In life today, one thing is certain - no matter what you do, you are always going to need money. One way of raising money, if you are still at school or a student, is to get a part-time job. A fast food restaurant is a common place where many young people work to earn some cash.
Work in a fast food restaurant has more to it than you would initially consider. It is true that there are the obvious chores such as cooking the food, serving people, sweeping the floors and washing tables. Not only do you have to learn the correct way to do these seemingly obvious tasks (for example, the 'triple-arch' method of making chips salty), there are many less obvious tasks to perform, such as keeping the car park tidy, unblocking the toilets, counting the amount of loose meat in a freezer and keeping your balance on the top of a ladder in an attempt to clean the ceiling.
When you start work, the first thing that people notice straight away is that the longer people have worked there, the fatter they are. The second thing which people notice straight away, and are confused by, is the lingo. In a fast food joint, there are words and phrases for practically everything, not all of which makes sense at first glance. Here are a few examples of what you might expect:
- Dive - Washing up the kitchen utensils
- Bing Bong - A car in the drive-through awaiting service
- In the bin - The food is cooked
- Monkey - Person doing the 'dive' (by extension, any other unpleasant task)
- Giraffe - Someone having to do six things at once
- The cones are up - We are closed
- Fries - Chips
- Deluxe - Cheese, lettuce and mayonnaise
- Quarter - A quarter-pounder with cheese
- Quarterham - A quarter-pounder without cheese
- Fishie-wishies - Fishfingers
- Extra-Large/Supersize - Above Average
- Large - Medium
- Medium - Small
- Regular - Microscopic
- Trash walk - Picking up all the rubbish the customers have dropped outside the store, also taking the rubbish out to the bin
Once you understand sentences such as 'You're my monkey tonight, between the bing bongs I want you to dive' 1, know what you can and can't clean with each of the different types of cloths, and have picked up that an apron is only to protect the patrons and food from you, you are ready to come face-to-face with the customers.
During the day, serving the customers can be a rewarding experience. Most of it is like any other serving job; the customers ask to buy something, you give them what they want, and everyone's happy. Young children are almost always a pleasure to serve, especially at parties, although the same cannot always be said for young teenagers.
Overall, daytime serving is, if not ecstatic, at least not as bad as the night shift.
There are, of course, some instances where you and the public fall out, through no fault of your own. One of them is to do with the price.
Customers often, quite rightly, wish to know how much something may cost, and understandably, but naively, assume that you do. Chances are you do not, for in chain stores with a large number of outlets, at any one time up to three items may be on a special offer price. Frequently, prices go up, as alas all prices do, or even come down as an effort to snub the competition. The prices of everything change so often it really isn't worth trying to find out how much anything is as you'll only confuse yourself. Don't make the same mistake of assuming the managers know how much anything costs either; they have less idea than you do. The best you can do is to point at the menu boards which have the cost, which nine times out of ten are placed where only the customers can see them. After all, the customers buy the food, not you. If you do know how much anything there costs, be worried. It's a sign that you've been there too long, and need another job.
Another problem is that if a customer ever changes their mind about an order, or you accidentally press the wrong button on the till (easy to do as the till layout changes completely after each promotion and when new items are added to the menu) you are not allowed to correct the mistake yourself, but have to get a manager to do it for you. This often makes everything take far too long, and it would be a lot simpler if they let you do your job without having to find a free manager to do the simplest task.
A common complaint is that the chips are cold. This is usually caused by fast food chains having a strange policy that states that you are only allowed to serve cool chips. Presumably this is to prevent children's mouths from being burnt or something, but it does put you in awkward situations with customers who feel that you have insulted them personally by serving them cold chips. Sadly, you cannot give the best advice which is to go to a chippy, but hope to find some chips that are slightly warmer.
But no matter what, never resort to telling the customer to 'Have a nice day'. You have your pride, after all.
