How does Dick’s Drive-In pay workers $19 an hour with a menu completely under $5?

Oct 5, 2021, 5:30 AM | Updated: 11:10 am

Dick's burgers...

Dick's Drive-In in the University District. (Courtesy photo)

(Courtesy photo)

Dick’s Drive-In has always paid high wages and provided amazing benefits for its employees, like college scholarships, child care, and health care, and at the end of September, the company raised its base wage from $18 to $19 an hour.

Last week I got a press release from Taco Time, announcing a test program that will pay entry level crew members $20 an hour at its Issaquah and North Bend locations, its shortest staffed restaurants. All positions include paid vacation, medical and dental insurance, a 401k, and free meals for staff and their families.

A couple weeks ago, Seattle’s Dan Price — the CEO who made headlines for taking a pay cut so he could pay all of his employees $70,000 salaries — tweeted the following:

So how do these companies do it? Dick’s Drive-In President Jasmine Donovan is in a particularly good position to provide some insight.

“I am the granddaughter of Dick Spady, our namesake and one of our three co-founders,” Donovan said.

She said Dick’s raised its prices earlier this year to afford the pay increase and because of rising costs associated with supply chain issues.

“Our Deluxe [burger], at some of our locations, went up by 25 cents; some other products went up five cents or 10 cents,” she explained. “We appreciate that customers don’t mind. We like to be able to pay the highest wages and benefits in the industry, it’s something we’re very proud of. But to do it, we have to sell a lot of burgers and sometimes have to charge a little bit more.”

But not that much more; the most expensive thing on the menu is $4.25. Of course, all restaurants are different and Donovan recognizes that Dick’s has an advantage as a beloved, 70-year-old heritage burger joint.

“We’ve been around a long time, we own some of our own real estate, so we control our own destiny there,” she described. “We also sell a lot of burgers, fries, and shakes at all hours of the day and night.”

She says other business owners often ask for advice on how to offer employees the benefits that Dick’s offers.

“I give them the same advice my grandfather had when he was starting the business,” Donovan recounted. “A business, first step, is it has to make a profit. The next step is to invest in your employees. They’ll take better care of your customers, which will help you earn more profit. When they move on from your business and do other things, they’re evangelists for your company and that helps you make more profit.”

“Once that virtuous cycle is going, you can also invest in your community because if your community is thriving, your business will thrive,” she continued. “And so for these businesses that come to us asking what they should do first, the biggest thing that I tell them is talk to your employees. Ask them what is it that your employee population would want. Talk to them! Maybe it’s child care, maybe it’s a transportation stipend, maybe it’s more flexible schedules. Start with that. And if you can’t do it for everybody or everything that they would want, just do some part of it, then work your way up from there.”

Case in point, during my interview, a man waiting in line mentioned that he worked at Dick’s around 1968, that he made $5 an hour and was offered scholarship money, and he’s still a loyal customer.

If you’re thinking burger flippers don’t deserve to make $19 an hour, Donovan says working at Dick’s isn’t an entry level job, and they are quite picky about who they hire.

“When people say, ‘Oh, you’re going to go flip burgers,’ it’s not that simple,” she noted. “We have an orchestrated precision going on in our restaurants. It is a lot of work, and at the same time there also has to be jobs for people who really just need their very first attempt at a job. Ours isn’t that one and those jobs are going to pay less than our jobs, right? So for me to get the people that I need in my restaurant, I have to pay $19, but the state minimum wage is going to be $14.50 in January.”

There’s a funny disconnect associated with the restaurant industry. Many don’t consider “burger flipping” a respectable career, but they sure would be upset if there weren’t any burgers for sale.

Listen to Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast, “Your Last Meal.” Follow @yourlastmealpodcast on Instagram!

Rachel Belle

Rachel Belle...

Rachel Belle

Belle: This isn’t goodbye, it’s see you later

After 20 years in news radio, I'm leaving my post at KIRO Newsradio to focus on making my podcast "Your Last Meal" full-time!

2 years ago

emily post etiquette...

Rachel Belle

Emily Post’s “Etiquette” goes modern: Advice on pronouns, hugging

In 1922, Emily Post published her very first etiquette book. Since then, 18 editions have been published by five generations of Posts.

2 years ago


Rachel Belle

Combat winter blues with friluftsliv, the Nordic tradition of being outside

Friluftsliv is part of the culture in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Denmark, places that are darker and colder than Seattle in winter.

2 years ago

small talk...

Rachel Belle

Most Americans hate small talk, but Seattleites continue talking about weather

Out of 1,000 people surveyed, 71% said they prefer silence to small talk and 89% of Gen Z use their phones to avoid making small talk.

2 years ago

(Igordoon Primus/Unsplash)...

Rachel Belle

Seattle sperm bank in desperate need of Black donors

Only 2% of American sperm donors are Black men, which is causing a lot of heartache for women specifically looking for a Black donor. 

2 years ago

Photo courtesy of Rosie Grant...

Rachel Belle

Woman cooking recipes engraved on gravestones says they’re all ‘to die for’

You know that recipe your family requests at every holiday, potluck and birthday party? What if you had it engraved on your tombstone?

2 years ago

How does Dick’s Drive-In pay workers $19 an hour with a menu completely under $5?