When I was 16 and in search of disposable income, I headed first to McDonald’s for employment.
It had been my short life-long dream to work there. It seemed like a “cool” enough place to work. It’s where my friends hung out. The grill guys were hot. And back then, the McDonald’s menu represented all of my favorite foods.
No one had spoiled it for me yet by talking about childhood obesity, clogged arteries, or how happy meal toys were part of a deceptive advertising conspiracy.
All I cared was that I would be surrounded by the best french fries known to man, and I’d get a paycheck to boot. My dream job!
My first attempt at employment was not successful. I completed an application that contained no prior job history or experience and waited impatiently for a call-back. There would be none. I didn’t let that small fact deter me, though. I returned a week later and filled out yet another application and requested the manager. He recalled my name and seemed impressed that I had followed up. This time I got a call-back the next day. And it’s when I learned that persistency pays off.
The next two years is McHistory.
Sure, there would be other bigger, better positions, and I would eventually pursue them with the same enthusiasm. But I owe my first job at Mickey D’s for teaching me valuable life lessons that I would carry with me into the corporate world.
Now let me be straight with you right from the start. My list is not a plug for quitting your current job and filling out an application for a fry clerk position. I don’t want to give you delusions of grandeur. I’m not here to mislead you by saying I gained leadership skills or a great desire to rise to the top. And I’m not glancing over my keyboard from my penthouse office in the sky as I write. It’s quite possible, in fact, that my faulty memory has transformed my whole burger-flipping experience into something that was maybe a little less than I remember.
But for what it’s worth, here are my little “nuggets” of wisdom gained from a world where a clown named Ronald is king, and the mayor has a Big Mac for a head.
Dress appropriately for the position.
I started to make this ”dress for success”, the strategy that if you dress as though you are one level above your current position, success will naturally follow. That didn’t really apply to the fast food industry, because we had uniforms. The picture on the left IS my old uniform. As such, I would have been glad to dress like the swing manager, because his wasn’t made of polyester, and it wasn’t this ugly rust/brown/color of mud. Instead, I conformed.
Multi-Tasking is a Talent
Hungry people are not always pleasant, and they do not like to wait. Give them a wrong order, and…well, they may write a blog post about you, such as Is That For Here Or To Go?.
The ideal fast food worker is a greeter, an order taker, an order filler, a cashier, a cook, a janitor, and much more. That’s a lot to juggle during peak times. On a really busy day, you may get a bus or two pull into the parking lot. The next thing you know, there are 100-200 high school athletes that are jacked-up and hungry, and they’re all looking at you.
But you haven’t worked a real day in your life until you’ve scrubbed down a public bathroom. Picture this. The trash cans are full of mysterious “things”, the toilet is overflowing, and someone has up-chucked the then-famous McRib sandwich on the floor and half the wall. It’s not a job for the glamorous.
If you can survive all of that, you might get “promoted” to the drive-thru, which is the best job in the place because 1) it offers a great window view, 2) you get some breathing room from management which is the perfect opportunity to snag a handful of fries, and 3) the drive-thru is never boring.
To make things even harder, we would get surprise visits from regional management, where everything was open for inspection. You just didn’t know it at the time. The food, the service, the drive-thru, the speed with which you filled the orders, everything was fair game.
And you would hear about it if anything was not up to par.
Drive-thru customers were to be at the speaker no longer than 15 seconds. The entire drive-thru process was to take no longer than one minute. I ask you the obvious rhetorical question…have you ever made it through a drive-thru within a minute?
It’s not easy though. You have people on the speaker, cars lined up around the curb, someone glaring at you from the window, the beverage machine is out of coke, and some dude just ordered unsalted french fries. At the worst, you may have to ”park” a car, because the food isn’t ready, and then you have to brave the elements and walk the food out while the next people in line throw a fit.
Time is Money
Everyone needs to punch a time clock at least once in their lifetime. The insertion of the timecard into that ticking clock symbolizes the time you arrive, the time you check in/out for that 30-minute break, the time you leave, and is ultimately tied to that paycheck you hope to get.
I’d love to be able to tell you that this whole process made me punctual. It didn’t. But at least I’m keenly aware that I need to work on that…even now.
There is no “I” in team.
You had to be friends with the other cashiers, or they’d abandon the register and let all those bus kids file into your line. You had to befriend the grill people, so they would let you know when your special orders were up. You had to work the fry bin, so you wouldn’t be left literally holding the bag. And it didn’t matter if you were sunburned and the lamp from the fry bin was burning through the first three layers of your skin. No, you sucked it up as being a team player.