The first thing you notice in the kitchen is it's hot. Working in the kitchen on a warm summer's day can literally be Hell. The second thing you notice in the kitchen is that it's noisy. The toasters, when they have finished toasting, go either 'beep-beep-beep' or 'buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz'. The vats where chicken nuggets, chicken burgers, fish burgers, fishfingers and apple pies are cooked make a 'be-Beep-be-beep-be-beep' sound. As do the chip vats - except that they go 'beep-beep-beep' three times for each basket of chips cooked. Oh, and the bun steamer makes a 'be-bee-bee-bee-bee-beeeeeep' noise. This, along with the 'bing-bong' noise you hear whenever a car goes through the drive-through, and the bips made when a button is pressed on the tills means you either get a headache, or you stop hearing all beeping noises - which can cause problems if you ever want an alarm clock to wake you up again.
The second thing you notice in the kitchens is the food. You soon need to know how to cook the food quickly and safely and comply to all the safety regulations, which includes having to spend half an hour struggling with the compulsory hair net, trying to prevent it from strangling and blinding you and convincing it to stay on your head - a task that's not as easy as you would imagine. If you work in the kitchen and aren't burnt, scolded and blistered at least a dozen times, then it's a miracle.
After 10pm, chances are that only one person will be left in the kitchen cooking; you. This is so that everyone else can get on with the job of cleaning and getting ready to close the store, but also means that if several people come in at once ordering different food, you're rushed off your feet in a mad panic (you are now a 'giraffe'). The best thing to do in these situations is to panic, and do your best to be a miracle worker while the customers grow impatient.
One thing unique to fast-food restaurants is the drive-through (also called 'Drive-Thru') service. This is where customers can quickly drive through the restaurant and be served without having to leave their car. Although this should always be a fast service, sometimes it doesn't quite work out like that.
Working Drive-Through is very similar to working the tills, except you don't have to collect the food yourself if you are at the first window, or if you are at the last, you don't have to take the money. You also get to experience road rage as well as normally irate customers. The first thing you are told when working the payment side of the drive-through is to shut and lock your window between each car. This, reassuringly, is to prevent armed robbers threatening you with a gun. How much protection the small glass window would be if they shot at you is a matter open to doubt. You also aren't told what to do if the robbers get out their guns after you have unlocked and re-opened the window.
Customers approaching the drive-through when the store is quiet and no cars are ahead may have to wait a short while for the person who serves them to arrive. This is because often the person who serves in a drive-through has a number of other duties to attend to in between cars, including the 'dive', assembling and putting toys in the children's meals boxes and taking them down to the front counter, as well as tidying up the back and outside of the store. Fortunately, this wait is never very long.
About 30% of the time, a delay is caused by someone in the queue driving up to the window and, instead of asking for service, makes a phone call, often to friends and family, saying something along the lines of, 'I'm at the drive-through, what would you like?'. It would be very helpful if people who want to ask these people what they want would park their car in the car park nearby and then make the call. This would prevent a delay and keep everybody calm.
20% of the time a delay is caused by someone driving up to the window and asking for a list of everything that is sold, complete with descriptions, and then taking ages to decide on what to have. In these cases it would be easier if the customer would park their car and go into the store, look at the menu board and see there what the burgers are as other people are served them.
But over 48% of the time a queue and delay is caused through the store being busy, and no amounts of honking horns or swearing at the person trying to serve you will help. Remember, a mini-bus containing eight people making eight separate orders takes as long to serve as eight cars with one person inside. Similarly, a normal family car can seat five people, and so taking five people's orders can take as long as five cars with only one person inside.
The Night Shift
If you are a student, then chances are you will be working during the night shift. That is when the old adage 'The customer is always right' is even more inaccurate then ever. After 9pm, the customer is always drunk, and after 10pm, the customer is always drunk and in a bad mood as he's just been chucked out the pub for being too violent and is determined to pick a fight with someone. During the night shift a different approach to the customers should be adopted; hiding works best.
