Would You Like Fries With That?

esq-burger-081009-lgI worked at a well known fast food restaurant for nearly two years in my teens. It wasn’t my choice, more my mother’s, who marched me down to the job centre at the age of sixteen, demanding that I start earning money and stop treating her house like a hotel. This was the only job that was suitable for my age and skillset at the time, and even though I would have rather poked myself in the eye repeatedly than set foot in those doors I soon I found myself standing behind a till, sporting my newly ironed uniform and a fake smile that would have put many Hollywood actresses to shame, for the princely sum of £3.20 an hour.

It wasn’t where I was working that was the problem – a job is a job and I was lucky to be working in the unstable economic climate of the last twenty years – it was the horror stories that had accompanied my place of employment. I had a number of friends that worked in similar places and they had regaled me with stories of rotten food, bodily fluids and aggressive members of the public, and I dreaded what was going to happen.

You may have heard the stories yourself. And I’ll tell you – they’re absolutely true, or at least they were when I worked there. Every one of them.

1. If I were given £1.00 for every time I saw the kitchen staff openly cough and sneeze on the food, pick patties up off the floor and continue to cook them and not wash their hands after they had come back from a break, I could have retired by now.

2. The smell of grease permeated everything – my skin, my clothes and my hair. A bath wouldn’t make the smell go away.

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3. After a busy shift, a man ordered a sandwich without mayo. As we were just about to close, we had emptied the vats ready for cleaning and the only sandwiches left were the ones that had already been made. I witnessed a manager scrape the mayo off, lick the sandwich clean and serve it to the customer. He laughed as he watched the man eat it, telling us to ‘get a sense of humour’ when we told him he was wrong.

4. I served a customer a drink. I watched him drink half of it, and then he came back and asked to speak to the manager, claiming that I had only filled his cup half way and it needed topping up. After lots of arguments, the manager gave in and gave him a new one, filled as full as possible. As he walked away, the customer winked at me.

5. I frequently saw customers order chicken nuggets, eat one or two in the box and then claim that they hadn’t been given enough and request more.

6. A man used to come into the store every Sunday and he would order a burger with no meat. After a few months I asked him about his order. He smiled and said: ‘I’m a vegetarian.’ I told him that we made vegeburgers and his reply was one of the best things that I’ve ever heard. “I don’t like vegetables.”

7. I had five stars on my badge. I didn’t earn a single one of them.

8. I was asked to help out with a children’s halloween party at the store, which involved my face being painted to represent a scary pumpkin. Unfortunately, the person responsible for doing the face paints wasn’t particularly artistic and when she had finished my face looked like Jackson Pollack had been experimenting with black and orange crayon on my face.  After the party had ended, my manager put me on the Drive Thru window and wouldn’t allow me to wash my face. I had to endure two hours of abuse from car passengers as they were ordering food. Some of them threw things at me.

9. A woman threatened to sue because there weren’t any Mr Men toys in her children’s meals. The Mr Men promotion had finished the year before.

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10. A woman had a screaming fit at a manager because she couldn’t hear the employee in the drive-thru and ‘our speaker system was faulty.’ She didn’t take into consideration the four screaming children in her car.

11. A man threatened to ‘kick my head in’ because he waited a few minutes for a burger.

12. A small child didn’t like gherkins, but his mother hadn’t ordered a burger for him without them. When he discovered them, he took it upon himself to throw them at the staff behind the tills. He then started throwing everything he could from other peoples tables – cartons, left over food, drinks. When my manager yelled at him, his mother screamed at him that we were all ‘racists’ for picking on her son.

13. You don’t want to know what goes into milkshakes and ice-creams.

14. I worked at another store in the centre of town for a few weeks as they were short-staffed. A really rude young girl started working at the store, caused lots of trouble and had lots of complaints made against her, only to be promoted to Floor Manager within a few weeks. We discovered that she was sleeping with the one of the assistant managers.

