Workers Reveal What It's Really Like To Work At Big Boy

The Big Boy restaurant chain has been through some serious ups and downs during its nearly nine decades of business. Per the company's website, it all began with a man named Bob Wian, who first opened a hamburger stand in Glendale, California, in 1936. 

Wian worked his way up from a position as a dishwasher in multiple restaurants, gaining plenty of experience along the way. Burger Beast reports that he sold his DeSoto Roadster to raise money for the stand, which he named Bob's Pantry. As for Big Boy, Rick Woodruff — a child who used to help Wian out at the stand and loved the burgers — was the real inspiration behind the name, Thrillist reports.

With a founder experienced in all levels of restaurant service, you would expect there to be a lot of empathy and understanding between management and workers. But after so many years and multiple changing of hands, is this still true? Is Big Boy a great place to work? We'll let the employees speak for themselves.

Big Boy is family

In modern decades, Big Boy has built its reputation on being a sit-down restaurant where your family can gather for a delicious meal, as Milwaukee Magazine describes. But does that family atmosphere translate to staff as well? And is working with family really such a good thing?

A former server commented on Indeed, "[It] felt like I was part of another family while working at Big Boy." They went on to say that they always felt "included and welcomed" by fellow employees and concluded that "Big Boy will forever hold a place in my heart." Another former server on Glassdoor wrote, "Felt like I was working with my family!"

A former manager mostly agreed in a review on Glassdoor, saying their Big Boy location had a staff that was like family and there was very little drama. However, they also said that the work environment was "unprofessional," which could easily become the case if employees begin to feel too comfortable in a workplace.

It's a good job for students

Many people would agree that being a restaurant server is a good position for students. A Reddit user even called it "one of the best jobs you can have while in college," rightly pointing out that the hours are generally flexible and "you can get your foot in the door without much experience."

Big Boy employees agree. A current server on Indeed called the restaurant a "Great place for someone young to work while deciding what they want to do." Another server on Indeed, who was enrolled in college at the time of employment, said that their Big Boy location made it easy for staff to return and work during school breaks.

On Glassdoor, a former server said, "[Big Boy is] a good place to start out serving. You learn the basics and the customers tend to be friendly families." Another former employee wrote, "This a good learning experience for high school students venturing out for the first job." They also added that working at Big Boy can be "a stepping stone to something longer lasting."

Don't expect a raise

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), with rising inflation, employee wages are not always able to keep up. This means that the market value of your pay decreases over time even if you receive a modest raise. Unfortunately, a Big Boy server wrote on Indeed that raises are not something to count on in their position. As much as they loved their job, they said, "[Corporate] restaurants don't give raises [to] servers."

And it isn't just the servers who are overlooked. A former kitchen staff member said that they were "promised [a] pay raise but never received it." While some restaurant kitchen employees may benefit from sharing in the tip pool, it isn't a guarantee at all restaurants and it has its drawbacks, as the blog 7shifts explains. Servers may resent having to share their tips with others, for example, especially if they are underpaid. With no promise of increased wages, it's no wonder that some employees call Big Boy a "stepping stone."

If you qualify, healthcare is not cheap

It is no secret that people in the United States spend significantly more on healthcare, have a lower life expectancy, and have many more deaths from avoidable circumstances than other developed nations (via Commonwealth Fund). Access to affordable healthcare is a key factor in these statistics. For people who work part-time, health insurance can be hard to access. At Big Boy, even full-timers who qualify for health insurance through the company may have a hard time paying for it.

A former line cook revealed on Glassdoor that the "only benefit [offered] is health insurance." However, a former assistant manager described that health insurance as "EXPENSIVE" on Indeed, though they did not elaborate further. "Health insurance [is] a little [pricey]," agreed a chef, "but average 30 hours a year and earn a weeks vacation." Another line cook said that working 40 hours would earn an employee life insurance in addition to health insurance, but there's no word on how much that extra insurance costs.

Restaurants are often understaffed

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, most of us are probably used to seeing help-wanted signs nearly everywhere we go. Restaurants seem to have been especially hit hard, and many still struggle to find employees. But even before the pandemic, Big Boy restaurants were having staffing problems.

In 2019, a former employee in Michigan complained on Indeed that the company was "understaffed in all locations." A former lead cook, who also posted on Indeed in 2019, blamed the staff shortage on employees frequently being dismissed by unmotivated management. Another past employee with experience as a server, host, and cashier lamented on Glassdoor near the end of 2021 that there was "[not] enough wait staff," which resulted in the restaurant lacking the necessary workforce to accomplish regular tasks.

Most recently, in October of 2022, a Big Boy restaurant located in Bismarck, North Dakota, was forced to close for at least a day due to being short-staffed (via KFYR TV). It was only the second time in the location's 68-year history that it was forced to close.

