Stores and restaurants offering higher wages and bonuses to attract workers

Papa John's sign on top of car
Papa John's

As vaccination levels have risen across the United States, the strict restrictions faced by many of the businesses consumers count on every day have started falling away. That has lead to countless job openings in retail and food service.

In fact, businesses are so desperate to fill openings that they are offering generous incentives to new employees in what has become a hiring arms race among the nation’s chains. Here are what some major retailers and restaurants are enticing potential workers with this year.


Incentives: Signing Bonus; Higher Starting Wages

As you probably expected, the world’s biggest online retailer is among the companies looking to tempt people to become new employees. Amazon announced in May that it would be offering signing bonuses and some increased wages in an effort to add 75,000 people to its already massive workforce. According to Amazon’s hiring page, new employees can get a bonus of up to $1,000 just for accepting a job and can start out making as much as $20 an hour. Package sorters and warehouse workers are among the many positions needing to be filled.



Incentives: Signing Bonus

Although Amazon is predicted to catch up in 2022, Walmart is still currently the top dog of retail in the U.S. While the company announced in April a plan to offer generous signing bonuses to some new employees, it’s only in a highly specialized area of its operations. Truck drivers who sign up to haul for Walmart will get a whopping $8,000, which is paid in two lump sums of $4,000 each — one after they pass qualifications, and one after they’ve been with the company for six months.

Walmart also recently raised the wages for many of its store employees but stopped short of hiking its starting minimum wage to the level of some other chains.



Incentives: Higher Minimum Wage

Wholesale giant Costco has long been hailed as one of the best companies to work for in America, and it just got sweeter for new hires this year. In March, the retailer announced that all of its hourly workers would earn a minimum wage of $16, which comes just two years after it raised its minimum wage to $15. The move came as Costco ended a program that saw its employees earn an extra $2 an hour during the pandemic.

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma


Incentives: Tuition Reimbursement; Higher Wages; Referral Bonuses

College debt is a major hurdle for most young people who are getting into the workforce in earnest for the first time. Chipotle, the ubiquitous fast-casual burrito chain, is trying to entice new employees by taking some of the sting out of it. In 2019, the company kicked off its tuition-reimbursement plan, and that program got a boost this year. In April, Chipotle announced that it would fully cover tuition for more than 100 majors at 10 universities for all workers who have been with the company for at least four months.

The chain also boosted its average wages in May and started offering referral bonuses for current workers who bring on new employees.

AP Photo/Stephen Brashear


Incentives: Signing Bonus; Flexible Scheduling

When you’ve got an operation as big as the one run by McDonald’s, enticing new workers is a must as people are starting to leave home regularly again. The fast-food giant is offering a signing bonus of up to $500 to new workers in some locations, but that might not be the best incentive it is using. Rather than the guessing-game scheduling that can often come with working at a fast-food restaurant, the chain is allowing new hires to essentially pick their days and hours and take a schedule that is predictable from week to week.

Of course, most McDonald’s locations are owned and operated by franchisees, so a lot of the incentives are going to vary from place to place, but the company-owned locations recently hiked its wages as another way to entice new blood.

AP Photo/Julio Cortez


Incentives: Signing Bonus; Vaccination Bonus; Referral Bonus

Convenience stores aren’t skimping on the incentives, either, as they look to keep up with surging business opportunities. Wawa, an East Coast-staple, already gives its workers a free hoagie on every shift, among other attractive pluses, but it’s now handing out cash to new employees in several ways. In May, the chain rolled out a plan to hire thousands of new workers by offering a $500 signing bonus, an additional $300 bonus for workers who get vaccinated against COVID-19 and another potential $500 bonus if you refer another new employee to the company. That’s an additional $1,300 on top of your wages.



Incentives: Higher Wages

Another East Coast convenience store chain that’s using extra money to entice new workers is Sheetz. This chain is using a recent wage hike as a way to keep current employees and convince job-seekers to apply at its stores. In May, the company announced a raise of $2 an hour for all its employees, making its average wage $15.50 per hour for non-supervising workers and $18.50 per hour for supervisors. Sheetz is also offering an extra $1 per hour on top of that to all workers during summer 2021.

AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey

Dollar General

Incentives: Signing Bonus

Similar to Walmart’s tempting cash bonus, Dollar General has reportedly been looking to add new truck drivers to its fleet by forking over money just for signing on. According to The Wall Street Journal, trucking jobs posted in June to join Dollar General’s logistics effort came with a $10,000 signing bonus and boasted a yearly salary of up to $98,000. The publication reported that those jobs were based in Arizona and Iowa and were posted through the trucking firm C.R. England.

