Posted by: CeCe | June 7, 2013

Adventures in fast food land

So I’ve hinted before that I’ve worked in fast food, and I thought I’d share a couple of the, um, interesting exchanges I had with customers.  I would like to say that most customers were extremely sweet, like the one who gave me a card thanking me for my service–with a $20 bill enclosed– on my last day at the first fast food place at which I worked, and the many regular customers who stopped by especially to see me, and tell me how much they had appreciated me.  I had many customers who thanked me for my exemplary service, because I was hardly ever in a bad mood, and I almost always greeted every single customer with a smile and a “hi!”, and sent them off with a “have a great day!”  When I trained employees, I always told them to give customers nothing but sugar, even if the customers didn’t deserve it.  And let’s be honest: Sometimes the customer is not right, and sometimes they don’t deserve it.  Here are a couple of those times.

One day I was working the front counter, and a couple of laborers came in.  One was African-American, and the other was white, and they seemed to know each other pretty well.  They came up to the counter and I gave them my customary smile and “hi”, and then asked what I could get for them.

To which the African-American gentleman answers: I want Big Macs! [note the “s” at the end]
Naturally, I assume that means that he wants more than one Big Mac, since in the English language adding an “s” to the end of a word like that implies that there is more than one, so I ask: How many Big Macs would you like?

Now keep in mind, I was pretty much never rude to customers, so it isn’t like I was sarcastic or rude, I was genuinely curious as to how many Big Macs he wanted to order.  A nice customer would have laughed and said that no, that’s not what they meant, they just want one, and then I would have laughed too and said sorry for the misunderstanding, and they would have said no problem.  Later I would have laughed about it, and told it as a story about a positive experience at work.  This was not one of those times.

Instead, the man responded, clearly enunciating each word as though he was speaking to a very stupid child: I want… one… Big… Mac, you understand?  One… Big… Mac.

I badly wanted to tell him off, and tell him there was no excuse for treating me like that, but that wasn’t my style.  So instead I kept my smile on my face and asked him if he wanted the meal or just the sandwich, and once again, clearly enunciating each word in the same manner as before, he told me that he did not want the meal, but he did want fries and a drink.  Sigh.  And I was the stupid one.  After I told him that the meal would be cheaper than ordering everything separately, he changed his mind.  I was really tempted not to tell him and just charge him more.  He totally would have deserved it.  But that wasn’t my style.

In his defense, he did at least have the decency to apologize to me a few minutes later, when he saw me in the lobby getting ready to leave for the day.  But there was no excuse for him treating me like that in the first place.

Another day, I had an exchange that went like this:
Me, working back drive-thru (taking orders and cash): Hi, can I help you?
Customer: mumble mumble mumble mumble mumble
Me:  I’m sorry ma’am, I didn’t catch that, would you mind repeating it for me, please?
Customer: mumble mumble mumble mumble mumble
Me:  I’m sorry, let me try a different headset, I’ll be right back with you.  [changes headset] Okay, I’m sorry, run that by me one more time please?
Customer: Two cheeseburgers and mumble mumble mumble mumble mumble.
Me:  Okay, I’ve got the two cheeseburgers, but I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch the rest.  Would you repeat that please?
Customer: I said six piece chicken nugget!  And that’s all!
Me:  Okay, thank you.  Any sauce for the nuggets?
Customer:  [yells] NO!

So I give her the total (it was like $4.01 or something like that) and she pulls around.  And the rudeness did not end there.  I said “hi”, apologized again for not being able to hear her (even though one of my managers listening in on another headset said that it was not just me!), and she didn’t deign to respond or even look at me, just handed me her money.  As I’m handing her back her change, she’s holding out a penny, obviously so she wouldn’t get 99 cents in change.  Now here’s the thing, in cases where the total was something like that, I would usually ask the customer if they had a penny, and if not, I’d go ahead and pull it out of my own pocket, because I hate coins with a passion, but only if they were at least marginally polite.  They didn’t have to kiss my butt or anything, just say hi, and not treat me like I’m a complete idiot just because I’m working at McDonald’s.  But when they were rude, like she was, it was taking enough effort just to keep smiling and being polite, but I still would have taken her penny and given her back a dollar if she had told me to hang on while she found it, or had said anything at all.  Well, this made her very angry, and she made sure to let my managers know at the next window how terrible I was.  They smiled and nodded and sympathized, and told her that they’d talk to me about it.  But once she was gone, I was instead praised for my restraint, because there was no excuse for her to be so rude.

