Fast food jobs better than advertised

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A career in fast food work can be profitable and rewarding for someone who is dedicated to the industry, some fast food restaurant owners said.

Top salaries at McDonald's are comparable to any professional job, said Chris Nichols, owner of the Craig and Steamboat Springs restaurants. Benefits and good salaries also are available for committed managers at Craig and Steamboat Subway stores, restaurant owner George Barlow said.

"The stereotype is it's still an entry-level job," Nichols said. "After 10 to 20 years, I'm making what I consider a decent wage. The old stigma of a dead-end job is only true if you approach it with that kind of attitude."

Nichols said he hires up to 110 employees at the two restaurants. Employees are paid more than minimum wage for full-time employment and pay is based on employees' availability. Mid-level managers can take home $35,000 a year and top managers in Craig and Steamboat make in excess of $70,000 a year including benefits, Nichols said.

"How many teachers have you heard say you better study or you'll be flipping burgers for the rest of your life?" he said. "My comeback is 'I flip burgers for a living and I'll match my salary against anybody's.'"

Americans spent more than $110 billion on fast food in 2000, reported Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation. That's more than people spend on movies, computers, new cars, media and recorded music combined, his book states.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, food and beverage workers totaled 6.5 million in 2002. Most jobs are part-time and about a fourth of the workers are between the ages of 16 and 19. Job openings are expected to be abundant through 2012, the department predicted.

Deb Selbe loves her job. The manager of Steamboat Springs' McDonald's said her job allows her to work in the community and maintain the flexibility to be a mother. "I don't think people understand what it takes, the skills involved in running a restaurant," she said. "People don't really know what the opportunities are."

Selbe started with McDonald's more than two decades ago, working the closing shift in Broomfield. She's been at the Steamboat McDonald's since its opening in 1993. Selbe thinks people would be surprised to learn how much she makes. But, Selbe said she really enjoys the experience of meeting people from around the world who visit the store, and maintaining close ties with people in the community. "It's amazing for your self-esteem," she said. "Working for McDonald's for me is gratifying socially and emotionally."

Barlow said some of Subway's top managers in high volume stores are paid upward of $80,000 a year. Pay is tied with a store's performance. Barlow said his employees are compensated according to their levels of responsibility, and top performers are rewarded.

"It's just like in the newspaper business, if you don't perform you're not going to be the editor," he said. "There's always the opportunity to do better."

Barlow said one of his managers of 12 years "will tell you he's a lifer."

"He makes great money, he loves his job," Barlow said. "There are people out there that can make it a passion."

Barlow said the two stores currently are offering employee incentives. Employees of the store that sells the most volume in 2005 will be treated to "very nice" party, he said.

Other incentives include a partially paid ski pass upon working through a winter season, he said.

Barlow said the majority of his employees aren't looking for longterm employment in his restaurants. But sometimes he has talks with employees if they seem to get discouraged or the job seems to be losing its luster.

"I say 'hey, look this is your life,'" Barlow said. "It's important to understand if you do well here, you'll do well in all jobs. I try to say you have a real opportunity here."

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