15. The staff regularly sneaked into the stock room to steal the Cadbury’s Flakes that were put into the ice-cream during their shift. In fact, the staff stole food all the time.

funny-mcdonalds-meme-pictures16. The managers regularly changed the time cards on the food even though it was technically ‘out of date’ to avoid throwing it away. Some people were served with food that had been sitting there for hours.

17. A couple decided to have drunken sex on the benches next to the drive-thru as we were closing down in the early hours of the morning. Little did they realise, they were directly underneath a security camera and were being watched by half the staff.

18. The staff used the customer toilets if they had a stomach upset, so as not to stink out the staffroom.

However, the good news is that when I visited the store last year, fifteen years after I worked there, I can happily announce that not a single one of the former crew remain. It was clean, it was a positive environment and it is now possible to see the kitchen from the seating area, which appeared to be well managed and under control. What surprised me was how familiar the place smelled – one whiff of those vats and all the memories came flooding back…

It also reminded me just how grateful I am not to be working there anymore – I’ll take angry teenagers and data spreadsheets over that any day!

What about you? Have you got any secrets about a former place of work?

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog

59 thoughts on “Would You Like Fries With That?

  1. Oh.. do I know about working in a take-away!!! Everything you said about customers- yes, yes, yes times infinity! The place I worked in though had very strict rules about cleanliness and food. At times, as an Estonian, I joked it would have been easier to serve time in a Russian army than work in that place, but you know what? I would dare eat out of that place any time. It was tough at times because we literally scrubbed the floor on all fours and washing the ceilings once a month is a pain for a short person. We had a routine of cleaning!!! Luckily though no public toilets! I couldn’t have handled that! What shocked me the most at working in a take-away was probably the amount of rubbish people (including myself) are willing to eat and after quitting my job there I noticed I didn’t need to eat Rennie every second night, because I wasn’t eating fast food any more…

  2. I worked several years in the food service industry. Even when I was there, it was that bad. and in the US, to boot. the fast food industry is one of the nastiest in the world. If you have ever seen “Beavis And Butthead”, it is nearly that bad in most of the places, simply because the help does not care. Minimum wage gets minimum work ethic. and still, the wages do not go up.

    The customers do not make it any better. Demanding. seeking free meals through doctoring the meals sent to them to look as if they have too much grease. yelling at the servers, cashiers, and those who do not fix the food for a cook’s mistakes. not tipping when it is an option (some states do not allow it, others make it mandatory to be added into the final cost of the meal).

    These factors, combined with the lack of desire to eat anything (I spent most of my time as a cook, only a short time as a waiter) were the reasons I quit.

  3. My youngest sister worked at a fast food place and saw a lot of problems similar, though mostly with customers as her work had a huge breakdown on staff actions every few months. (They still happened which is why it was focused on so much.) Some days she’d come back from work and break out into tears because of actions from customers. It made me decide to be as courteous as possible whenever I go to fast food places now. I don’t want to think that I might be behind someone going home and crying because of my attitude towards how stressed they are.

  4. If you put plastic striped straws into the french fry grease, they twist into amazing shapes. We decorated a whole Christmas tree with them. Every last other thing you said is true. But it isn’t everything… (There may have been spit-rounds where the whole staff could participate if an unpopular customer came in. Or someone who was dating your ex. Or it was a slow night…) I lasted until the manager told us we’d have to sing the restaurant jingle whenever he rang a bell. For some reason, that was the last straw. (See how I did that? Came full-circle back around to straws? Can this woman write or what?) Good times.

  5. Oh my, good gosh a’mighty!!! I’m horrified!!! We eat at home most of the time… I may not ever eat out again… or until I forget about this article. I’d love for you to swing by my blog. I may write one about being a teacher!!! and the things parents accuse you of!! And the things kids accuse you of! and the things kids accuse their parents of!!!! haha

  6. What a disgusting – but entertaining – blog post. Will never eat a hamburger at a fast food place again!

    When I was a waitress during college at a fish restaurant, the owner made me wash the dishes with the same rag I used to wipe out the ashtrays. When I asked to have a second rag, he said no. Ick.

