Here's how much money fast food workers really make

It's almost a cliche to think of fast food workers as being badly paid. The low-wage, burger-flipping teenager is a standard trope in pretty much every form of storytelling, and many will argue that there still exists a stigma against workers in the fast food industry. And the idea that these employees are paid relatively little informs, and is informed by, that stigma. 

Sadly, however, it's also true. Despite the sheer scale of today's multinational fast food behemoths, the workers on the ground are still paid peanuts the majority of the time, and it's an unfortunate through line of the industry that the people behind the cashiers and in the kitchen just don't make that much money. But who pays fast food workers best, and who pays worst? Just how much are the people serving you getting? And what actions have these companies taken — or been forced to take — in order to improve the wages of their workers?

How much do McDonald's workers make?

McDonald's might just be the most iconic fast food chain on the planet, and could make a decent claim to being one of history's most recognizable brands full stop. Nowadays, the company employs around 210,000 workers in 36,000 locations around the world. But how much are those workers getting?

According to Glassdoor, a website which collates reports by corporate employees and produces data on wages, benefits, interview processes, and other corporate practices, the average base pay for a McDonald's worker (at the lowest level) is $9 per hour. This range is variable, however, mostly because fast food wages tend to be decided by franchise owners rather than the corporations themselves — and some McDonald's workers can be paid as much as $12 and others as low as $8 per hour. The average total pay comes to about $19,000 per year. Of course, that wage increases as you work your way up the ranks; shift managers make an average of $11 per hour, while some department managers make an average $12 per hour. 

Recently, McDonald's made headlines after it finally relented and abandoned its long battle against campaigns aimed at raising the minimum wage. The company announced that they will cease lobbying to oppose minimum wage increases at any level, nor will they "participate in association advocacy efforts designed to defeat wage increases." For campaigners such as the "Fight for $15" movement, this was nothing less than a huge victory. 

How much do Burger King's workers earn?

Being McDonald's biggest rivals, it probably won't come as a huge surprise to find that Burger King's wages aren't too dissimilar. According to Glassdoor, the average hourly pay for a Burger King cashier is $9. Shift managers, however, can make as much as $11 per hour (as can assistant managers) and operations managers can even make as much as $67,580 per year — which isn't a bad amount by any measure. 

Despite some discernible improvements over McDonald's wages, however, Burger King has been no stranger to controversy based around the way it treats and pays its workers. In April 2015, the company's co-founder David Edgerton suggested that a rise in the minimum wage to $15 could kill off the dollar menu. "What's going to happen, really," Edgerton said, "is you're going to see less and less of the quick and dirty kind of places. [...] You're not going to get these dollar hamburgers anymore that both Burger King and McDonald's had. I see a lot of $10 hamburgers arriving on the scene."

More recently, Burger King became embroiled in controversy when the National Labor Relations Board ruled that one of the company's franchisees had violated the National Labor Relations Act when it used company policies based around anti-soliciting and anti-loitering to crack down on employees discussing wage strikes in the franchise's parking lot. According to the judge involved in the ruling, the NLRB has consistently fought against corporate rules which prevent employees from discussing their wages with each other. 

How much are KFC workers paid?

Stop us if you see a pattern emerging, here. Glassdoor suggests that entry-level workers at KFC make an average base pay of $9 per hour. Shift supervisors can make around $10 per hour while assistant managers appear to make an average of $12 per hour. Some reports even have restaurant general managers making an average of $14 per hour, but that figure comes from only a handful of reports. Certainly, the general wage range seems to be very much similar to that of McDonald's and Burger King. 

But KFC has had a special role to play in the fight against low wages — albeit unwittingly. Naquasia LeGrand is a KFC employee from Brooklyn who became one of the faces of the Fight for $15 movement after being recruited by union activists to join the campaign. LeGrand appeared on The Colbert Report to promote the movement, and even visited Barack Obama's White House for a strategy session with congressional Democrats. "I worked at two KFCs and still couldn't make it," she told Colbert. "These corporations are making billions and billions of dollars." 

The added attention from LeGrand and the Fight for $15 movement hasn't appeared to quelled KFC's shadier practices, however. As recently as March 2019, the Department of Labor found that a company that owned dozens of branches of KFC and Arby's restaurants had committed wage violations in South Carolina and Georgia.

How much do Subway workers take home?

