What It's Really Like To Work At Steak 'N Shake

In general, fast food restaurants are defined by quick food, counter-service ordering, and drive-thrus. Steak 'n Shake adds another layer to the business with the addition of sit-down service complete with waiters and waitresses. That's all well and good for people seeking out a sit-down restaurant at fast food prices, but for workers, it also means that this isn't your typical fast food job.

Steak 'n Shake employees have to be prepared for just about anything, it seems. From the drive-thru to the inside tables, a Steak 'n Shake worker has to deal with all kinds of customers — especially at the locations that are open 24-hours a day. There are benefits, of course, as well as some menu secrets workers are keyed in on. From the good to the bad (and in some cases the downright strange), here's what it's really like to work at Steak 'n Shake, according to what employees and former employees have posted on Reddit, Indeed, Glassdoor, and elsewhere.

Steak 'n Shake workers have to prepare for random shift changes that make consistency difficult

Consistency is the key to happy workers and a happier life. According to the Economic Policy Institute, irregular work schedules lead to more stress and work-family conflict. At some Steak 'n Shake locations, however, the schedule is anything but regular.

On Reddit, an employee noted that getting actual time off that's not on-call depends on who is in charge. "If it's the GM (general manager), the likelihood of your shift being switched or changed is about 30 percent," the employee explained. "If it's the manager who makes the schedule, the changes are about 60 percent." The same worker noted that over a four to five day work week, the hours they work on any given day could vary from the 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. spot, the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., or the 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Worker reviews on Career Bliss frequently note that the hours, and the inconsistent scheduling, were a big negative of the job. One advised people interested in working at Steak 'n Shake to "be prepared to work hard and long crazy hours," while another lamented the swing shifts. Another employee stated that workers "are expected to essentially be on call at all times, personal time is nonexistent."

Scheduling inconsistency can be especially hard for people who go to school or work other jobs, according to a former employee on Indeed.

Some Steak 'n Shake employees have great health care options

Hourly employees are the cogs that keep Steak 'n Shake running. Training, growth opportunities, and phone discounts are all benefits that the chain lists for its hourly workers. Employee subsidized healthcare, that oh-so-important benefit of work in America, is not. The story is different for anyone in a management position, however.

For people in management positions ("the MVPs of Steak 'n Shake," as the company puts it), medical and dental health insurance are both on the benefits list. And according to reviews from former managers on sites like Simply Hired and Glassdoor, healthcare is a major plus to working for Steak 'n Shake.

One former manager wrote on Simply Hired that the biggest upside to the work is the "great health benefits...and that's about it." For full medical, vision, and dental insurance with "extremely low co-pays and deductibles," the former manager paid only $65 every two weeks. Other former managers on Glassdoor wrote that the variety of plans are "affordable" and "pretty decent" with "relatively low priced" rates.

It's not all that difficult to get hired at Steak 'n Shake

People who want to get their foot in the door at Steak 'n Shake have it pretty easy. As one employee put it on Reddit: "It's not terribly difficult to get hired, and if you do get hired, most places won't let you go." On the one hand, this is a blessing for anyone looking to quickly pick up a job. On the other hand, that means some people aren't exactly on point 100 percent of the time.

For the former group looking to work a non-managerial job, the biggest factor in getting hired, according to an employee on Indeed, is the background check. Other workers posted on Indeed that they were hired the day of the interview despite having no relevant prior experience, with one employee stating that management will ask a couple of questions, but "if you look smart then [they] will hire."

A job applications help site notes that it's a little more involved for anyone looking to land a manager position. Managers could spend around two weeks going through interviews compared to the same-day or couple-day process for serving and hosting positions.

Steak 'n Shake workers know to avoid certain orders

Knowing how fast food is made is one of the top ways to turn a person off of certain fast food orders for life. Some of the menu items at Steak 'n Shake are no exception, and no one knows that better than employees and former employees.

In one Reddit AMA, an employee advised against the breakfast tacos because the mix sits from midnight until it's used up (this particular employee has seen the egg mix sit "for a good six hours before anyone ordered one"). Another wrote that any kind of mac — including the chili mac and mac supreme — are no-gos. "We are told to put in more grease than beef," the employee wrote on Reddit. "So if you are really craving it, specifically ask for it dry." Sometimes it's not the food, but what the food comes in. One former worker claims the baked bean containers "never get completely clean no matter how many times they are washed."