You must play by the rules.
When making a drink, the ice level was supposed to meet the top of the golden arch, unless the customer specified otherwise. French fries were supposed to be at a certain level as well, and I was scolded a few times for putting too many fries in the containers. Overfilling would only raise expectations. The customer might then feel shortchanged when they got less the next time. I get this. Shortchanged people are easily angered.
Always look busy…even if you’re not.
On my first day on the job, I wasn’t really sure what to do between customers. I soon learned the importance of looking busy. Never just stand around. No, you grab a rag and wipe the counter, wipe food trays, just wipe anything!
The upside to looking busy? Someone else gets assigned to bathroom duty.
Always Say Thank You.
Going back to those surprise visits by those scary regional guys, I got busted on this once. Of course, I was all about thanking patrons and knew that they were the reason for my employment, but apparently I somehow missed 3 out of 10 customers. As a I result, I got a write-up. Ooooh.
I may sound bitter, but I can’t help but wonder if those thankless employees of today are being written up when they slight me.
Suggested selling pays off.
Examples of suggested selling include:
- Do you want fries with that?
- How about an apple pie?
- Can I make that a combo?
The typical response was “If I had wanted it, I would have asked for it, wouldn’t I?”
Needless to say, I despised having to ”talk people up”. So of course, I was written up for this too. I eventually came around, and had to admit that about 1 out of 20 actually bought into it.
But something tells me no one’s getting written up for this small crime anymore, considering the fallout from Super Size Me. I feel somewhat vindicated…and I want my record cleared.
Don’t let work consume you and definitely don’t consume your work.
The great thing about a job like this is that once you punch out, you have no reason to take your job home with you. Little responsibility, no stress, no nightmares about corporate bigwigs singling you out to give you your walking papers.
But keep nibbling those french fries on your way to the drive-thru, during your break, and while you’re making that lobby sparkle for the morning crew, and you’ll find your work eventually comes home with you in a big way.
I’d include my high school senior picture here, but I’m still working on getting rid of the remaining evidence. Let’s just say, big puffed-out cheeks + bad skin + bad curly perm for which I can only blame myself = big hot McMess.
Instead, I give you Mayor McCheese.
Honesty is the best policy.
Paying attention taught me that giving free food to friends will get you fired.
And telling your parents you’re closing on Friday night so you can stay out until 2:00 am will get you grounded.
Hard work is rewarded.
Minimum wage at the time was $3.35 an hour. If that sounds putrid now, it still did back then. After working there a year, you got a performance raise if you did a good job. This amounted to an extra .05 an hour.
Yes, a nickel raise.
But now that I do the math, I see that this was actually a 7% raise. I would not complain about a 7% salary increase today.
So in wrapping this up, I have to say that I look back on those first years of employment with a level of wistfulness. What seemed tough at the time paved the way to many of my later successes (insert snicker here). And in case you feel the need to “rib” me a bit about my humble beginnings at Mickey D’s, just know that these random people got their start just as I did…taking orders, dropping fries, and cleaning toilets.
- Tony Stewart worked the drive-thru between races.
- Jay Leno touts McDonald’s as his first job.
- Seal worked there for 2 weeks, cleaning the lobby.
- Keenan Ivory Wayans worked his way to management.
- Fred Durst served biscuits.
- Shania Twain learned about “the meaning of service” there.
- Star Jones started out as a fry girl and was promoted to cashier.
- Sharon Stone worked there before becoming a model.
- Carl Lewis, who sports 9 Olympic gold medals, knew the importance of not letting the fries get cold. He was later in a McDonald’s commercial.
- Andy Card, Chief of Staff for George W. Bush probably cleaned a restroom or two during his stint.
- Rachel McAdams worked there for 3 years and cites feeding people as an “intimate experience”. She also admits to being a less-than-stellar employee, as she had an OCD thing about washing hands too much and forgot to wait on customers.
- Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, credits his ability to break an egg with one hand to working the early morning breakfast duty.
- Only good ol’ Pink looks back on her days at McDonald’s as a hellish nightmare. She worked the morning shift, and came to work tripping on acid. She admits to requesting bathroom duty, where she would “sit and watch the tiles”.
Anybody else out there still lovin’ it?
If you liked this post, you might like Don’t Go To Work Unless It’s Fun.