Workers Reveal What It's Really Like To Work At Shake Shack

In 2001, the popular fast-casual restaurant chain Shake Shack began life as a single hot dog stand in New York City's Madison Square Park. Just over 20 years later, Shake Shack operates over 377 locations within the U.S. and abroad, and it serves a lot more than just hot dogs. 

Shake Shack continues to grow swiftly in both business and in popularity (via Workday) and employs over 9,000 workers. The company promises to "empower" its employees with "lifelong skills" that benefit its people, the company, and the communities in which each restaurant is located. In 2020, it put $9 million into increasing employee wages among other benefits (via QSR).

But it's one thing for a company to promise to do well for its employees. The view is different from behind the cash register. Read on to learn what employees really think about laboring for such a fast-paced company on the rise.

The work is nonstop

Shake Shack straddles the line between fast food and fast-casual, and things there do move pretty quickly. Employees are trained on multiple stations in the restaurant, providing flexibility and offering more responsibility to team members (via Indeed).

One employee shared on Reddit that while it can be a challenging job with high expectations, it is preferable to other restaurants. A former team member on Indeed called the job "nonstop," but they liked the benefits and pathway to advancement as well as helpful managers who were willing to pitch in. A recruiting coordinator on Indeed was another fan of Shake Shack's fast pace, even going so far as to call it "exciting," and praising the company's "collaborative team attitude."

Sure, there are benefits offered by Shake Shack that each reviewer touches on (more on those later), but are they worth enduring a hectic work environment with demanding customers that always keep you on your toes? The answer to that depends on your personality.

Shift lengths can vary considerably

Being an international company, Shake Shack is, of course, required to adhere to varying labor laws and requirements across many regions. That being said, there seems to be a lot of variation in working conditions depending on which Shake Shack you're employed at.

A full time manager in Long Beach, California reported on Indeed that the minimum number of hours they were required to work in a week was 40. But a former assistant general manager in New York, New York answered that their minimum weekly hours were 50 with a max of around 70.

As for team members and line cooks, answers to the question of average shift length per day included four to six hours, eight to 10 hours, and seven hours or less (via Indeed). A former employee posted on Reddit that their shifts were usually four to eight hours. Employees said on both Indeed and Reddit that working double shifts was also an option.

There are clear paths for advancement

A Pew Research Center survey showed in 2022 that one of the main reasons that people leave their jobs is a lack of advancement opportunities. Workers don't have to worry about that with Shake Shack. According to Shake Shack's own website, the company offers "leadership training" and "growth opportunities across the business."

An employee of more than two years concurs on Reddit, saying that the steps to advancement are clearly laid out. They had already been promoted three times. A reviewer on Comparably felt supported by fellow team members and managers and found "genuine room to grow and progress within the company." They also mentioned defined mileposts along the way.

A manager on Glassdoor agreed that the pathway to promotion was "very simple," but did caution that once an employee advances to a certain point, it can be hard to continue to rise. They felt that preference was given to people hired from outside the company over those within.

You accrue paid time off

According to Glassdoor, one of the perks Shake Shack employees mentioned the most was having access to paid time off (PTO). On Comparably, 50% of surveyed Shake Shack employees put PTO at the top of their list of ranked benefits.

One trainer explained on Glassdoor that workers begin accruing PTO once they have been employed for 90 days and it caps out at 40 hours. Those hours also will roll over into the next year, so it isn't a use it or lose it situation. However, another trainer griped that the way PTO is earned is "inhumane," though they did not describe the offending process.

As for paid vacation time, answers differ on Indeed. One former team member warned that it takes quite a bit of time to accrue enough time to take a paid vacation. A former shift manager said that team members received one week of paid vacation every year. A former cashier claimed workers can take as much as they want with advance notice. And yet another cashier said employees got five days a year.

The company helps you plan for your retirement

When it comes to retirement options, many companies in the U.S. offer 401(k) plans to their workers. Enrolled employees have a percentage of their incomes taken out of their paychecks and put into an investment account. Sometimes a company will match all or a portion of the employee's contribution, but not always.

According to Shake Shack, not only does it offer 401(k) plans to its employees, but it also offers company matches. It does not say how much it matches, however. One worker on Glassdoor said that the option doesn't become available until 90 days of employment. Another said not until after a year, so this may vary by location.

A former trainer posted on Indeed that the 401(k) plan is available to "all stages [of] employees." But a former restaurant manager said that it is only made available to employees who work full time. Perhaps this also varies by region.

The company also offers health, vision, and dental insurance

We already said that Shake Shack employees value their PTO. Glassdoor also revealed that overall they cherish their employer-provided insurance — health, vision, and dental. And according to Shake Shack, these benefits are available to all team members after three months of employment. The company also offers flexible spending accounts.

But when individual workers are asked, they have mixed opinions. Some employees claimed the costs were too high, especially when a family was added to the plan, and offered insufficient coverage (via Glassdoor). One worker in New York City, however, called the health insurance plan "very cheap." And a trainer in Las Vegas, Nevada thought the plan was "[not] that pricey." A general manager in Washington, D.C. cautioned that the copays are high.