Have I mentioned that I really loved my managers there?  They were really great (apart from the one that sexually harassed all the female employees there, who was fired for it, and the one who kept trying to throw his “new power” around and had to be reminded that I was the one who had trained him).  I mean that.

At another fast food place, I had an exchange in the drive-thru that went like this:
Me: Hi, can I help you?
Customer: Gimme an extra value meal.
Me:  Okay, which one would you like?
Customer:  The one with the burger and fries.
Me:  Okay, which one specifically?
Customer:  I said the one with the burger and fries!!
Me:  Sir, almost all of our meals come with a burger and fries.
Customer:  Siiiiiiiiiiigh.  [he pulls around to the window]
After several more minutes of this, he finally says that the meal he wants comes with a hamburger and a small fry.  I’m thinking, why didn’t he just say this in the first place?  It would have taken so much guesswork out of it!  What does he think I am, psychic?

These are just three experiences amongst many others, in which I was called names, in which people ignored me when I smiled at them and said “hi”, people who would say “gimme this” or “gimme that” as though they were too good to have manners towards a lowly fast food employee, people who thought that I should be able to read their mind, people who would take five minutes to order in drive-thru even when it meant holding up everyone behind them (who almost always blamed the stupid incompetent fast food employees), people who treated me as though I was stupid, etc. etc. etc.

That’s why fast food is such soul-crushing work.  I was treated like this on a daily basis, by at least a couple of customers.  I would say that about half were wonderful, but the rest were terrible, terrible, terrible.  The good news, however, is that it taught me to be polite to those who work in the food service industry, to say hello when they say hello to me, and to say “please” and “thank you”, and understand that if they don’t smile, maybe they’re exhausted or having a bad day.  It taught me that things go on behind the scenes over which they may have no control, like the day that one of our managers had been in a horrible car accident, another found out that her mother had died, yet another found out that her sister and brother-in-law had been killed in a car accident, and yet another fainted at work and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance.  And of course we couldn’t just tell the customers that.

These are just a couple of the stories that still stick out in my mind after I left the fast food industry over 9 years ago.  And are several of dozens of reasons why I couldn’t imagine going back and doing it again.  I don’t regret having worked in fast food because of everything it taught me, but it was still terrible.

Maybe next I’ll tell some of my stories of when I was a telemarketer.  😉

Ever work in fast food yourself and have some stories about your experiences?  Or maybe you worked at a different job you hated?  Please feel free to tell me about it in a comment!



  1. Cece,

    I remember stories just like this from working at Wendy’s. The interesting thing is that some similar things happen in the banking industry. What I mean by this is when customers come through the drive through and you ask them how you can assist them and they simply send through their debit card a check and say nothing assuming you know what they want to do with it. Once you ask them they merely role their window up rather than have you ask them anything else. I like to ask people how their day is and you would be suprised how many people do not want to talk and answer anything even if it is as simple as how would you like your cash back or how can I assist you. I think society has a challenge with rudeness and anyone who works in retail, fast food, or with the public is affected by this. It is hard sometimes to maintain a smile, be polite and keep energy up but somehow it is people like us that can do it. Thank you for the though provoking post, i have said it before, and I will say it again your writing is amazing!

    • Thank you so much, Becca! You’re so right too, these stories are common not only in fast food, but also in every job that involves customer service. Thanks for stopping by and commenting! ❤

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