  7. Though I have never been a fan of eating outside, I think I will never be able to have a meal in a restaurant now. Not for a long time. Well written!

  8. I only have limited experience in restaurants, but luckily I’ve never seen anything like that otherwise I’d probably never eat out again.

  9. Oh too much the same experience but mine was in an Arby’s – home of the roast beef sandwich with horseradish and barbecue sauce and Jamoca shakes and open until the bars closed right down the street so we could serve all the drunks and druggies who needed some food yesterday and cleaning the place for 2 hours after we closed and making $2.00 an hour and expecting to live on it – but I was 22 ………. then I got out ………… one more roast beef sandwich cut from a deli loaf by the manager because nobody else could be trusted not to cut their fingers off – and did – and I would have not survived. Jobs are not good places to be – not low paying jobs and not jobs in fast food …………… not jobs.

  10. Suzie,
    Nice post as usual- not so deep but yet pulling at my heart. Many good reasons to not eat out and to cook our own food, with our own hands and if possible grown in our own gardens.

  11. My husband used to be a chef many years ago and some of the stories you share about the food were not surprising! I was horrified when he used to tell me about what went on in restaurant kitchens.

  12. You know it should put me off but a chicken royale (or long chicken, if I’m drunk and pretending I’m in Spain) is the best post-drinking or hungover food ever. I have been one of those annoying drunk customers who writes customer comment cards but I would never treat a worker without anything but respect. Unless I saw them licking my chicken, in that case I’d ask for it for free lol

    • It was soul destroying. I’d certainly never work there ever again. I eat out now, but I have a favourite restaurant that I like to go to that I know is clean, has lovely food and brilliant service…

  13. First of all, awesome post! Funny and disturbing all wrapped into one. Also, always love reading your hashtags over on #Hashtagwars @midnight.

    I used to work at a Dairy Queen when I was 16 and have stories only you would believe. The way people would act when they were getting ice cream, a treat, something to smile about, was absolutely astounding.

    I remember a girl with her boyfriend who was giving a girl who made her Blizzard that didn’t have enough Oreo, such a hard time that she not only started screaming and yelling and causing a scene in front of a huge line of customers, but hurled her full Blizzard hard against the window, splattering everywhere. Employees were insane too. One guy served ice cream all night tripping on acid and spent most of the evening in the walk in fridge doing whip its with the full whip cream canisters. He would then take those same tops he had his mouth on, at best did a half assed rinse off of them and used them for customer orders that had whip cream topping.
    Fast food is an experience I won’t soon forget and those couple of stories only touch the iceberg, lol! Thanks for sharing! See you @midnight!

    Howie J
    http://focushereandnow.com

  14. You were on a great hourly rate to say you were 16 and that was fifteen years ago! Isn’t minimum wage for 16 years olds these days only £2.93 or something ridiculous?

    • It’s £3.70 for 16 year olds unless you’re doing an apprentiship I think, but you’re right, the wages weren’t that bad! I used to do two or three long shifts a week and end up with about £80 after tax…

      • Yes.. It’s all relative.. Just checked and found this for 2014:
        The rate for 18 to 20-year-olds will go up by 10p to £5.13 an hour, a 2% increase. The rate for those aged 16 and 17 will rise by 7p to £3.79, also a 2% rise. Apprentices will earn an extra 5p an hour, taking their wages to at least £2.73.

  15. #6 – Really? He’s a vegetarian, but he doesn’t like vegetables? Hmmm. I have worked in the hotel industry for the past ten years and we get a lot of the similar asshole customers. I had someone threaten to tell my manager about something stupid and have me fired, I gave him the GM’s business card. (Stopping by from SITS Girls Sharefest)

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