I 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.
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.
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.
16. 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