For every bad menu item, there is one that's great — so long as you know the right way to order it. According to a former employee, the milkshake base is typically on the lower end of butterfat percent "and has barely any flavor," but if you ask for a milkshake with "real" ice cream, the fat content is higher and it's sweeter overall.

Speed is of the essence at Steak 'n Shake, but customers still get angry at how slow it can be

Steak 'n Shake may be fast food, but that doesn't mean it's fast. As one disgruntled customer put it on Reddit, "Don't eat at Steak N Shake unless you like waiting," adding that it took 34 minutes to get their order despite there only five people ahead of them in line.

In 2019, Steak 'n Shake came face to face with the reality that it's slow. Sardar Biglari, the CEO of Biglari Holdings, which owns Steak 'n Shake, said that business was declining because "we failed customers by not being fast and friendly," according to QSR Magazine. He added that "To be a market leader in the fast food business, we should have paid greater heed to becoming, well, fast."

Turtle-like speeds at a fast food restaurant means plenty of complaints. One employee on Reddit said that "we're not technically fast food," and if you want fast food, "don't go to Steak 'n Shake." Another noted that their general manager went with the notion that Steak 'n Shake is "primarily a restaurant first with a drive-thru second."

It's not always the workers' fault. As one customer put it on the subreddit r/Indianapolis: "Invariably every time I'm there, there's also an angry to-go customer who ordered food for her 4 kids with 5 different coupons and is complaining that the off-menu shake that she ordered doesn't have the right ingredients."

Steak 'n Shake customers get especially angry about how long it takes to make the shakes

When "shake" is half of a fast food chain's name, it's reasonable to assume that the restaurant has milkshake making down 100 percent. Speed, however, is an issue, and workers have to expect that customers will make a fuss.

A former employee noted on Simply Hired that the milkshakes "never come out at a reasonable time."  They added that the guest "would never be happy by the wait," and that milkshakes always came after the guests had already finished the rest of their food. On Reddit, a customer complained that they went to Steak 'n Shake's drive-thru at midnight and it took 20 minutes for a single milkshake. In response, another customer added that the "shakes take FOREVER."

In the defense of the employees, it's not like every worker is trying to slow the process down. A former employee posted in a Reddit AMA that, though there are three to four people who make the food, only one person makes everyone's shakes.

Another worker addressed the customer shake frustrations best: "Everyone orders shakes and they take a while to make. Remember we also have to make food for the people in the drive-thru."

The 24-hour Steak 'n Shake locations see every type of customer imaginable

Working the graveyard shift means seeing a little bit of everyone, whether it's people just getting off work, those who need a little sustenance after a party, or someone who just couldn't sleep. A former Steak 'n Shake employee who worked at a location that was open 24 hours a day, every day posted on Reddit that "the demographic changed by day. Weekend days, it's usually older people with grandkids. Weekdays, it's more or less mid-20 to early 30 couples. Late at night, we would get a lot of drunks and strippers. Overall, I'd say it's just your average person that eats there."

Everyone has to eat, and sometimes during the hours most of us are sleeping. Not everyone's work schedule goes from 9 to 5, after all, like the clowns in full make up one Redditor spotted on a late night Steak 'n Shake run. Though it's more common for people who have had a few too many (or, as one former worker called them, "drunk idiots") to come in the dead of night.

Not every late night customer is an obnoxious one. As one waitress who worked the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift noted, when it came to customers, there was "nothing too crazy." The coworkers that worked the graveyard shift, however, were another story.

Custom orders drive the back of house Steak 'n Shake staff crazy

Steak 'n Shake and other fast food restaurants have menus for a reason. The set orders make it easier on the customer (especially an indecisive one), but they also make it easier on the kitchen staff who are trying to get all of the food out in a timely manner. That said, sometimes you simply crave a personal creation, and Steak 'n Shake will typically oblige — though that doesn't mean the employees will be happy about it.

