Golden Corral workers reveal what it's really like to work there

When Golden Corral opened in 1973, it was a simple family steakhouse. It wasn't until the mid 1980s that they upgraded their salad bar and introduced the Golden Choice Buffet, serving 160 items both hot and cold. 

These days, there are nearly 500 Golden Corral restaurants across the country, in 41 states including Alaska. The restaurant has survived against all of the odds, even as their biggest industry competitors have faced slumping sales in recent years. But there's more to Golden Corral than the customers' experience of eating at the buffet — we wanted to find out what it's like for the employees behind the scenes. 

These are the folks who cook your food, serve your drinks, and ring up your meals. They clean the bathrooms, wash towering stacks of dishes, and try to keep up with the huge volume of guests. With so much on the line you might not be surprised to learn that not all of their employees enjoy every aspect of the job. 

We found out what it's really like to work at the Golden Corral, from the best aspects of the job to the worst problems the chain and its employees face. Read on to find out what's really going on behind the buffet line. 

Golden Corral workers might deal with unsanitary conditions

Cleanliness is one of the most important parts of maintaining a restaurant. If the front of the house or kitchen appear unclean, it can cost you customers, and a visit from the health department can wind up shutting your business down. 

And yet, there are a number of reasons why some restaurants fall behind in this area, even the bigwigs like Golden Corral. They were called out by an anonymous employee who posted some alarming photos to Reddit supposedly showing the conditions in the back of the restaurant. 

Not only were there towering stacks of dirty dishes overflowing the sinks and piling up on the floors, but the floors themselves were covered in water and trash. 

According to the whistleblowing employee, this is what the back of that Golden Corral location looked like most of the time. 

This isn't the only instance of an employee exposing poor food handling practices at the restaurant. At a Golden Corral in Port Orange, Florida, one worker posted a YouTube video allegedly showing trays of raw meat being wheeled to a dumpster outside the restaurant during a health inspector visit. Though Golden Corral vehemently denies that the food was ever served, the manager of that location was terminated. 

The benefits for part-time Golden Corral workers are sub-par

Working with such a large volume of food and managing so many customers can take a toll on workers, but according to employees on Glassdoor, Golden Corral doesn't make up for it with generous benefits. In fact, the restaurant chain was rated just 2.1 out of 5 stars by its employees on the review site, as of July 2019. 

Several employees said that they were never given enough hours to qualify for benefits. Others pointed out that their location was a private franchise (451 of the chain's 489 locations are franchises), meaning that management can choose which benefits to offer their workers. Unfortunately, it seems that that often translates to "none," especially since they can schedule employees so that they just miss the hours cut-off for receiving benefits. 

"There is no paid vacation, no time off, no sick leave, no health benefits, none of that is supplied by Golden Corral. This could be because it was a franchise," surmised one employee

Managers working for a company owned-and-operated store have better options. But, with only 38 restaurants operating outside of the franchise model, and with those benefits only applying to management, that means that it's likely that most of the workers at Golden Corral don't qualify for these benefits. 

It can be a struggle for some to be treated equally at Golden Corral

There is more than one former employee of the chain who claims they were sexually harassed or discriminated against.

One employee on a company review site said that their manager "has a tendency to think that he is living in the 1800s and he can be very racist at times," which obviously no worker should have to overhear or put up with. Unfortunately, on some extreme occasions, a manager's bad behavior can be directed toward the employees themselves. 

In 1997, former employee Joyce Ann Reynolds alleged that her supervisor at Golden Corral made lewd sexual comments and sexual advances toward her, and that she experienced physical and verbal abuse at work, and that the chain didn't do enough to protect her after she complained. 

Years later, in 2018, a different former employee won an $85,000 settlement after being sexually harassed and discriminated against for a disability. 

Sure, each Golden Corral franchise is run by an individual, but it sounds like they might need a revamp of their training practices if they want to ensure that every employee has a safe environment to work in. 

Golden Corral workers might have to deal with rude customers

Did you know that certain foods, like pork, beef, sesame seeds, and spinach, can make you happier? It seems like with the mountains of food it serves, that means Golden Corral would have the happiest, kindest customers around. Unfortunately, according to several former employees, it just doesn't work like that. 

Some complaints are almost more than we want to have to think about. "Worst thing I've ever seen is just how they treat the restrooms, what happens to civility when people are behind a [bathroom] stall door?" wondered one weary employee. They also cited customers who throw money on the counter instead of handing it to the cashier as an example of the rudeness encountered by employees of the buffet chain. 

Another employee said that the guests could get angry and unreasonable, which must be especially tiring with what they also said are long hours. 

Unfortunately, the wait staff at Golden Corral just have to grin and bear it. That's because they're paid less than minimum wage (according to an employee on Reddit) and rely on tips for the bulk of their income, even though it's a buffet. Even if a customer is rude, the server has to stay nice and polite if they want to make a living.

The training at Golden Corral can be brutal (and you might not get paid)

It's always a relief when an employer pays for your training hours. After all, it's not like you'd be there in your free time sitting through powerpoints on OSHA regulations and HR policies, right? Well, some associate managers who were training at Golden Corral ended up being so dissatisfied with the compensation they received for the grueling sessions that they actually sued Golden Corral for back pay — and won.

