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12 Frosty Facts About A&W Restaurants

A&W has been serving up root beer and burgers for nearly 100 years—grab a frosty mug and see how this California chain kicked off a new era of American eateries.

1. A&W IS NAMED AFTER ITS FOUNDERS, ALLEN AND WRIGHT.

Roy Allen (the "A") jump-started the A&W chain in 1919, taking advantage of crowds attending a veterans’ parade in Lodi, Calif. The traveling entrepreneur, originally from Illinois, looked to capitalize on a root beer recipe he bought from an Arizona pharmacist years before. On a warm June day, Allen hawked mugs of his nameless root beer at five cents per cup, and realized the drink was a hit. Allen partnered with Frank Wright (the "W"), and the pair quickly opened root beer drink-stops in nearby California cities before venturing east. The business duo were partners for only five years before Wright was bought out and left A&W, but even after his departure, the name stuck. Allen went on to create the A&W franchise, adding food options to the root beer hotspots.

2. A&W SUPPOSEDLY OFFERED DRIVE-INS BEFORE ANYONE ELSE.

Roy Allen allegedly created the first drive-ins for his A&W restaurants in 1921, just two years after his first root beer stand. The second A&W restaurant in Sacramento offered so called "tray-boys" who delivered burgers and root beer to visitors who ate from the comfort of their cars. Whether A&W truly coined in-car food is contested through fast-food history. Another California restaurant, the Pig Stand Number 21, is said to have had the first drive-thru window, created 10 years later, and another Cali chain, In-N-Out Burger, was the first to add a two-way speaker to their drive-thru in 1948. A&W also claims to be the world’s first franchise and the inventor of the bacon cheeseburger.

3. THE GREAT DEPRESSION AND WORLD WAR II WEREN'T THAT HARD ON A&W.

A&W didn’t slow down after Wright’s departure, and economic downturn didn’t stop it either. Despite the Great Depression, the chain continued to add root beer stands in quick succession. By the time the U.S. entered World War II, Allen had opened 260 A&W locations. Rationing of sugar and meat during the war did temporarily stifle expansion, but by 1950, the chain expanded to 500 restaurants and into Canada. With more traveling families on the road after World War II, Allen’s success boomed to nearly 2000 A&W franchise locations by the 1960s.

4. A&WS IN CANADA ARE TECHNICALLY DIFFERENT RESTAURANTS.

If you dine above the northern border, you’ll find that A&Ws in Canada are pretty similar, just with a few alterations. While the chain opened its first Canadian restaurant in 1956, the link between the American and Canadian locations lasted less than 20 years. By 1972, the chain of Canadian restaurants was sold to Unilever (yes, the same company that makes soap, laundry detergent and tea, among other things). Both A&W chains offer root beer and hot foods, and have similar logos, though in Canada, A&Ws don’t serve up the tagline “All American Foods,” because that just wouldn’t make sense. Instead, the northern chain is focused on hormone and steroid-free meat products, which caused a huge beef with Canadian beef producers.

5. A CANADIAN A&W ONCE HAD A FLOAT-THRU.

While the U.S. and Canadian chain generally offer the same foods, A&Ws up north sometimes take marketing to a new level. Take for instance the world’s first Float-Thru, where swimmers and floaters on the Okanagan River unexpectedly got free burgers as part of an A&W commercial.

6. FREE ROOT BEER IS THE BEST ROOT BEER.

If there’s any day to find your closest A&W, it’s probably August 6. The chain celebrates National Root Beer Float Day with free mini floats. A&W restaurants also use the holiday to collect donations for selected charities. Unfortunately, there’s no big deal for National Burger Day.

7. EACH FAMILY MEMBER ONCE HAD THEIR OWN BURGER.

Ever wondered why A&W has the Papa Burger? It’s because there used to be a line of burgers named for every member of the family: Mama, Teen and Baby, too. Each came with its own toppings and sauces named for the burger (like Papa Sauce and Teen Sauce, which sound just a little strange), and varied in size, with Papa as the largest and Baby offered to kids. The Burger Family became a marketing tactic throughout the 1960s, and A&W invested in roadside statutes of all four family members, complete with burgers and frosted mugs of root beer. Like the statues, most of the Burger Family is gone for American A&W fans. But, Canadian A&Ws still offer the entire Burger Family, along with some new members, like the Grandpa and Uncle burgers.