Subway has always preferred to give the title of "sandwich artist" to the workers who prepare food in its restaurants, but they do appear to make a little more money than most actual artists tend to make. Glassdoor has Subway's average base pay as $9 per hour, with store managers appearing to make an average of $12 per hour, and shift leaders and assistant managers making around $10 per hour. But the real difference between this company and the ones we've looked at so far is that Glassdoor users have actually reported considerable additional pay for Subway employees. According to the site, the average additional pay for a Subway worker is $311 (some coming from bonuses and some from tips) with a small number of reports suggesting that sandwich artists can make up to $2,000 in cash bonuses and a staggering $4,000 in tips; of course, even if that has been the case for some, it's certainly not the norm for most.

Those bonuses seem a little less shiny, however, when you consider that — according to a 2014 CNN analysis of data collected by the Department of Labor — Subway leads the nation in wage violations and employee underpayment. According to the report, franchisees have had to reimburse Subway workers over $3.8 million dollars over the years, as part of around 17,000 different violations. And these, CNN is quick to point out, are only the instances in which the company was caught. 

How much are Wendy's workers paid?

Wendy's salaries appear to fall right into line with many of its rivals in the fast food game. Glassdoor reports that Wendy's employees make an average base hourly pay of $9 (with one worker reporting that they received $283 in additional pay one year). Elsewhere, shift supervisors seem to make $11 per hour, shift managers get an average of $10 per hour ,and assistant managers hit an average of $12 per hour. Reports also suggest that restaurant general managers tend to hover around $56,000 per year. 

Considering Wendy's branches seem to be so comfortable with paying its workers around $9 to $12 per hour, it does seem curious that, in 2018, the company's CEO blamed their low sales figures on income inequality in America. Todd Penegor said on his quarterly earnings call: 

"We're seeing [the] lowest unemployment levels in a long time, high consumer confidence, and median households finally at record levels. But as you look at that income growth, it's skewed significantly to higher income households... on the low-end, you start looking at folks with rent and healthcare costs starting to rise that are really eating into some of the headway that they're making."

Although it's hard to argue with Penegor here, it's a tough pill to swallow from a CEO who, according to Eater, makes $55 for every single dollar one of his employees makes. 

How much do Domino's workers earn?

There's a lot to unpack with the wages at Domino's. At first glance, nothing seems too out of the ordinary: Glassdoor suggests that their delivery drivers make an average of $8 per hour, their assistant managers make around $11 per hour and their general managers make about $45,058 per year. Same old, same old — right?

Well, let's dive into those delivery driver stats. Glassdoor's users reported receiving cash bonuses on an average of $6,355 per year by Domino's, while others reported an average of $6,111 in tips. Even more extraordinarily, some users reported their annual income from tips as being as high as $25,000. Considering people tend to be more willing to tip their delivery drivers than they are cashiers in fast food restaurants, maybe the delivery driver is a more lucrative job than the behind-the-counter worker — even if the average wage is a little lower.

To his credit, Domino's ex-CEO Patrick Doyle made a few positive statements in regards to wages during his tenure at the company. In 2015, Doyle — who, we should point out, made $43 million in three years at Domino's — told CNBC that the chain would have to raise wages in order to meet competition and retain employees. Unfortunately, like many fast food chains, Domino's stores are franchises, and it's the owners of those stores who decide the exact wages. 

What does a Chipotle employee earn?

In a relative departure from what we've seen so far, Glassdoor reports that Chipotle's average crew member salary is as high as $10 — with the average amount of tips for workers coming to $301. Impressively, the average rate for service managers at Chipotle is actually $15, while kitchen managers make $12 per hour on average. As far as fast food wages go, this is all pretty decent stuff.

But the company hasn't been without its fair share of controversy when it comes to labor practices. In 2014, Chipotle began requiring its employees to sign arbitration agreements in order to prevent traction on a 10,000-person class-action lawsuit that claimed the company was making employees work "off the clock" — that is, without pay. Put short, an arbitration agreement forces workers resolve their differences with their employers via an independent arbitration process rather than, say, class action lawsuits. In 2018, the Supreme Court declared that it was perfectly legal for companies such as Chipotle to do just this, and Chipotle (as you'd expect) were pretty excited about the whole thing. 

Unfortunately for them, this plan backfired spectacularly. As of December 2018, Chipotle was facing almost 3,000 arbitration cases (and counting) from their own employees, who all posited that the company was refusing to pay them properly. Chipotle's attempt to block these cases (ironically, via the courts) was refused, with the judge who made that decision describing the company's actions as "unseemly."

How much are Taco Bell employees paid?

Back to the norm here, with Taco Bell — according to Glassdoor — seeming to pay its workers an average of $9 per hour. Shift managers hit around $11 per hour on average, while assistant managers go up to $12 per hour and assistant general managers can make $13 per hour. So far, so normal. But one benefit to working at Taco Bell, according to one Glassdoor poster, is the employee discount; which took off at least 50 percent on food and drinks. 