There's little room for advancement

There are limited positions a person can hold in a restaurant, even at a family-dining establishment like Big Boy. Or as a former employee, who had worked in production, customer service, and as both a host and cashier, put it, "There is only so far you can go working in the restaurant business [...]"

A former waitress agreed, posting on Indeed that Big Boy was "fun to work at but no advancement." A kitchen staffer broke it down like this: "Many can make a career at Big Boy corporation. [Franchises] are smaller operations so opportunities vary."

It's clear from these Big Boy employees that there is some room to jump around between the kitchen, waiting tables, running the host stand, and manning the cash register, not to mention working one's way into management. But aside from opening your own franchise or moving into the corporate side, that seems to be about it. It's no wonder so many have moved on despite their love for their coworkers and customers.

You will work long hours

When a workplace is understaffed, it generally demands more of the employees that are around. In many cases, employees in management tend to serve as support for the other positions. And if the comments on the subreddit Tales From Your Server are anything to judge by, restaurant shifts can be unpredictable, to say the least.

As pointed out by an assistant manager on Glassdoor, "managers work close to 50 hours a week, and working 50 hours every week can become taxing for some people." A former manager of a Detroit Big Boy reported working from 10 to 15 hours a day (via Indeed). In the same post, a server working the closing shift said they worked an average of six to seven hours per evening. And a former operating manager in Alpena, Michigan, listed working the required 60 or more hours per week among their job negatives. Those are some very long hours! We sure hope the employees don't mind being on their feet all day.

The pay is not great

According to the United States Department of Labor, as of 2022, the federal hourly minimum wage for tipped employees (wait staff, etc.) is $2.13. This means that tips, which vary by location and time of day, make up the bulk of a server's paycheck. Depending on the restaurant and circumstances, this could be a boon or a real drag. And if you aren't a tipped worker, you are completely reliant on hourly wages.

A former Big Boy prep cook lamented that "what they pay is more fitting for a high school [kid's] first job." A former manager added, "Terrible pay for the amount of hours required [to do a] major turn over." A cook was slightly more optimistic when he posted on Glassdoor that the job was "hard work for alright pay."

Perhaps this is why 30% of Big Boy employees leave the job within the first year of employment (per Zippia).

You need to work fast

During a busy meal rush, the pressure is on — especially if a restaurant is understaffed. Juggling optimal customer service, turning over tables as quickly as possible, and getting large orders out to patrons while they are still fresh and hot can result in a hectic environment. Employees have to be fast. Still, for someone who thrives in a busy workplace, a job at Big Boy might be a great fit.

"I learned that you had to work hard, fast, and efficiently," said a former cashier and greeter on Indeed. Meanwhile, a former server put a positive spin on it, saying, "Fast paced environment with room for learning new things every day." A prep cook was even happier with the quicker pace. "It's magical to be in a fast [paced] environment," they said, "with happy people enjoying every second of the mood and moment with each other laughing and enjoying [their] favorite foods and [desserts]."

Employees get a discount on meals

One of the greatest perks of working in food service is the employee discount on meals. How does Big Boy compare to its peers?

A former store manager from Ohio wrote on Indeed that some of the best pros about their job were "discounts on meals while working" and "free meals after retirement." Meanwhile, a less than thrilled former server in Michigan said on Glassdoor that employees receive "half off lunch during your shift." A former cook, also located in Michigan, added that in addition to the 50% discount while working, employees also get a 20% discount on meals when they are off the clock. However, a server at a California Big Boy reported receiving only a 10% discount, and another kitchen worker in Michigan said that the half-off discount was only good up to $8 (per Glassdoor). 

These inconsistencies suggest there may be variations between states or franchises, even though all employees enjoy some sort of discount.

Customers are a top priority

Every business will claim that its customers are the top priority, but Big Boy seems to really take this to heart. According to Zippia, Big Boy ranked 53 among the Best Hospitality Companies to Work For in Michigan and second among the Best Hospitality Companies to Work For in Warren, Michigan, where the company headquarters are located. It's no wonder after reading what the regional employees had to say about their jobs.

A former cook said on Indeed, "[Big Boy] was a very fun and clean place of business that taught me the value of the customer and that customers come first and [are] always right when it comes to [their] food." A past server posted on Glassdoor, "Big Boy tries to keep everyone happy, employees as well as their customers." Another former server highlighted, "I loved working with amazing customers and staff." Meanwhile, a former hostess and server commented that their time at Big Boy, "Could have been better [but you] can form meaningful relationships with employees and customers."

For a business with a fairly high turnover rate (per Zippia), that is high praise indeed.