It is during the night shift that you come into contact with customers who urinate and are sick over the floors and walls2, people who throw bricks through the windows, people who try to set the restaurant on fire by piling up loo roll and napkins and lighting it, food fights, people who have a strange obsession with trying to steal bin bags, and people who just want to attack you. And you are the one who has to sort all this out. Yes, if you ever want to see humanity at its lowest, a fast food joint's night shift is the place to go.
The best thing to do when handling complaints at this time is to be polite, reasonable, and then get a manager to deal with it while you hide; they get paid more than you.
How to Help
So, what can you as a potential fast food customer do to make life a little easier for the staff in fast food restaurants? A few small changes in the way you approach the counter can make a great deal of difference, and life for those working so much easier.
The main thing to remember is simple; say what you mean and mean what you say.
Common mistakes are to ask for a 'burger', a 'children's meal' or an 'ice-cream' when between 5 and 15 different varieties of each are available. Similarly, don't ask for 'chicken' - is that chicken nuggets, chicken sandwich, a chicken burger, a chicken wrap or chicken wings?
Also, do not ask for a 'normal burger'. If people agreed with what a 'normal' burger was, this would be no problem. Alas, some people think the smallest burger is normal, while to others it is obviously either the medium-sized or the largest one. Others think a 'normal' burger is a hamburger without cheese, others think it's a cheese-burger. Is a 'normal' burger plain, without any dressing, or one with all the toppings? To different people, the answer is different.
Similarly, one common obsession that customers have is burgers without relish. Most fast food restaurants will, if you ask, cook burgers to order including what you wish, and without anything you dislike. However, customers often say that they want burgers 'without relish' without knowing what it is they want.
What, after all, is 'relish'? The following is a conversation that takes place at least eight times a day:
Customer - Hello, can I have a cheeseburger without relish, please?
Server - Yes, you can have a cheeseburger - but they do not have relish in them. They only come with mustard, ketchup, onion, pickled gherkins and cheese. Would you like it plain?
Customer - No, no, I'd like it to have everything except relish.
Server - So, is that no ketchup?
Customer - I like ketchup.
Server - Okay, without mustard?
Customer - Leave the mustard in.
Server - Okay, without onion and gherkins, then?
Customer - No, no, I want onion and gherkins in my cheeseburger.
Server - So you want a cheeseburger with ketchup, mustard, onion and gherkins, then?
Customer - That's right - just without relish.
Also, please look at the menu board if you want to know how much things cost. Sadly, they aren't normally located where those serving you can easily see them, and staff are not told when the prices of things change.3 The only way that part-time workers can easily find out how much something costs before putting it into the till is by looking at the menu board themselves.
Remember, it's fast food, but not instantaneous food. Some things can take as long as eight minutes to cook, and as long as two minutes to prepare, and so a wait of ten minutes is not unusual. Shouting loudly at the person serving you 'I've been here ten minutes!' isn't going to make your food cook any faster, and besides which they know. Chances are they've been there ten hours, and they're not shouting at you.
Please also put all rubbish in the bins provided - littering isn't clever and it's not friendly, so don't do it. If all the bins are overflowing, either put your rubbish tidily somewhere where, when the bins are emptied, it can easily be removed, or take it with you. It won't hurt you to carry litter with you, either home or to another bin. Dropping litter in the streets can hurt, and even kill, birds and small animals, such as hedgehogs.
What you Gain
You cannot have any form of job without gaining anything in return. Work at a fast food restaurant is the same; you do gain from the experience. At first, it is nothing but jokes but then the more long term, and unexpected, effects settle in. One is the ability of any man eating a burger after 10pm to send you into a quivering wreck.
Overall, work in a fast food restaurant should teach you about teamwork, trust, building confidence, coping with difficult situations and developing people skills. But honestly, it's about the money.
Related H2G2 Links
Read about everyone's favourite fast food - Fish and Chips
Learn more about Fast Food.
Read your H2G2 Fast Food User Manual.
Fast Food is also available on the street! Read about Hot Dog Stands and Other Street Foods.