When the alternative is nothing at all, signing up might be worth the cost. A manager in New York City called the insurance "great for when you are sick and need assistance" (via Glassdoor).

There is a lot to learn

When starting any job, you need to get acquainted with it. At Shake Shack, there is a lot for new team members to learn. There's the menu, register system, the kitchen, the customers, and more. And at Shake Shack, you might rotate through a number of different stations throughout your shift (via SimplyHired).

Luckily, people are not trained on every station all at once, but rather over the course of several weeks or even months (via SimplyHired). One current employee explained on Indeed that when training was completed on a station, an employee became upgraded to a trainer and received a $1 an hour raise. Completing training on every station meant being promoted to cross-trainer and resulted in another $1 per hour raise.

Considering all of the above, a former employee from Los Angeles, California believed that Shake Shack was a terrific starter job (via Indeed).

There's no tipping, but that's changing

Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer has made his stance on the American practice of tipping very clear: Don't do it (via the Daily Mail). This may sound shocking in a country where tipping has become a firmly established part of the service industry. Meyer correctly points out that in most other parts of the world, food service workers are not tipped by patrons. He also believes that tipping culture isn't fair to restaurant employees who don't work directly with the public and therefore do not receive tips. He ties tipping to systemic racism, saying it became popular during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era and was used as a way to avoid fairly compensating black service workers.

That being said, it is still common to tip in sit-down restaurants in the U.S. but not at fast food restaurants. What about fast-casual restaurants like Shake Shack? When this question was posed to Quora, none of the responses had a cut-and-dried answer, so it's a good thing that Shake Shack plans to settle the question itself, per Nation's Restaurant News. CEO Randy Garutti said at the end of 2021 that a tipping system had already been introduced at certain Shake Shack locations. He did caution that introducing tipping across the company would be a "long-, long-term project, so don't expect to see a massive rollout anytime soon here."

Shake Shack scores below average in workplace happiness

Given that we spend so much time at our jobs, it's important to be at least a little content with them. Shake Shack receives iffy results.

According to Indeed, Shake Shack gets a 56 out of 100 employee satisfaction rating. 58% of workers "feel happy at work most of the time." Both of these scores are considered below average (Average is a score of between 60 and 69). 52% of employees deemed their working environment to be stress-free, but that seems par for the course for a restaurant.

A cross-trainer on Glassdoor called their job "okay," citing "strenuous physical activity" and "long hours standing." They also felt the job could be "demeaning." A cashier reported being harassed at work and not feeling supported by inconsistent managers, some of whom behaved "inappropriately" and "flirty" with their employees. Another employee called the work "boring" and "repetitive." Yet another said simply, "Don't waste your time."

There are no employee drug tests

In the fall of 2021, Time reported that more and more companies are forgoing drug testing potential employees. Not only will this attract more applicants, but it will eliminate what is ultimately a pointless requirement and "help foster a more equitable workplace." Neuroscientist and chair of Columbia University's psychology department Carl Hart told the magazine, "If we want to make sure people aren't intoxicated in a workplace environment, that means looking at their performance."

Several employees, both past and present, confirmed on Indeed that Shake Shack does not require applicants to pass a drug test before being hired. However, one former team member cautioned that one should "not take that as an opportunity to share your personal drug stories at work," no matter how casual the working environment may feel. They also said that an employee using substances at or around the restaurant could result in that worker being fired.

It's more than fast food

Sure, Shake Shack is food fast, but is it fast food? Most would probably call it fast-casual, a kind of hybrid between a fast food restaurant and a more traditional sit-down place. Founder Danny Meyer specifically set out to redefine fast food when he launched the Shake Shack chain.

He told the New York Times in 2009, "The whole experience [of fast food] is to cram people into a cookie-cutter space, to feed them as many unhealthy calories as possible then get them to leave." He went on to call this system a "stripping away of human experience." For Shake Shack, Meyer envisioned that once people have waited in line and placed their orders, "They have to wait for us to cook their orders. And then? We hope they'll stay awhile, as they eat. To enhance the communal experience."

As Bon Appétit Magazine pointed out in 2015, this approach to restauranteering proved highly successful, going so far as to say that Shake Shack was "rewriting the rules of fast food."

The work/life balance is complicated

How much time and energy a person wants to invest in a job is up to every individual. Sometimes jobs can be energizing and other times feel really draining. A 2018 Gallup study of about 7,500 full-time workers showed "23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always." An additional 44% felt "burned out sometimes." A healthy work/life balance is important for a dynamic life as well as the success of a company.

Shake Shack team members report varying degrees of work/life satisfaction. A current manager posted on Indeed that there is "no [work/life] balance." Another former manager reported that working 60 or more hours per week really damaged their work/life balance. A current employee over on Glassdoor agreed, saying there is "barely any work/life balance."

On the other hand, a different current employee listed work/life balance as a pro on Glassdoor. To each their own.