximum potential on the job, but one restaurant industry vet with more than 30 years of experience confirmed it truly was the least stressful job they'd ever encountered. How easy can it really be? A former supervisor from New York, New York, one of the busiest cities in the country, said the hardest part of the job was learning to roll a burrito.

Women find the culture more difficult

Before we dive into this, we'd like to remind you that we're reporting on the words of employees describing their own experiences and not making any suppositions of our own. Qdoba does claim to employ a diverse workforce and to have a philosophy of diversity and inclusion, and InHerSight shows a higher ranking of equal opportunities for women and men than any other category, though that's still just 3.8 stars out of 5.

A former line server and cashier from a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Qdoba reported to Indeed that female staff were abused by customers, received no support from management, and were also taken advantage of by other, presumably male, staff who dumped grunt work on them. 

More specifically, one employee claims that it was a very difficult working environment due to issues of sexual harassment. Unfortunately, female Qdoba employees have described a work environment that was less comfortable for women than for men, although we were unable to find any response to these statements from Qdoba, itself.

It's a good first job

High atop the list of potentially backhanded compliments one could give to a place of employment is the notion that it offers good first jobs. This can indicate a good place to learn important work skills along with other positives, but can also indicate a dead-end company, among other negatives. At Qdoba, employees report a bit of both, but plenty agree that it is, in fact, a great first job.

Let's start with the positives. One self-described entry-level employee told Niche that it was a good place to learn customer service skills in a friendly environment, and a former server from West Bend, Wisconsin, agreed that it was a perfect first job that offered supportive management teaching essential skills in a patient environment. Another former employee added that Qdoba was understanding of scheduling needs, making it even better for first-time employees still in school, whether that's high school or college. 

A former Qdoba server in Pinole, California seemed to think it was a mixed bag, agreeing it was a good spot for a first job in a decent environment with good management, but indicated the low pay wouldn't be suitable for those with more experience and more real world financial obligations. Unfortunately, a former shift manager in Ann Arbor, Michigan, found it suitable only for entry-level employment, with low pay and unprofessional coworkers not bringing much to the table for experienced employees or career builders.

Upper management is not well-loved

Conflict with the boss is a gripe as old as work itself. At Qdoba, though, current and former employees seem to have few complaints against their immediate supervisors and store managers, but their feelings toward upper management are another story entirely (via Comparably).

Perhaps the most personal of attacks on upper management we encountered, one employee told Comparably that Qdoba was run by ego-driven men that are not considerate of their employees. We're not sure what evidence they have for this claim, but a former district manager from Indianapolis, Indiana, also complained that upper leadership was disconnected from Qdoba staff and allowed for no work-life balance. 

A bit lower down the chain of command, an assistant manager in Seattle, Washington, told SimplyHired that upper management paid no respect to employees and even texted staff with insignificant concerns during their time off while also holding them to unrealistic expectations and not supporting store-level concerns. 

Finally, even general Qdoba staff found upper management impossible to reach when hoping to resolve issues with local store management, so it seems these enigmatic higher-ups are truly challenging to work with, no matter what position you may hold at Qdoba.

Workers actually like the food

Spend all day preparing the same basic menu items for hours on end or handing them over to hungry customers one after another, and you may soon find yourself sick of even the sight of the food you've been handling. In fast food, you may even find yourself less enchanted by your former favorite to-go bites once you see how they're made. At Qdoba, though, it appears that both current and former staff still appreciate the food even after employment at the restaurant, and we find that truly impressive.

One employee claimed to Niche that Qdoba is better than other fast food Mexican restaurants because the company pays more attention to freshness and quality than the competition. Another employee on Niche elaborated that the food isn't just fresh, but the environment is kept clean to ensure quality is always delivered to customers, and perhaps that's why a third Niche reviewer admitted that Qdoba food is the only food they'd continue to eat after seeing how it's actually made. 

Finally, Qdoba employees don't just like the food they serve; some are downright proud of it, including a former employee from La Crosse, Wisconsin, who had nothing else good to say about the restaurant but couldn't deny the quality of the food.

The company cares about food safety

You might suppose that if employees are proud of the food at Qdoba, it should go without saying that food safety is a top priority there, but people are not necessarily logical beings, and it's completely possible that they would still love a snack of questionable origin (remember chicken nuggets?). There's good news for Qdoba fans, though: Food safety does appear to be taken quite seriously at this Mexican chain (via Indeed). 

A former prep cook in Town and Country, Missouri, said Qdoba management had great respect for both store cleanliness and food safety, and another employee from Man, West Virginia, agreed that there was solid training in sanitation. But food safety goes beyond mere sparkling counters and clean dishes, and other employees, like one former worker from Fishers, Indiana, who left an average, 3-star review of Qdoba on Indeed, did agree that management was enthusiastic about training staff on food safety, specifically. 

Finally, while customers will certainly appreciate hearing that Qdoba takes food safety seriously, it appears to have been a little over the top for some employees, like the former cashier from Denver, Colorado, who complained that the restaurant was too picky about food safety. While that may have been annoying from an employee perspective, we're certainly not sorry to hear it. Food safety for the win.

The employees are on their feet all day

Restaurant work of any kind is often physically exhausting, leaving most employees either standing in a small area (hello, cooks and dishwashers) or hurrying around the entire facility nonstop (servers) all day. While fast food restaurants don't typically have servers speeding about the dining rooms, there's certainly no less standing involved, so it's worth taking a deeper dive into this one.

A Qdoba trainer and server in Fresh Meadows, New York, confirmed that the restaurant is always busy, so employees are always on the move, leaving little time for having a drink, let alone a rest. A former assistant manager from Riverview, Florida, agreed that employees are constantly moving to accomplish the never-ending list of things that need to be done. 

From a food prep perspective, a former manager in La Crosse, Wisconsin, explained that every item is handmade from fresh ingredients, leaving employees standing for hours while manually preparing these quality bites. 

More generally, a former line server in Clarkston, Mississippi, said the job was good overall but did require being on your feet for the entire shift, and a former employee from Sparks, Nevada, who worked many positions at Qdoba, agreed that the most challenging part of working here was standing all day. If you're considering a job at Qdoba, it sounds like the best piece of advice you can take away from employee reviews is to snag a comfy pair of shoes before starting.