The day Lea Davis interviewed Dave Thomas for that first QSR Interview 10 years ago, I was likely selling sorority gear at a spirit shop across the street from the SMU campus. The store sat on a strip. Z’Tejas was next door. Schlotzsky’s was a neighbor, too. I regularly grabbed a Big Bite from the 7-Eleven a block up if the heat made the short walk to Burger House or Bubba’s Cook Country unimaginable. I spent hundreds of my too few dollars at those restaurants during the summer of 1997. But I never considered working at any of them.
Nor did any of my friends.
In fact, to recall a friend who worked in foodservice, period, not just fast food, I have to think back to high school. A boyfriend worked at Mr. Gatti’s. He ended up an assistant manager senior year, making significantly more than I did as a gymnastics coach. Still my job, while tedious and low paying with little room for advancement, was “cool.” His was not.
Thirty-eight percent of consumers believe that fast-food restaurants have gotten better over the past three years, according to the most recent QSR consumer survey. Yet, that shift in public perception does not extend to quick-service as a career option. Most teens would still view that job at Mr. Gatti’s as “uncool.” And cool is everything to a teen.
Fast food needs a public-service announcement. And I know just the kids to star in it. One of them even operates a newly formed company, McManus Teen Advertising Consulting.
Austin McManus (aged 17), Erica Sampson (aged 19), and Chris Billups (aged 17) are part of the thousands of teenagers who make up the quick-service hourly workforce. Erica and Chris work for Whataburger. Austin puts out pizzas at Little Caesars. All three say the best part of their job is working with people—their friends and their customers. Of course, the money helps too.
I met Austin, Erica, and Chris at People Report’s recent QSR Workforce Symposium. Former Raising Cane’s President and COO Kathleen Wood invited the trio to sit on a panel subtitled, “A Candid Conversation at the Unit Level.” And were they candid. If you have not sat down with a group of your teenaged crew members in some time, schedule a meeting today. You need to hear what these kids have to say about your operations, your menu, your customers, and your managers.