8. ONE BURGER HAD A HORRIBLE NAME.

Check out this awesome menu we found from our Clarkston, Washington A&W- circa 1960! "Like" if you remember any of these menu items- Awful Awful Burger, anyone? ;)

Posted by A&W Restaurants on Monday, February 4, 2013

A&W used to offer the Awful Awful burger. The jumbo burger really wasn’t anything unusual—stacked with two burger patties, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo and pickles. But, considering most A&W burgers only had one patty, this was an awful lot of sandwich. In 1960, you could get the Awful Awful burger for $1.10 (which with inflation would now be about $8.85).

9. YOU COULDN'T GET ROOT BEER IN A BOTTLE UNTIL 1971.

That’s because A&W only offered their standout beverage in frosted mugs within its restaurants. By the late '60s, widespread demand pushed A&W headquarters to look at distribution, and in 1971, the first cans and bottles of A&W Root Beer rolled into stores. Other sodas, like A&W Cream Soda, sugar-free and diet root beers didn’t hit shelves until the late 1980s.

10. ROOT BEER HAS A SHELF-LIFE, AND IT'S PROBABLY NOT AS LONG AS YOU THINK.

If you’ve ever thought of stocking up on A&W soda, take note. Root beer’s freshness all depends on the container and sugar content. Glass bottles and cans of A&W root beer will get you the furthest with a “best by” date of 39 weeks after they leave the factory. The brand’s diet sodas and soft drinks that come in plastic bottles have a shelf-life of only 13 weeks.

11. THE MARRIOTT FAMILY OWNED AN A&W BEFORE LAUNCHING THEIR HOTEL CHAIN.

J. Williard and Alice Marriott, the founders of Marriott Hotels, first ran an A&W root beer stand together in Washington, D.C. The couple opened the root beer spot in 1927, adding in chili, coffee and hot tamales, and called their restaurant Hot Shoppes. Within a year, the Marriotts opened two more restaurants and began exploring other monetizing options. During the late 1930s, Hot Shoppes’ meal became a standard food item for airplane passengers flying through Washington D.C., and in the 1950s, the Hot Shoppes restaurants began providing food to area hospitals, meanwhile buying other fast-food chains. The Hot Shoppes success helped support construction of the first Marriott Hotel in 1957.

12. A&W’S MAMMAL MASCOT IS A PRETTY GOOD PLAY ON WORDS.

A&W’s mascot, Rooty the Great Root Bear, emerged from the restaurant’s marketing department in 1974. But, for the past four decades, he’s been occasionally sent back into hibernation as A&W considers other marketing campaigns. In 2013, A&W revived the pants-less, root beer-loving bear with his own YouTube show about leaving his den and returning to work at A&W. But this decades-old bear isn’t completely old school; Rooty is pretty active online and even has an app. Perhaps that’s what’s made A&W a century-long success—being able to change with the times while offering a little nostalgia.

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The Top Excuses Employees Give for Being Late to Work
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Expecting staff to just get out of bed and show up on time seems like a low bar for an employer to set, but some workers have trouble meeting this bare-minimum obligation. Their stated reasons can almost sound believable.

Job placement site CareerBuilder.com recently conducted a survey and asked 800 respondents in various age brackets how often they were late for work, as well as over 1000 human resource managers for data on missing workers. Overall, one in four employees admitted to being tardy at least once a month. Those aged 18 to 34 were the most frequently late, with 38 percent clocking in past their expected arrival. Only 14 percent of workers 45 and older were less-than-punctual.

As for excuses: 51 percent said traffic was the most common reason they straggled in. Around 31 percent said oversleeping was an issue, while bad weather (28 percent) and forgetting something and having to return home (13 percent) plagued others.

According to human resources managers, some workers claimed that they were late because their coffee was too hot; that they fell asleep in the parking lot; that it was too cold outside to travel; or that their false eyelashes were stuck together.

Not surprisingly, CareerBuilder also found that 88 percent of workers were in favor of a flexible work schedule.

