Can I Get a Life With That? Tales From a Fast Food Worker’s Hell

With the school year starting and thousands of students flooding into London, there’s going to be some stiff competition battling over the few jobs there are. After months of searching you might abandon your hopes of landing that dream job, become desperate, and start applying anywhere; like the strip club or worse; a fast food restaurant. Before jumping on that ship, let me tell you some horror stories of working in the greasy underbelly of the fast food world.

Working in the exciting world of fast food was my very first job and for some reason the one I held onto the longest. I started at this “restaurant” (if you can legally call what they serve food) when I was 15, excited to be working at my very first job and making my own money. This feeling quickly faded. 

During the intense interview process, your interviewer decides where your unique skills could best be utilized. If you can speak a couple of English words and can push buttons without going into a mental breakdown, they stick you on front counter to take orders. If your way of speaking involves series of clicks and blinking, or you have a violent tendency for beating people over the head with a wooden bat; you get stuck on grill because you’re a danger to society. I faked my way to front counter.

The training at fast food places are so in depth and precise, you swear they were trusting you with transporting plutonium through a minefield of puppies and newborns. Working in fast food began my journey realizing the less important job you have, the more training you receive.

I remember vividly my manager telling me people often don’t get this right the first time, while showing me in detail on how to use the very complicated broom. That’s right, they teach you how to sweep properly because someone in the past screwed it up that badly, they decided to include it in the training. Don’t worry though; there are helpful training books and guides posted everywhere if you forget.

Everything was done a certain way, down to properly cleaning a table, to how close to place pickles on your burger. (Pickles are friends, not lovers. They shouldn’t be touching). It was a well-oiled machine, run by the oily teenagers working there.

Working at front counter of a fast food restaurant for even a week, gets you very familiar with the “Regulars”. These eccentric people would come in every single day, rain or shine and get the same exact order. They usually would be old retired people that hobble into the store to enjoy our subpar coffee and stale muffins. They would sit there from morning to night, getting refill after refill like it’s there day job. Acting like they had diplomatic immunity, it didn’t matter if the line of customers was going out the door; they would happily budge right to the front and to get some free water. It takes balls to budge in front of that many people, but I guess when you’re close to dying, you don’t give a shit.

For however bad those regulars were, it wasn’t as bad as the immobile blobs that actually ordered food. When the same people came in everyday and got a triple Artery clog Burger, large fries and chocolate shake, you just wanted to sit them down and tell them to get help. You were basically working a double job, one as fast food worker and one as the Grim Reaper, handing customer’s slow death on a plastic tray. I think these restaurants should have a scale when you step up to order. If you exceed the weight limit, a flatbed truck comes and tows you off to a gym. Who’s kidding who though, fat people don’t come into the restaurant to order, that would be too much energy.  They go to drive-through where they have a paramedic team on standby in case of a heart attack from stretching their stubby arm out to get the food.

If you’re ever wondering, how the hell can people work at these places day after day for low pay, long hours and get yelled at constantly by customers. Your answer would be drugs; everyone is on drugs. People are so baked in these places that most of the stores profits come from the employees eating on breaks. It doesn’t matter if it was the morning, afternoon or graveyard shift, groups of people young and old go out beside the dumpsters and smoke up to handle making hamburgers and fake smiling at your stupid customer face for 8 hours.

Every fast-food place always has one manager that just takes their job way to seriously. They feel entitled to boss you around and make your job a living hell because they wear a different colored shirt and make $1.40 more than you. My manager let’s call her “Rochelle,” was a lifer.

What’s a lifer you ask? A lifer is a person who stays at a low level job like fast food or Wal-Mart their whole life because they don’t have dreams or aspirations. This job is their entire life when you just work here to get candy money. Rochelle would constantly make me stay late after my shift was over to scrub down the fry machine or mop the entire lobby floor. When she was feeling particularly evil she would send me into the play place to clean up piss and god knows what, out of the slides with nothing but a rag and a spray bottle. I don’t know how that small of a child can hold that much liquid in them.

The most common misconception people have about these jobs is that the employees really care about their job. Seriously, if you come in and say your burger tasted a little funny or we forgot to put ketchup in your bag; we may act like we care, but that’s just part of the training. They put a bunch of teenagers and old people who gave up on their dreams in a restaurant and told them to give the best customer service possible. That’s like putting a bunch of convicts in charge of a police charity ball and telling it too make it the best party ever. My thing it was just a minimum wage job, if someone was going to yell at me because we put pickles on his burgers, I would just keep handing them free pie and ice-cream with a blank stare on my face until they left.

You soon realize at these places safety protocol and cleanliness gets thrown out the window when the restaurant gets busy. Getting the customer their food and out of the restaurant is the number one objective. Managers often turned a blind eye when it got busy and it turned it from a restaurant into more of a free for all. Drop a chicken nugget on the floor? Dust it off and hand it out. Sneeze while making a burger? Snot adds extra protein. Drop a spatula inside the ice-cream machine? Well say it’s a new promotional flavor.

As long as the customer didn’t see, everything was fair game. Quoting the Henry Winkler in The Water Boy, “What momma don’t know, can’t hurt her.”
You never really do get that stink off of you. Even as I’m writing this, I can smell the grease of the fries and the hamburgers lingering off of my grease stained skin. It wasn’t just my work uniform that stunk no matter how hard you washed it, the stink seeped onto any clothes you brought into the store. I thought my backpack and school clothes would be safe, but that 5 second walk through the kitchen to the break room was enough for the stink to latch onto the fibers. My children’s children will inherit this smell, it sunk into my DNA and forever make the Dunster lineage a bunch of greasy fry smelling people. Sorry kids, good luck with that one.

After a good 5 years, I decided it was time for me to grow up and get a real job. I handed in my 2 week notice when I was 18 years old. This was because I wanted to work somewhere full time and make more money, but mostly because some of the new employees they hired were young enough to not know who Vanilla Ice was. I had a nightmare of turning into that creepy guy who still works there and goes on in the break room telling stories when a hamburger cost a nickel and you’d bring your best girl here for a date before hitting up the old quarry.

My advice is whatever you do, for god sakes, stay in school, work hard at it so you don’t end up being a “lifer”. If you do end up on that path, remember become a manager get all the free food in the world and go splurge yourself and buy some good weed from the kids behind the dumpster.

[McDonald's image via ShutterStock]

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