Adobe | wolterke

Cuba Libre

Incentives: Signing Bonus; Referral Bonus

This restaurant and bar chain with locations up and down the East Coast is another one that’s using multiple bonuses to lure in new workers. In June, the chain was offering a $1,000 signing bonus to fresh hires and was offering all employees a $1,000 referral bonus for every person they recommend that ends up getting hired. One new Cuba Libre employee in Florida told The Wall Street Journal in July that he’d raked in an extra $3,000 already because of the bonuses.

Cuba Libre/Facebook

Chuck E. Cheese

Incentives: Referral Bonus; Daily Pay Access; Scholarships

Indoor entertainment venues like Chuck E. Cheese got hammered by the pandemic even harder than other chain restaurants, but the kid-focused company is looking to hire 5,000 workers as it bounces back. To do this, the company recently expanded its college scholarship program and began offering a $1,500 bonus for any workers who refer someone who gets hired as a manager, according to The New York Times. Chuck E. Cheese also recently started giving its workers the ability to access a chunk of their wages the day after they’ve earned them, in an effort to eliminate debt traps.

Darren Abate/AP Images for Chuck E. Cheese's

Best Buy

Incentives: Childcare Stipends; Flexible Scheduling; Expanded Caregiver Benefits

The electronics retail giant isn’t currently offering cash bonuses to new employees and hasn’t hiked its minimum wage recently, but it has rolled out several quality-of-life benefits that will intrigue jobseekers. Best Buy now provides $100 monthly reimbursements to cover tutoring fees for employees with kids ages 5-18. The company also recently expanded its paid leave and offers more flexible scheduling than ever, including the ability to split the responsibilities of a full-time job with a co-worker.

The retailer’s caregiver benefits were also beefed up to cover four fully paid weeks of work for additional family members who need full-time care, including siblings, grandchildren, grandparents and in-laws.

Papa John’s

Incentives: Signing Bonus; Existing-Employee Bonus; Referral Bonus

Similar to the move made by McDonald’s, Papa John’s recently announced that workers at its company-owned restaurants would be in line for some extra cash this year. The pizza chain said in July that employees at those locations, which is roughly 20% of its restaurants nationwide, would be eligible for bonuses of up to $400 over the following six months. Additionally, employees who refer a new Papa John’s worker will get an extra $50, and the new employee themselves will also get a $50 signing bonus.

Papa John's

Olive Garden

Incentives: Higher Wages

Perhaps more than any other companies on this list, traditional sit-down restaurants are feeling the pressure to hire droves of new employees as business returns to something resembling pre-pandemic times. Darden Restaurants, the parent company of Olive Garden, has made it known that staffing is its top priority this year. That’s what spurred the company to announce a plan to significantly boost its minimum wage over the next few years. Starting in March, Olive Garden employees saw their minimum wage hit $10 an hour, including tips, and that’s expected to rise to $12 an hour in January 2023.

Darden Restaurants

Longhorn Steakhouse

Incentives: Higher Wages

Another popular chain operated by Darden Restaurants, Longhorn Steakhouse will follow the same path of its sister company, Olive Garden. Hourly employees will now make no less than $10 an hour, including tips, and will see that number increase to $11 an hour in January 2022 and $12 an hour in January 2023. The move has been criticized as a stunt by some advocates for a higher minimum wage who are pushing to see chains pay their employees at least $15 an hour before tips are included. Still, it is a raise and may entice new servers to fill voids at Darden’s restaurants.

Darden Restaurants

Texas Roadhouse

Incentives: Higher Wages

Texas Roadhouse is another eatery that’s felt the fierce competition to add employees. The popular steakhouse revealed in April that it’s having a hard time filling its many vacancies and was taking steps to remedy that. Executives said the chain was raising wages for its employees, but without specifying what the new rates would be. During an earnings report, the company announced it had raised menu prices by an average of 1.75% to offset the wage hike.

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

P.F. Chang’s

Incentives: Signing Bonus

The Asian-inspired eatery P.F. Chang’s is currently trying to fill thousands of open spots on its roster. CEO Damola Adamolekun told Bloomberg in a July interview that the chain is offering signing bonuses to new employees and has taken issues of work-life balance to heart in trying to attract talent. The company gave all of its workers the day off on Fourth of July, for instance, as a measure to boost morale.

