You won't find Hamburger College listed in Lovejoy's Guide to Colleges and Universities. It has no campus, no football team and no fraternities. But Hamburger College does have students - students who are hungry to learn how to make and sell a better hamburger.
Hamburger College (officially known as McDonald's Washington Regional Training Center) opened in Silver Spring Monday and graduated its first class yesterday. It it here that future store managers and area supervisors for the giant hamburger chain are taught the ins and outs of the burger business.
"This is the finest hamburger college in the country," says Mike Fountaine, McDonald's regional training manager and director of the college.
Hiden away in a small but comfortable suite of offices on Georgia Avenue, Hamburger College is the latest and most sophisticated facility in McDonald's estensive management training program. The new school (which replaces the original one built 10 years ago in Chillum, Md.) cost the company $400,000, with a quarter of that amount being spent on an impressive array of audio-visual equipment.
McDonald's provides the school with as assortment of motivational and educational 16mm and Super 8mm films. There are also video tapes with titles like "Fries" "Problem Solving Skills" and "Hot Apple and Cherry Pies" as well as more than 20,000 slides depicting every aspect of operating a McDonald's.
The school serves the 180 restauants in McDonald's Vienna region which includes all of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia and matriculates students (1,000 to 1,500 a year) almost as fast as the new McDonald's next door turns out Big Macs. Eventually the new restaurant (McDonald's No. 4,602) will become a training store for the students where they can experiences first hand what they see on films and slides.
"What they get here is management science. How to run a huge volume store," says Tom Farace, a long-time McDonald's employe and one of the college's two instructors, "We try to set the image here."
New trainees first spend 30 to 60 days behind the counter of a McDonalds to "learn the basics - how to run fries, how to run the grill and how to deal with customers," according to Fountain.
After passing an entrance examinatin, recruits, usually 30 to a group, come to the college where they attend a week-long series of lectures, films and demonstrations under the general description of Techniques in Effective Management.
During that week they are taught everything from inventory to recognizing short change artists to the proper temperature at which to cook a hamburger. "We're constantly emphasizing that the customer is first," says Fountaine, who has been with McDonald's for ten years.
The three key words in Fountain's and McDonald's philosophy are quality, service and cleaniness (or QSC) "We give them the basics to be able to run a shift." Fountaine says, "People, QSC, volume and profit, in that order."
It is during that first week of intensive training that the students will find out whether or not they can cut the mustard in the hamburger industry. "We have a 30 to 35 percent turnover rate in manager trainees," Fountaine admits, "McDonalds invests a lot of money in training them so if we lose them we like to lose them early."
"It's run very similar to a normal college," he says. And like other institutions of higher learning, Hamburger College graduates are awarded a degree - a degree in "Hamburgerology" and are then sent back into the restaurants where most are promoted to second assistant to the store manager.
Soon after being promoted, the second assistants will return for three more days of classes mostly dealing with equipment - how to "troubleshoot" and repair grills, toasters and milk shake machines. They will also be introduced to the world of profit and loss. "As a manager trainee they don't hear anything about profits," says Fountaine.
For the rest of the month (the manager trainee courses are offered one week a month) Hamburger College opens its doors to mid-management personnel. "We will teach every type of person at McDonald's," Fountaine explaines, "We go all the way up to area superviors."
The facility also serves a meeting place for regional managers and operations managers. "We are in a supportive function, as far as McDonald's is concerned," says Fountaine, "If an operations manager (who supervises up to 20 restaurants) has a problem, he can bring his managers and people in and have a class."
Those who want ot become restaurant managers will go on to study at Hamburger University in Elk Grove. Ill. Others may branch off into advertising, personnel or other fields. But Hamburger College is where they take the first step in a fast food career.
According to Fountaine about 25 to 30 percent of the manager trainees come up from the ranks, but most of them like Robert Cooper of Baltimore come from the outside.
Cooper answered an ad in the paper three months ago. "I'm not getting any younger," he says, "And it looked like a good opportunity. So far everything looks good to me."
"I was stuck in my job," says Fred Thompson of Rockville who has been with the company four weeks after serving his apprenticeship at the Wheaton Plaza store, "Here they push you and if you've got the drive you can go anywhere.It's a programmed, accelerated course. It's very well organized."
Thompson looked into a number of manager trainee programs at various large corporations and found that McDonald's offered the best chance for upward mobility. "There's something about McDonald's," he says, "There's a lot of in-store competition and friendly comraderies between managers."
Thompson sat in the break room with the other students who were discussing the just-conluded lecture on security and munching on Quarter Pounders with cheese. "I don't eat them," he says, nodding to a huge bag of burgers, "But I do like their milkshakes."