"Most people don't realize you can make your own meal," a former employee posted on Reddit. "It drives the backline batsh*t insane when they get a custom order, but you are able to do it. If you're into spice (like I am), you can get a spicy chicken sandwich, add pepper jack cheese, chipotle mayo, lettuce, and onion. If spice isn't your thing, chili cheese chicken is the way to go. Order chicken strips and ask to add chili and cheese sauce to them just like chili cheese fries."

Just keep in mind that customization takes time, and Steak 'n Shake already has a reputation for being slow.

Tips can make the pay much better at Steak 'n Shake

Steak 'n Shake's waiters and waitresses are tipped employees. While they receive a lower wage under each state's tipped wage law, the tips can sometimes make up for it.

On Reddit, one former server stated they made $2.13 an hour, but after accounting for tips they made around $10 an hour. Plus, on weekends and busy shifts, the worker said they normally walk away with 20-25 bucks an hour." Of course, there's a downside to relying on tips as well. That same former employee said that they've had tough customers who are time-consuming and demanding without leaving a tip.

Standard tips don't always equate to much, though, so it can take a lot of customer tips to add up. Steak 'n Shake has full table service, but fast food prices, so even a 20 percent tip can be minuscule. For a standard burger and fries meal that costs $4.99, for example, a 20 percent tip would only be around $1.

Steak 'n Shake employees have to deal with many customers angry about the coupons

While Steak 'n Shake already offers food at comparable fast food prices, it also sends out a lot of coupons. One customer noted that they rely on the Sunday version of the Chicago Tribune because it always has Steak 'n Shake coupons, adding that, with the coupons, "the service won't be quick even in the drive-thru, but that's okay."Others are a little less forgiving, and the coupons have the potential to cause problems for workers.

One customer wondered on Reddit, "all those freaking coupons, do they actually make any money off them?" In response, an employee gave an anecdote about a family that "got very pissy" when they were told they couldn't use more than one coupon per person. The impact of angry coupon users on the wait staff is clear even for other customers.

"I still sometimes eat at the counter at SnS, and invariably every time I'm there, there's also an angry to-go customer who ordered food for her 4 kids with 5 different coupons and is complaining that the off-menu shake that she ordered doesn't have the right ingredients," one person wrote in r/Indianapolis. "It's almost amusing as a spectator, but I can only imagine how that wears on the staff."

Steak 'n Shake employees get a hefty discount on food

One of the benefits that restaurant workers typically get — both at fast food joints and sit down locations — is discounted or free food. Some, like the free food for employees at Chipotle, are generous. Others, like the relatively sparse food discount at Pizza Hut, are not so great. Steak 'n Shake's employee discount is a pretty good deal depending on the location.

On Glassdoor, employees and former workers noted that they received 40 to 50 percent off the food. It should be noted that it's only for the shift meal (the meal eaten during a break or right before or after a shift), and not typically provided on days the person isn't working. Additionally, a worker in Bloomington, Indiana, wrote on Glassdoor that workers don't typically get a free meal unless they work a double. Some locations are more generous, though. One worker in Sheridan, Colorado, added that "most of the time if you ask for a free lunch they will let you."

Making the shakes is messy business at Steak 'n Shake

Milkshakes in part define Steak 'n Shake as a fast food restaurant, but for the people making said shakes, things can get difficult and messy.

"I hated the shakes there," one former employee wrote on Reddit. "Not necessarily because of the product itself, but I got tired of getting covered in ice cream all the time." The shakes are "very labor-intensive," another former worker in Michigan wrote on Reddit. That worker also noted another problem: The labor-intensive milkshakes make up anywhere from 25 percent to 40 percent of the sales, so they're hard to make as well as consistently ordered.

To learn how to make the perfect shakes (and, presumably, learn how to not make a mess), workers have to be certified in milkshakes, one employee who is a "certified milkshake maker" said on Reddit. Another former worker added some context to the certification with a long list of to-do tasks for the shakes, and also gave some insight into why workers hate making them so much: "My hands were always effing cold. The ten gallon bucket of shake base I had to carry out of the freezer was always heavy, cold, and hard as a d*mn rock starting out."