And that's where Taco Bell's more recent wage problems come into things. In 2018, a class action suit was leveled against the company that claimed they had been forcing employees to stay on the premises to eat discounted meals. Apparently, Taco Bell offered 30-minute meal breaks during which workers were allowed to buy a meal at a heavy discount, on the condition that they remained in the restaurant to do so. In the end, the court ruled in favor of Taco Bell, insisting that taking the discounted meal was a choice on the part of employees, and so the company hadn't violated California law. Despite this, the court did grant summary judgement for Taco Bell and reminded the company that employees should be able to use break times as they wished, and could only force workers to remain on-site if they had chosen to purchase a discounted meal. 

How much do Chick-fil-A employees earn?

According to Glassdoor, Chick-fil-A team members are paid $9 per hour on average, with a few (but not many) of the site's users reporting a smattering of cash bonuses and tips. Things remain similar across the board. Team leaders make $10 to $11 per hour on average, shift managers make about $13 and managers can make around $14 per hour. These, however, are average wages of franchised locations across America — and some branches of Chick-fil-A are going one step further.

In 2018, The Washington Post reported that the owner of a Chick-fil-A in Sacramento was planning to raise his employees' wages from $12 to $13 up to $17 to $18; a huge increase, well above what is demanded by most labor campaigns. Eric Mason, the owner in question, told a local news station that he would be offering this new pay rate as a "living wage" for his workers. "As the owner," he said, "I'm looking at it big-picture and long-term. What that does for the business is provide consistency, someone that has relationships with our guests, and it's going to be building a long-term culture."

What do Starbucks employees make?

Glassdoor might suggest that Starbucks pays its workers an average of about $11 per hour at the lowest level — which is itself relatively decent compared to what we've seen so far — but it's that bonus cash that really pays off for employees. The website reports that workers make an average of $960 per year out of tips, $663 in cash bonuses and even $403 in stock bonuses. On top of that, shift supervisors make about $13 per hour, while shift managers can make an average of $15 per hour. Not bad.

And the company seems to be making further amends to its workers. In 2018, Starbucks spent $120 million in order to address complaints made by the company's baristas. Many of these employees had complained about underpayment. "I don't know how many times I've heard that we're the most important part of the company," one employee told Business Insider. "If we're the most important part of the company and our connection is that important, [they shouldn't be] paying as little as they can get away with paying." 

Following their annual wage increase in January 2018, the company also claimed it would address imbalances between corporate employees and in-store workers, expanding some of its benefits (such as paid paternity leave and sick time that can be used to care for family members) to include non-corporate employees. 

How much are Dunkin' employees paid?

Back to normal with Dunkin', who, according to Glassdoor, pay their workers an average of — you guessed it — $9 per hour, with many making a decent return on tips, too. Wages for shift leaders go up to about $10 per hour on average, and assistant managers can expect to make around $11 per hour. Sadly, Dunkin' workers shouldn't expect to see much of a change anytime soon. 

In 2015, Dunkin' CEO Nigel Travis branded the idea of a $15 per hour minimum wage "outrageous." Despite admitting he supports "reasonable increases" to the minimum wage, Travis insisted that small business and franchises would be affected by such a hike. He went on to argue that it would even prevent Dunkin', a multibillion dollar company, from being able to make any new hires. Instead, Travis insisted, a living wage of around $12 per hour was far more reasonable a demand to make. 

In 2014, Nigel Travis earned $10.2 million in wages, stock awards and options. 

What does a Baskin-Robbins employee earn?

According to Glassdoor, Baskin-Robbins pay their workers the seemingly-standard $9 per hour on average, though the website does have some reports of cash bonuses and decent tips. Wages for shift leaders increase up to an average of $11 per hour, which is about the same for assistant managers. The enticingly-named role of cake decorator appears to come with a salary of $12 per hour. Managers can even make up to an average of $18 per hour. 

Not bad in general, but it's still not exactly excellent pay for a job that, according to one ex-employee, really is harder than it looks. In a 2016 LinkedIn essay, Barack Obama suggested his time at Baskin-Robbins had taught him some valuable lessons. "Rows and rows of rock-hard ice cream can be brutal on the wrists," he wrote. 

Obama explained that his job at the Honolulu branch of Baskin-Robbins was hardly glamorous, but did teach him responsibility, hard work and the ability to strike a balance between work and life. "And while I may have lost my taste for ice cream after one too many free scoops," he wrote, "I'll never forget that job, or the people who gave me that opportunity, and how they helped me get to where I am today."

Here's hoping those same people know that a decent living wage can't be matched by a few free scoops and a little wholesome inspiration.