Posted by: CeCe | January 25, 2012

Why assumptions about fast food employees are stupid

I figured I’d at least attempt a somewhat lighthearted post while I’m working on two somewhat less lighthearted posts (one on medieval history and another on biblical interpretation).  In the past (though not nearly distant enough, in my opinion), I wound up working in fast food, collectively for close to three years.  It doesn’t seem like a long time now, maybe because it’s a distant (but not distant enough) memory, or maybe because I’m older, but until recently, it seemed like it was much too long.  While I worked in fast food, I learned several things about fast food employees.

1)  Fast food employees are not all dumb.   I’m sure we’ve all seen/heard the stereotype, the fast food employee who is borderline mentally handicapped, who can barely count to ten, who can’t get a job anywhere else because they’re just not smart enough, etc.  But here’s the thing:  When I worked in fast food, hardly anyone I worked with was an idiot.  Oh sure, they had their strong areas and their weak areas, but in fast food, you have to learn to think and act fast.  If a person is mentally handicapped, they’ll be stuck on fries or cleaning the lobby all the time.  Not just sometimes, like everyone else, but all the time.  If they are not, they’ll be the ones taking your order, making your food, and giving you your order.

What’s more, what was true then is even more true now, regarding college degrees.  I actually had at least a couple co-workers who had college degrees, and these were just the ones of which I was aware.  One had a BA in English Literature (we once spent an entire lunch break discussing dystopian literature).  The other had a BA in Business Management.  Working in fast food?  You bet.  The first worked in fast food because it fit better with her schedule.  The second was because nothing else was really available at the time; the post-9/11 economy was really tough.  That’s even more true today, because so many people were so afraid of being stuck working fast food, they went out and obtained degrees only to find out that no jobs were available.  So for all you know, the guy who took your order has an MA in Near East History and the girl who handed you your bag speaks five languages fluently.  You just don’t know.

One of these girls may have more college degrees than you do, you slacker.

2)  Fast food employees are not all lazy.  Honestly, this should be a no-brainer, but considering how many times I’ve heard this, I guess it isn’t.  When I worked in fast food, it was not unusual for us to do hundreds or even thousands of dollars worth of business in just a few hours.  Some fast food places will have 1-4 people working each area and dividing the work up between them.  Other places may have only one person working an entire area, such as only one person working the entire drive-through, one person working the grill (which includes making the sandwiches), and one person working the front register.  Tie these two together.  In case you’re not getting the picture, imagine that the voice taking your order on drive-through may also be taking someone else’s cash, right after grabbing the bag containing the order for another customer, while making the drinks for the next customer, while they’re listening to you.  They didn’t miss you saying that you didn’t want onions on your burger because they’re lazy, they missed it because the person at the window was asking them for extra ketchup, or changing their order, or complaining, or heck, even cussing them out!  The fact is, however, that a person can’t be lazy and continue working in fast food.  You can’t make it, unless the place has no standards.  Most of the big-name fast food companies, however, have very high standards, so the employee who wants to just sit around and smoke pot while they’re at work probably won’t last long.

 This guy also took your order, your cash, gathered your order, and made your drink.

3)  Fast food employees are not all dishonest.  I would actually go so far as to say that hardly any are.  You may have isolated incidences of employees stealing money or large amounts of food, or telling a customer that the milkshake machine is down just because they don’t want to deal with it, but these are very few and very far between.  Fast food employees generally cannot be dishonest and continue being employed there.  If an employee tells you that the ice cream machine is broken or the milkshake machine is down for the night, they’re probably telling you the truth.  If they mess up your order, it isn’t always because they’re lazy, stupid, or just don’t care about being honest, it’s because they’re human and these things happen.

4)  Fast food employees are not all unhygienic.  First of all, many fast food restaurants require that their employees wash or sanitize their hands after touching food, money, their clothes, or their hair, and after smoking, eating, or using the restroom.  Some go even further and require that employees also sanitize their hands every half hour, whether by washing or by using sanitizing gel.  In some places, they may be slightly less demanding, but the thing is, if an employee is going to be working with food or with customers, they’re usually expected to be clean, at least when they first arrive at work.  After eight hours of working within feet of a hot grill or a vat containing hot oil, don’t expect too much though.  They’re probably going to be a little sweaty after that, and that grease is probably collecting in their hair.  Don’t assume that they just didn’t take a shower or that their hands are filthy.  You’re probably wrong on both counts.  Oh and the whole spitting in your food thing?  There’s a reason it’s news when things like that happen:  Because it’s very, very rare.  Most places won’t allow it.  Most employees care too much about remaining employed so they won’t risk it.  There are better ways to get back at a rude customer without risking getting fired.  I got back at them by being extra nice so they’d feel stupid.