P.F. Chang's/Business Wire

Taco Bell

Incentives: Unique Hiring Events; Boosted Manager-Level Perks

Taco Bell is already known for its energetic marketing and unique promotions — two attributes that the company is leveraging into its current search for employees. The Mexican-inspired chain hosted “hiring parties” in April that even allowed hopeful hires to be interviewed without having to leave their cars as it tried to keep social distancing at the forefront. The company also sweetened perks for its corporate-owned location managers, increasing vacation time, paid time off for new parents and fully paid short-term disability after the birth of a child.

AP Photo/Steve Helber

Sonic Drive-In

Incentives: Flexible Scheduling

While Sonic seems like the kind of chain that was made for the pandemic, thanks to its unique car-side dining service, the company is still looking to hire a ton of workers now that COVID-19-era restrictions are lifting. In March, the chain announced that it hoped to add about 20,000 people to its workforce. While bonuses were not announced, Sonic said it was offering flexible hours as a primary perk for hourly restaurant employees.



Incentives: Higher Average Wage

The Kroger Co. has long been one of the nation’s largest employers and it has been on a quest to add thousands of workers to its long roster this year. While the grocery chain already offers perks like grocery discounts, mental health counseling and discounts on streaming services, it recently announced a plan to raise wages that may entice new workers. Its average hourly wage will jump to $16 from $15.50, following an investment of $350 million by the company to make that possible.

The Kroger Co.

Giant Eagle

Incentives: Signing Bonus

Speaking of supermarkets, this Midwestern chain is giving out generous signing bonuses to new hires across its map. If you search Giant Eagle’s jobs site, you’ll find nearly 1,000 open positions with signing bonuses of at least $500, with specialized jobs like those in the bakery offering $1,000 at hiring. Employees at Giant Eagle also get discounts on groceries, among other perks.

The open positions include some at GetGo, which is the company’s chain of convenience stores and gas stations.

AP Photo/Tony Dejak

White Castle

Incentives: Higher Minimum Wage

Just because White Castle’s hamburgers are tiny doesn’t mean its paychecks are. The fast-food chain is trying to add thousands of workers to its force and took the step of boosting its starting wage to entice applicants. In June, White Castle announced it was raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour. Other benefits the chain is touting include free meals during shifts and weekly paychecks, rather than bi-weekly ones.

AP Photo/Jay LaPrete


Incentives: Signing Bonus; Referral Bonus

Another burger chain that’s using extra cash to tempt people looking for a job is Wendy’s. The company that boasts one of the best Twitter accounts in big business is offering $100 signing bonuses to new employees, according to The Columbus Dispatch. On top of that, Wendy’s is offering $100 referral bonuses to any employees who recommend other workers.



Incentives: Higher Manager Wages

Texas-based fast-food chain Whataburger is planning major growth in 2021, as it pledges to add a whopping 50,000 employees and expand into new markets. The company gave its employees a cumulative $90 million in bonuses at the end of last year and is sweetening the pot for potential managers right now. In April, Whataburger announced that it was raising general manager wages — with six-figure salaries to be expected — and offering them large potential bonuses.

AP Photo/Eric Gay

Ollie’s Bargain Outlet

Incentives: Signing Bonus

As shoppers start to fill back into stores in droves, Ollie’s Bargain Outlet is giving new workers an extra reason to fill their open positions. The big-box chain is offering a $1,000 signing bonus to new employees, according to CNN. A spokesperson for the company told the outlet in June that the move has helped boost applications as it tries to beef up numbers in its distribution centers.

Ollie's Bargain Outlet/Facebook

Where Else to Search: Casinos

Possible Incentives: Signing Bonus

This is going to vary from company to company, but based on our research, casinos are among the biggest places looking to add workers as pandemic-related restrictions fall. We found that gaming giants like FireKeepers and Hard Rock were among the companies offering signing bonuses to new workers. As one example, Hard Rock Casino in Cincinnati is offering a whopping $4,000 signing bonus to new dealers who take a job on the casino floor.

Check the casinos near you for similar offers, because chances are they are looking to fill plenty of slots.

AP Photo/Wayne Parry

About the Author

Clint Davis

When he's not writing or spending time with his son and wife, Clint is probably watching sports, an old movie or adding to his VHS collection. A lifelong Ohioan, he's based in Columbus, and has two big dogs and a cat that's as soft as cotton. More.

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