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14 Secrets of Costco Employees
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Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Costco has become something of a unicorn in the brick-and-mortar industry. While employees at other chains express concerns over low wages and questionable management choices, the 200,000-plus ground troops at Costco’s massive shopping centers rave about generous pay ($13 to $22.50 hourly, depending on seniority), comprehensive benefits, and pension plans. After one year of employment, the turnover rate is only 6 percent, compared to an average of 16 percent across the retail industry. Not having to incur costs of training replacements is just one reason the company keeps prices low.

It’s no secret that Costco employees are a relatively happy bunch. But we wanted a little more information, so we’ve asked several current Costco workers about everything from pet peeves to nail polish bans to revoking memberships. (All requested we use only their first names to preserve anonymity.) Here’s what they had to tell us about life in the pallets.

1. WORKING THERE IS BETTER THAN GOING TO THE GYM.

Turns out that navigating a warehouse full of goods stacked to the ceiling is kind of like getting an all-day gym pass. “I walk about five to eight miles a day on average, and that's all within the confines of the store,” says Rachael, a Costco employee in Colorado. “When you see pallets stacked with 50-pound bags of flour or sugar or dog food or cat litter, a lot of that stuff had to be stacked by hand by employees before the store opens. Ditto for those giant stacks of shoes and bottles of salsa or five-gallon jugs of cooking oil. It's a lot of hard work.”

2. THEY CAN DO THEIR SHOPPING AFTER HOURS.

Costco shopping carts are arranged together
Brendan Smialowski, Getty Images

While employees typically don’t get shopping discounts, they have something that’s arguably better: the opportunity to shop in a near-empty store. “You can shop after hours, and a lot of employees do that,” says Kathleen, a Costco employee in Washington state. “You just bring your cart to the front register.” The store will keep the member service counter open so workers can check out after other registers have closed.

3. THE GENEROUS RETURN POLICY CAN GET MESSY.

Costco infamously places very few restrictions on returns. Most anything purchased there can be brought back for a refund as part of the company’s overall emphasis on exceptional customer service. Naturally, some members are willing to abuse the privilege. “Members return couches that are over five years old, and interestingly enough, they still have the receipt,” Rachael says. “My guess is that they buy that couch with the intention of returning it someday, so they tape the receipt to the bottom of the couch so they don't lose it. Then, when they've worn it out and want something new, they bring it back and get a full refund.”

Rachael has also seen a member return a freezer that was allegedly no longer working. The store refunded both the cost of the appliance and the spoiled meat inside. “The meat smelled like death,” she says.

4. THEY CAN ALSO TELL WHEN YOU’RE A SERIAL RETURNER.

A shopper at Costco looks at the computer display
Tim Boyle, Getty Images

Costco purchase records typically date back 10 years or so, but employees working the return counter don’t always need to reference your account to know that you're making a habit of getting refunds. “When someone comes in to return something without a receipt and they go, ‘Oh, you can look it up on my account,’ that’s a tell,” says Thomas, an employee in California. “It tells me you return so much stuff that you know what we can find on the computer.”

5. THERE’S A CONVENIENCE STORE-WITHIN-A-STORE.

While employees are generally allowed to eat their lunch or dinner meals in the food court, not all of them are crazy about pizza and hot dogs as part of their daily diet. Many opt for the employee break room, which—in some warehouse locations—looks more like a highway rest stop. Rows of vending machines offer fresh meals, snacks, and sodas, along with a complete kitchen for preparing food brought from home. “[It’s a] relatively new addition that is being implemented at more warehouses,” says Steve, an employee in California. “It's basically like a gas station's convenience store, with both frozen and fresh meals and snacks. The only difference is the prices are more reasonable.”

6. THERE’S A GOOD REASON THERE ISN’T AN EXPRESS CHECKOUT LANE.

A Costco shopper goes through the checkout lane
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Walk into a Costco and you’ll probably notice an employee with a click counter taking inventory of incoming members. According to Rachael, that head count gets relayed to the supervisor in charge of opening registers. “They know that for a certain amount of people entering the store, within a certain amount of time, there should be a certain amount of registers open to accommodate those shoppers who are ready to check out,” she says. If there aren’t enough cashiers on hand, the supervisor can pull from other departments: Most employees are “cross-trained” to help out when areas are understaffed.