5)  Fast food employees have to put up with a lot of crap.  No, seriously.  They put up with bratty children who make huge messes with ketchup in the lobby, homeless people who spread feces all over the bathroom walls, people who think they have every right to cuss them out and call them names (I once had a man call me a word that rhymes with “bunt” for telling him that we charged for extra nugget sauce), aching feet and backs, long hours, people who are incapable of saying hello and smiling back at them, people who think they’re above having good manners and saying please and thank you to them, and don’t even get me started on how hard it is to get the smell of grease out of clothes and hair at the end of the day.  And they do it for just a few cents over minimum wage.

The small print says that you have to give them your dignity for that pay.

The fact is, you only interact with a fast food employee for a few seconds, not nearly long enough to make snap judgments about them or their job.  You don’t know how long it’s been since their last break, how long they’ve been on the clock, if the last customer was kind to them, or what’s going on in their personal life.   You don’t know what the person ahead of you ordered, or how long it took them (especially in drive-through).  You generally don’t know if the line is taking a long time because of a customer, or because of an employee.  You don’t know if they’re just working in fast food while they put themselves through college, or if they already have a degree and just like the flexibility of hours.  You don’t know if they’re part-time or full-time, or if it’s their first day or their last.  So how about you cut them some slack, say hello, give them a smile, and thank them when they give you your food?  Who knows, you could make their day.  And also remember, you are not better than them.  They’re just people doing their job, and there is no reason to look down on them for that.

Would you like fries with that?


  1. I’ve had a couple of friends that have worked in fast food chains and both of them were at university during that time. As you say, it just fit in with their schedules and it paid. Isn’t that what we all want?

    • Exactly! Thanks for stopping by, Kelly! 🙂

  2. i have never has these assumptions about fast food restaurant employees cos i know a few & the work is hard! Well done for highlighting this 😉
    i enjoy your blog lots & have nominated your for the Versatile Blogger Award. See for details.

    • Wow, thank you! Once I know more bloggers, I’ll certainly re-post! I don’t want you to think that I’m forgetting or just neglecting returning the kindness. 🙂

      • No worries CeCe. i know what you mean. i started reading blogs long before i started my own so i have my favourites & u r one of my new favs 😉 since i started on WordPress 😉

  3. Totally agree with all you said, I work part time in KFC, It requires you to remember the whole menu, take orders, make drinks, take money and complete those orders at superhuman pace for long hours. Im in full time education and hoping to go to university next year. I try to do my job so why should I be abused by a customer because HE forgot to tell me he didn’t want mayo?

  4. We have come some distance in becoming a more humane species, but until we realize that these jobs require an A plus fluid memory, we will still just be flattering ourselves. And I mean A plus. You have to memorize a thousand items in two days, or better yet, learn them by osmosis. Otherwise when you go into the restaurant and start working you WILL forget at least half of them due to the speed and pressure and bells and whistles all pounding in on you at once. Every procedure has 50 points of execution. It’s not normal for humans to function this way. We are not wired to be so lightening-fast robotlike and so on-demand, memory-wise. The fast-food workcrew dance is not natural. Still I do feel totally ashamed that I had to walk out of training today, because I was really falling behind (despite the deliberately”fair” training design) and knew I’d fall apart on a real work crew. I am supposed to feel ashamed. And I do. I am a properly trained American. I am hip to American values. They have nothing to do with fairness of opportunity…and have nothing to do with accommodating dolts. It only is made to LOOK that way.

    • Thank you very much for your illuminating and insightful comment. You’re completely right that a lot more goes into working in the food service industry than most people would ever believe, unless they had done it. 🙂

  5. Actually it was one the more depressing and shocking moments of my life. I always wanted to believe even I could fall-back on one of these jobs if I had to, and I was wrong. Apparently I have an overinflated idea of my intelligence and there are very few places I have been able to work in my long life. The rest were similar …or worse…failures.So at this point I am just wondering if the routines in these places are made inhumanly fast and complicated…just to snuff out mental defectives like me…based on the idea that mostly anyone can do them and they have to keep the applicants down somehow (as if the exploitive, unlivable wages weren’t enough) so what better way? And get this…if you are a dummy and really still wanna work there, you will become the official company dunce and mop floors & clean bathrooms all day. I guess this is so (1 you will quit voluntarily and avoid a discrimination lawsuit and maybe, 2) you will KNOW you are despised and dummies should know that according to some right wing philosophies. (see the Herenstein and Murray work on IQ from the nineties. it gives new permission to despise the dummies of the world…and does it with a flourish!)
    Some clown work! I mean that creepy cheerfulness is not just for kids and most likely never was, unless some of them think when they grow up there might be a way to make something back from those place too. I mean if all this was real, than I’d probably get snuffed from the military too. Not that I’d ever want to apply. Your response would be more than welcome at kneesox at inbox dot com. Thank you for reading this… ;=)

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