Restaurant Industry Insights

Restaurants that Made It on USA Today’s 2024 Top Workplaces

On March 19, USA Today came out with their prestigious 2024 Top Workplaces in the U.S. These organizations were voted by their employees as some of the best places to work. Eleven restaurants made the list, which is no small feat in today’s climate. 

Let’s explore what makes these restaurants stand out. Keep in mind these are large organizations, ranging from 150 to almost 2,499 employees.

  • Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers

Raising Cane’s opened its doors in 1996 in Louisiana. CEO Todd Graves wrote the restaurant’s business plan as a college assignment that resulted in a lousy grade. Today, Graves is worth about $7.6 billion and is the wealthiest resident in Louisiana, per Bloomberg.

There are over 700 Raising Cane’s across the country that have initiated a cult-like following known as Caniacs. What do they serve? Fresh fried chicken tenders with Cane’s sauce, a recipe known only to store managers. Since 2018, they’ve opened 50 restaurants a year, making it one of the fastest-growing chains in the U.S., according to Business Insider

In 2020, Graves and co-CEO AJ Kumaran gave up their salaries to support their employees. They were able to keep all of their 25,000 workers employed despite the pandemic. 

  • TEAM Schostak Family Restaurants

This fourth-generation, family-owned restaurant group out of Livonia, MI, has an extensive portfolio of casual and fast-casual restaurants throughout their home state. Some of the brands in their collection include Applebee’s, MOD Pizza, Wendy’s, and Olga’s Kitchen. 

They pride themselves on their family atmosphere, rewarding their employees, and creating a space that promotes a positive work-life balance. One of their core values is to improve their team’s lives through opportunities for advancement and personal and professional growth. “Our people feel heard, valued, respected, and feel like we are doing something meaningful every day.” Their portfolio currently consists of over 150 restaurants. 

  • Panda Restaurant Group

This restaurant group is the parent company of Panda Express, Panda Inn, and Hibachi-San. Family-owned and operated, they define their purpose as wanting to be the world leader in people development and their mission as prioritizing people over profit. Their focus is on personal and interpersonal development achieved through continuous learning, acknowledging others, and a healthy lifestyle. 

According to a store manager on Glassdoor, “The pay is hard to beat. Panda puts a lot of resources into not only company growth but personal growth for their associates and management as well. Panda’s benefits program is very generous as well.” The drawback: “Very micromanaged by upper management.”

Panda Restaurant Group has over 2,300 stores, 47,000 associates, and $3 billion in sales, making it the largest family-owned and operated Asian dining concept in America. 

  • Whataburger Restaurants

In 1950, Harmon Dobson opened Whataburger, a roadside burger stand in Corpus Christi. He aimed to make a burger so good that customers would say, “What a burger!” after just one bite. His other goal was to make a burger so big it took two hands to hold. Their burgers are made to order from 100% pure, never-frozen beef. 

Today, the brand is made up of 884 locations that bring in over $3 billion annually. Their mission is to show passionate gratitude for their Whataburger family members and guests every day.  

The company offers scholarships to their employees and dependents and provides flexible schedules, competitive pay and bonuses, healthcare, and a leadership and development program to help them exceed. At the core of their family business are people and relationships, a place where they celebrate their team members and their milestones every year.

  • Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria

One of the oldest family names in the Chicago pizza arena, this family-owned company is known for its iconic deep-dish pizza. The first restaurant opened in 1971 in Lincolnwood, a suburb of Chicago. Every pizza is handmade from scratch, using the freshest ingredients, and created from recipes passed down from generation to generation. Today, there are 80 restaurants spread across four states. 

You can tell their commitment to their staff from one of the statements on their website, “Our people are our real key ingredient.” They see their employees as family and pride themselves on promoting from within. Their COO and several district and regional managers started in entry positions. They believe it’s a key to their strong, caring culture.

The other restaurants to make the “Best of Workplace” list include Buddy’s Pizza, Silver Diner Development LLC, Adair Concepts, LLC, Doc B’s Restaurant, Goode Company Restaurants, and Rooted Hospitality Group.

In an industry known for high turnover rates and labor challenges, it’s nice to be reminded of the possibilities.

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