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

It's hard to believe that one of the top 20 fast food chains in the world, Jollibee, originally started out as a small group of ice cream parlors. Founder Tony Tan Caktiong immigrated to the Philippines from Fujian, China as a child with his family. Caktiong grew up helping in his family's business, where he learned the value of hard work. While studying chemical engineering at university, he changed course after visiting an ice cream plant. His entire family joined in on this new venture. 

Eventually, the menu grew to include Filipino comfort foods like pancit palabok (called Palabok Fiesta), burger steaks covered in gravy with rice, fried chicken (called Chickenjoy), and more. The name Jollibee was chosen for the new restaurant concept because bees are symbols of hard work. The unique spelling of "jolly" made the name easier to trademark. The idea was to evoke the feeling of a restaurant hive full of happy worker bees doing their best for their customers.

One has to wonder how accurate this happy picture really is. With such a fast-paced environment as fast food, are Jollibees' employees really that jolly? Or is it hard to fly under such pressure? What do the worker bees really want their customers to know about their busy –- and quickly expanding -– hive?

Jollibee's spaghetti is not what you expect

There is no doubt that Jollibee has a unique menu with many distinctly Filipino items. Some of these menu items may sound familiar, but, for good or ill, you will be in for a surprise when you take your first bite.

Take the Jolly Spaghetti as a prime example. Traditional Italian spaghetti it is not. Rather than a savory tomato sauce ladled over al dente noodles, the Jollibee spaghetti sauce is sweet, and the noodles are soft. Also mixed in the sauce are ground meat, sliced ham, and hotdogs, which strays a bit from a traditional Italian bolognese sauce. Clinton Palanca, a food critic as well as sociologist, told Quartz, "The southeast Asian region in general uses sugar in their savory dishes to various extents, mainly because it's an area where sugar cane grows. ... The addition of hotdogs is more likely due to our love of U.S. military surplus canned goods..."

Such a unique take on a dish that so many around the globe have grown up eating a certain way can be polarizing. You will likely either love it or hate it. And if you hate it, please don't take it out on the innocent employees.

Dealing with customers is tough

Anyone who has worked in customer service can tell you that it's not an easy job. Working face to face with disgruntled patrons takes fortitude and more than a little patience. Sometimes there is just no pleasing some people. And in a fast-moving environment like a fast food restaurant, you can't always spend the time with a customer that they would prefer you did. How does that play out at Jollibee?

A former crew member in Plano, Texas gave their job five out of five stars, saying that they still managed to have fun even while everyone worked hard. However, they also said "the hardest part of the job would have to be interaction with customers." Another five star review said, "customers sometimes are really mean." A current employee in Chandler, Arizona agreed, citing "[having] to deal with a lot of mad customers" as one of the job's cons. They further elaborated, "You have to be able to be patient with customers and keep your emotions to yourself, even if you feel like crying." Yikes!

It helps if you know Tagalog

Speaking the same language goes a long way in smoothing over wrinkles in customer service. Being a Filipino company, Jollibee attracts a lot of Filipino customers the world over. And if the cashier doesn't speak Tagalog, one of the most widely spoken languages in the Philippines, many of those customers can unfortunately become grumpy.

Said one former Las Vegas, Nevada crew member, "... customers would constantly express disappointment to me because I did not speak Tagalog." Another former employee said, "[If] you are not fluent in Tagalog it would be kind of hard to communicate with some customers." A current employee in Chandler, Arizona had harsher words, griping that managers showed favoritism to Filipino employees and would "talk trash" about employees in Tagalog.

On the other hand, a former cashier in South San Francisco, California said that working at Jollibee was "a good first job for many people, especially Filipino people" and was also "good for Tagalog speakers." So if you do speak Tagalog, or are trying to learn, then working at Jollibee might be a good fit.

The burger sauce is a company secret

Like the Jolly Spaghetti mentioned above, Jollibee's Yumburger also has its own spin with a special dressing, sometimes called pink sauce. A person who used to work on the corporate side of the company revealed on Reddit that the exact sauce recipe is a closely held company secret, but it's "a modified Thousand Island-ish dressing" that comes "prepackaged to the stores and without branding, since it's made specially for [Jollibee Foods Corporation]." So while employees might dish it out, they aren't privy to its recipe. Thousand Island dressing includes sweet relish in the recipe, so it's safe to assume the pink sauce is on the sweet side as well (just like the Jolly Spaghetti mentioned above).

Not everyone, though, is a fan of the signature pink sauce. A reviewer of the restaurant on Tripadvisor tried to order a burger without the sauce and received it just the same. "Jollibee is a Filipino classic brand and has unique Filipino tastes to its dishes, which may not suit western tastes," they said. People have made the same "Thousand Island dressing" claim about McDonald's Big Mac Sauce, a decidedly Western invention, so all we can say is to each their own, Western tastes or not.

Jollibee feels like family

For many Filipinos living abroad, Jollibee is a taste of home. Randy Santos, who was living in the U.S. at the time he spoke to The World, said that it was worth driving three hours to the nearest Jollibee location. "Just to go to Jollibee," he said, "and I feel like I'm in the Philippines right now."

But Jollibee isn't just a second home for so many, it feels like family as well, a notion that Jollibee advertisements pushed during the lockdowns of the early 2020s. The Philippines Regional/Country Marketing Head of Jollibee Foods Corporation, Francis Flores, said in the Inquirer, "[W]e have to continue to be grateful to our family that gives us so much love and strength that enables us to face every day."

