I started in fast food about two months after my 16th birthday. Now I'll be 19 in less than a week, and saying that my job has changed how I see the world would be a massive understatement. In some slightly twisted way, I guess you could say that it marked my passage into adulthood. I went from being this naïve and impressionable child only in my third year of high school to someone much more cynical, and probably a bit of an ass too. I've learned a great many things in my time there so far, and here's what I have to tell you:
1. It's physically impossible for fries to be cold.
I have had people come up to me and actually claim that their fries are ice cold. Being the enthusiastic and dutiful employee that I am, I take the fries with intention of replacing them and try not to flinch as they burn the ever-loving shit out of my hand. With the business that fast-food places do, fries are being cooked usually every 10 minutes on a slow day. And when they're done cooking, they sit in a scalding hot warmer until they go out. When someone would complain that they were "ice cold," one of my old bosses used to give us the fries instead of wasting them. So your complaints do literally nothing but get us free food.
2. Once you pull up to the speaker, we hear everything.
When a car pulls up to order in the drivethru, their wheels will hit a pad that automatically turns on the speaker on both ends so we can take their order. I guess people think it doesn't turn on until we greet them. In three years so far, I have heard heated political debates, some pretty explicit sexy talk, what I'm pretty sure was a divorce over the phone, and a couple get into a physical altercation because one wouldn't order the other a Big Mac. We hear literally everything.
3. People can be pretty darn weird.
Seriously, I have stories. My sister had a car pull up to her window one night with an Easter Bunny costume strapped to the hood. I had a woman come and give her money to me with a ventriloquist puppet (I had nightmares about that one). One man paid wearing a bathrobe and I'm pretty sure nothing else, when he was driving around in January. And another car was completely hollowed out in the back to leave room for nothing but a single mattress. I had my doubts about that one.
4. Yes, we are cold.
Picture this: It's 40 degrees and windy outside, and you're stuck working the back drivethru window. You are only allowed to wear your company-issued sweat jacket with the store logo on it. You want to wear gloves, but wait, since the registers are touch screen you can't take orders with them. So you're stuck chopping the fingers off of the nice new pair you just bought. Work-issued visors don't do much in terms of head protection, and you better pray to God you wore long sleeves under your uniform that day. Now, someone in a nice heated car pulls up, takes their grand old time digging out their money, and then smugly asks, "Are you cold?" That is the exact moment when we shut the window in your face to avoid saying something that we regret.
5. Reason #75937 why Gender Study is needed.
In my three years in that restaurant, I have been proposed to many times by men significantly older than me. Among other things, I have been called "baby", "lovey", "darling", "doll", "angel", "sexy", and "sunshine". While my male coworkers only get called "Sir" or their actual names, nothing else. Older customers have asked me my age and stared at me for the duration of their meal. And I have actually had to deal with specific customers for a few of my friends because they made them feel too uncomfortable. Just because we are separated by a counter does not mean that the women are there for your enjoyment. They have to be continuously polite and pleasant to everybody.
6. It's really not the easiest thing in the world.
On any given day at work, there will be 6 timers going off at the same time, one customer angry because they're waiting too long, another claiming that their order is wrong, and a line of six more customers in front of you that haven't even been waited on yet. If the right amount of people were scheduled that day, you'll have someone to put orders together for you. If not, you'll have to bounce between taking orders and putting together a full screen of at least eight or nine more. You will get yelled at for long waits, prices, and changes in menu. But don't forget, somehow you still have to maintain a smile through all of this.
7. "Fast" really isn't guaranteed.
The whole 90 seconds or less thing is a really awesome concept, but it is not something to be expected when you walk into any fast food place. If you make a stink about wanting the hottest fries we have, you're going to have to wait three minutes for them to cook. You want six Egg McMuffins for you and your friends at 10 o' clock at night? You're waiting three minutes for us to cook the eggs and another two for your muffins to come out. And if you order 12 Double Cheeseburgers and expect them to magically be ready by the time you get to the window yeah, I'm sorry, that's just stupid. It takes time to make your food and it takes time to cook your food. And besides all of that, sometimes people just make mistakes and accidents happen.
8. Please and thank you?
I never thought I would have to say this, but for some reason basic human manners are also a foreign concept to some. I'm not saying this to trash on all of the people that come in, because most of the time I deal with extremely polite individuals. But there a few gems out there, believe me. Please, don't hold up the entire drivethru line and prevent workers from doing their job because you won't get off your cell phone to order. Don't pull up and automatically scream and honk your horn expecting to be waited on. When you get to the window smile, say please and thank you, it really helps. I've lost count of the amount of people who wouldn't even look at me and rolled their eyes when I tried to do my job and greet them. Show a little but of kindness to the only people standing between you and your McDouble at 3AM.
9. We're not stupid.
We repeat your order back to you multiple times not because we don't understand, but because there is a specific script that we have to follow. We take extra time counting your change because we get penalized if any amount of money is missing from the register. If you make a very specific request on a sandwich and we try to clarify it, saying the same thing louder and slower does not help at all. Half of our job involves repetition to make sure that we get your order right. Seriously, we're not stupid.
10. We laugh at you.
The more rude you are to us, the more of a joke you become. We sit during break and swap stories about ridiculous requests and every single reason why we've ever been yelled at. And we laugh. If you demand service and simultaneously scold the people who give it to you, you will be quickly reduced to nothing but a joke.
11. My coworkers are the best.
Really, they are. The people at my job are some of the funniest, most hard-working, and all around coolest people I know. They're not the dregs of society working there by choice. They work there because they have to. They are stuck paying bills on barely $9 an hour and they do the best with what they have. And no matter how bad things get that day, they still have each other's backs. I've had someone bake me a whole tray of cookies because she knew I had to work on my birthday. My manager had other people take on extra work so I could take it easy on the day that she knew I got dumped. And on that same day, someone else took me to quiet place and let me cry about it. I adore the people I work with. And I really don't know how else to describe them but purely, absolutely, good.