7. THERE’S A METHOD TO THE RECEIPT CHECK.

Customers sometimes feel offended when they’re met at the exit by an employee scanning their receipt, but it’s all in an effort to mitigate loss prevention and keep prices low. “We’re looking for items on the bottom of the cart, big items like TVs, or alcohol,” Thomas says. Typically, the value of these items might make it worth the risk for a customer who's trying to shoplift—and they're worth the double-check.

8. THEY TAKE SAFE FOOD HANDLING TO A NEW LEVEL ...

A Costco employee works in food preparation
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

At Costco, employees are expected to exercise extreme caution when preparing and serving hot dogs, pizza, chicken and other food to members. “If an employee forgets to remove their apron before exiting the department, they must remove that apron, toss it into the hamper, and put on a fresh apron because now it's contaminated,” Rachael says. “Or, let's say a member asks for a slice of cheese pizza. We place that piece onto a plate, with tongs, of course, then place the plate onto the counter. If the member says, ‘Oh darn, I've changed my mind, I'd rather have pepperoni pizza,’ then we have to toss the pizza that they didn't want into the trash. Once it hits the counter, it can't come back.” Some store protocols even prohibit employees from wearing nail polish in food prep areas—it could chip and get into the food.

9. ... BUT WORKING AT THE FOOD COURT CAN PREPARE THEM FOR ANYTHING.

Costco employees who find themselves behind the counter at the chain’s food court say it's one of the few less-than-pleasant experiences of working there. For some members, the dynamic of waiting on food and peering over a service counter can make them forget their manners. “Usually members are rude when they are waiting on their pizza during a busy time,” Steve says. “If an employee can excel in the food court, any other position in the warehouse is pretty easy by comparison.”

10. THEY GET FREE TURKEYS.

Costco’s generous wages and benefits keep employment applications stacked high. What people don’t realize, Kathleen says, is that the company’s attention to employee satisfaction can result in getting gifted a giant bird. “We get free turkeys for Thanksgiving,” she says. “I didn’t even know that before I started working there. It’s a nice perk.”

11. THEY CAN REVOKE YOUR MEMBERSHIP.

Shoppers go down an aisle at Costco
Gabriel Buoys, AFP/Getty Images

But it’s got to be a pretty extreme situation. According to Thomas, memberships can be terminated if a member is caught stealing or having a physical altercation inside the store. For less severe infractions, employees can make notes under a “comments” section of your membership. They’ll do that for frequent returns, if you’re verbally aggressive, or if you like to rummage through pre-packaged produce looking for the best apples. (Don’t do that.)

12. MANAGERS GET THEIR HANDS DIRTY.

During peak business times on weekends and around holidays, the influx of customer traffic can get so formidable that managers jump in with employees to make sure everything gets taken care of. “Most people would be surprised if they realized that the person who just put all of their groceries into their cart at the registers or who helped load that huge mattress into their car was actually the store's general manager,” Rachael says.

13. EVERY DAILY STORE OPENING IS CONTROLLED CHAOS …

Shoppers appear in front of a Costco store
Scott Olsen, Getty Images

Like most any retail store, Costco prides itself on presenting a clean, efficient, and organized layout that holds little trace of the labor that went into overnight stocking or display preparation. But if a customer ever happened to see the store in the last hour before opening each day, they’d witness a flurry of activity. “It's controlled chaos with loud music along with the blaring of the forklift sirens,” Steve says. “Employees are rushing to finish and clean up, drivers are rushing to put merchandising in the steel [shelving], and the floor scrubber slowly but surely makes its way around the warehouse. It truly is a remarkable choreography that happens seven days a week.”

14. … AND EVERY CLOSING IS A SLOW MARCH.

To avoid stragglers, Costco employees form a line and walk down aisles to encourage customers to move toward the front of the store so they can check out before closing. Once the doors are locked, overnight stocking begins in anticipation of another day at the world’s coziest warehouse. “Our store has over 250 employees altogether,” Rachael says. “If all of us do our little bit, then it's a well-oiled machine that runs without a hitch.”

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