Employees echo these sentiments. A former cashier from California said that their favorite part of their job was that "we're like a family." Another former worker said, "[Working] at Jollibee makes me have another family." A former team leader at a location in the Philippines said, "Managers are also good, understanding, friendly and they treated their crews as family."

Be prepared to work hard

When your job feels like working with family, you are willing to try harder. And at Jollibee, employees work hard. In fact, a former fry cook and dishwasher said, "Do not apply if you are not dedicated to working hard, lifting, cleaning and cooking." An ex-cashier agreed, warning others to "be ready to work hard."

The workload can also be "somehow draining," no matter how much you enjoy what you're doing, according to a current store manager. It's no wonder given the list of tasks a former employee gave of a typical work day at the restaurant. Not only do workers provide "good customer service," but they count inventory, receive deliveries, run the register, and deal with customers' complaints, all while trying to meet daily sales goals. 

Luckily, according to one former employee, the skills required are easily learned. Another ex-cashier said Jollibee is a good place to enter the workforce, especially for high school graduates. And another former cashier called Jollibee a great place for college students to work, adding, "I was able to learn and enjoy dealing with various types of customers along with my cooperative co-workers."

Pay is low and raises are rare

On the job site Simply Hired, only 59% of Jollibee employees reported being satisfied with their pay. The average hourly salaries for restaurant crew members are given as between $14.93 and $14.98, but the range is pretty broad, running from $7.45 to $23.05 per hour. Depending on where you live and how many hours you work, this may or may not be enough to get by.

And there is not great news about earning a raise either. Answers to the question "How often do raises occur at Jollibee?" on Indeed include "almost never," "not often," and "once in a while." A fry cook in New York said that "promotions are hard to come by," but "if you're good they'll have you train with no extra raise." None of which seems exactly motivating.

A current employee at the Jollibee Support Center in Los Angeles, California complained of "low pay with weak benefits," "not much time off," and a lack of promotions on Glassdoor. So even outside the restaurant setting, there may not be much to look forward to.

Expect to work holidays

Working hard and with dedication involves some sacrifice. And, for better or worse depending on how you feel about your family, working at Jollibee means sacrificing some holidays to the job. A former crew member in New Jersey warns people not to expect bonus holiday pay either. Employees also aren't allowed to accept tips. A current cashier in San Jose, California admitted that "the store gets super busy" on holidays, which can be tiring, but said they still enjoy their job.

An assistant restaurant manager who rated their position on JobStreet gave it four out of five stars overall. However, under job challenges, they listed, "Less time with family because you have to work on holidays." This doesn't sound like the best work/life balance, which was given only two stars, even for a job this same worker deemed low stress.

We guess it's a good thing that Jollibee feels like a second family for so many of its employees — because it sounds like they will be spending a lot of holidays together.

Only full time employees have full benefit options

We've talked about how hard employees are expected to work while giving up holidays with friends and families for potentially subpar wages and no tips or bonuses. So what are the benefits? Well, those are only a real option for full-time employees.

According to a job listing for a New Jersey Jollibee location posted on Harri, employee benefits include a 401(k) match and employee discount. Certain employees may also be given the options of health insurance, paid leave, and paid life insurance. Although it doesn't specify which employees are entitled to these extra benefits, the job listing is for both part-time and full-time positions, so this may be where the line is drawn.

This benefits guide for Jollibee, Chowking, and Red Ribbon Bakeshop (all owned by parent company Jollibee Foods Corporation) breaks it down more succinctly. In order to qualify for the full benefits package, employees must be employed full-time, meaning a minimum of 30 hours per week. Those employed part-time and working 20 or more hours per week may or may not opt for what the guide calls "voluntary benefits," such as enrolling in accidental insurance or critical illness policies through MetLife.

Jollibee employees serve a lot of peach mango pies

Jollibee is sometimes referred to as the "McDonald's of the Philippines" due to its popularity in its home country. But it isn't the hamburgers that customers pit against each other. It's the pies. For McDonald's, it's apple pie, a symbol of the U.S.A. And for Jollibee, it's peach mango pie. Mango is the national fruit of the Philippines, so this seems a fitting head-to-head. And for many customers, Jollibee wins hands down. An employee on Reddit proudly stated, "Peach mango pies are [the] bomb."

Tim Carman of the Washington Post wondered in his review of Jollibee if the peach mango pie was the most delicious fast food dessert offering that ever existed. The crispy, fried crust contrasts magnificently with the soft and sweet fruit filling. Billy Penn said that the fruit used in the pies comes from the Philippines. They also wisely suggest always ordering two pies. One to eat after your meal and another to take with you for later.

The peach mango pie is so popular that everyone rejoiced in May of 2022 when Jollibee debuted a larger pie in the Philippines. With that kind of popularity, be ready to take a lot of pie orders if you get a job at Jollibee. 

Yes, Jollibee delivers

In 2018, a Jollibee delivery person in the Philippines went viral for going the extra mile for an elderly customer. His name is Elpegie Palmares Sicor. After delivering to one customer her food order, a neighbor approached Sicor asking him about what he was doing. When he explained to her that he was delivering food from Jollibee, the woman began to give him her order. Rather than put her off, the dedicated employee called the restaurant himself to place her order because she didn't know how. He told BuzzFeed News, "It's my job, customer service."

Not every delivery driver may be as heroic as Sicor, but Jollibee will bring food right to your door. You can use the website, its app, or DoorDash in the U.S. You can also order for pickup, both inside and curbside. And when judging by this delivery driver who reviewed their job on Indeed, drivers are pretty well compensated at $19.68 per hour for their efforts.