The employees who leveraged the claims said that they had to work 40-70 hours a week during their training, but that they were paid a lump sum, which didn't take into account the fact that they were working overtime. They alleged that this was a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which said that employees need to be paid at least 1.5x minimum wage for any hours worked in excess of 40 hours. 

In the end, Golden Corral had to agree to pay out $3.9 million to fairly compensate the employees in question, and also had to contact any associate managers who worked for the chain from 2013-2017 to let them know about the suit and that they could attempt to be compensated. 

Owning a Golden Corral franchise may not be all it's cracked up to be

Golden Corral has more than 400 franchise locations, and the company itself has been able to keep thriving even though the buffet restaurant industry as a whole has been in decline. But if you want to open a Golden Corral franchise, you might want to think carefully.

Even more daunting than the required $2.5 million net worth before you can open the restaurant is the fact that sales are not guaranteed, and that some former employees have claimed management sabotaged their chains. 

Geraldine Poteat was one such franchisee. She claims she signed a contract with Golden Corral to open a location in Newark, New Jersey, but that she was then forced to move her franchise to Poughkeepsie, New York, after the company "retreated on the contract's terms." She also says that she was pressured to sign the new contract, and that she was even "sexually harassed and threatened by a corporate executive" at the company. 

In the end, Poteat lost her franchise, and is now suing the chain. 

However, other franchisees have had a very different experience. One New Jersey couple said that opening a Golden Corral restaurant was one of the best decisions they've ever made, specifically citing the support of upper management. Either way, it sounds like you definitely want to do your research. 

The co-workers at Golden Corral are great, but management can be tough

When asked about their favorite part of the job, many current and former employees of Golden Corral said that they loved their co-workers and the clients they serve. 

"I enjoy going in to work because of all my coworkers and the customers I interact with on a daily basis," said one worker

This refrain seems pretty common, but there's one glaring problem that was mentioned in several reviews of working at Golden Corral: the management can be difficult to work with. Communication between management and employees can allegedly be a challenge. 

"If managers tried harder to treat employees like human beings instead of children or were more compassionate about our needs instead of their profit, it would make going to work a fun thing to do," said one employee who otherwise rated Golden Corral four out of five stars. 

Unfortunately, this dissatisfaction with work may not just be Golden Corral. More than one study has shown that restaurant employees report a low level of job satisfaction, with up to 50 percent of workers surveyed saying that they did not like their jobs. It's a common issue, and Golden Corral is not exempt.

Golden Corral workers get free food

Working without health insurance, vacation time, and sick leave can be a drag, but what always makes us feel better? A hearty meal. Luckily, weary Golden Corral employees may be able to get a free or reduced meal while working to help take off the edge, depending on their individual franchise's policies. 

One employee on Glassdoor said that they got "free food on the clock," while an employee at a Golden Corral in Richmond, Kentucky, said that "the only benefit I know of is half price meals when you work," which isn't exactly free, but is better than nothing. Another employee said that they got reduced price breakfast while working. 

When they do get to eat, the food is… well, so-so. One Golden Corral worker said that "the steak is pretty good quality, probably a B or C," and "the seafood is mostly frozen," which makes sense for a restaurant doing so much volume for so little money. A different employee (a weightlifter who started working there exclusively for the buffet benefits), however, mentioned the "overcooked sirloin steaks" and "burnt omelets" that they themselves cooked up while working there, which sounds a little more questionable. One thing not to miss? The rolls, which are "pretty f****** amazing." 

They know when the worst time to dine at Golden Corral is

If you want the best buffet experience, you've got to make sure you go at the right time of day, and being an employee means you know exactly when that is. One former employee of Golden Corral, who worked for the chain restaurant for four years has shared the details. 

According to this employee, the best times to go to Golden Corral are 11 a.m., when the restaurant opens and the food is fresh, and 3:55 p.m., right before the price changes over from lunch to dinner (so, you pay the lunch price, but get to enjoy the dinner items). 

The worst time to go is in between these rush hours, at about 2:30 p.m. According to this worker, mid-afternoon is "when the cheaper lunch foods are left exposed and unattended while the hot cooks and grill cooks begin preparing dinner," leaving diners with food that's less fresh. He also said that this slow time is when the servers tend to take their breaks, meaning tables go unbossed and service is lacking. 

Another thing to avoid? Going to the Corral on a Monday, which is usually slow, meaning food sits in the buffet trays for longer and not as many servers are on the clock. 

If you speak up about Golden Corral's food safety violations, you might get fired

If you saw something at your job and thought it might end up harming other people — spoiled and expired food being served to restaurant customers, for instance — you'd certainly hope that calling out management would result in the problem being fixed, not in you being fired. But that's allegedly what happened to one Golden Corral employee in Ohio.

The employee claims he recorded video of the kitchen and back of house, as well as video of an employee trainer telling him that they regularly change the dates on foods that are about to expire, and mix expiring foods in with fresher foods so that customers don't notice. 

He also saw chicken that had turned green and smelly, fish that was left out and registered a temperature of 70+ degrees before being cooked, and he sustained burns from malfunctioning equipment. 

When he brought his concerns to management, they allegedly brushed him off, which is why he then sent the video footage to the local health department. 

The employee was terminated, but there is good news — that location was shut down shortly after he brought his videos to the authorities, and he was also offered a settlement.