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My McDonald's experience: I CAN LAUGH ABOUT IT NOW, BUT IT WASN'T FUNNY THEN!!!!
Employment at McDonald's Restaurants
Member Name: dooeyyooey
Employment at McDonald's Restaurants
Date: 15/06/09, updated on 01/03/10 (2099 review reads)
Advantages: Frequently available job vacancies; meal allowance; choice of part-time, weekend and full-time work.
Disadvantages: Working environment can be terrible. Long hours can be very tiring.
WORKING AT MCDONALD'S
I worked at MacDonald's for about 7 months when I was at university.
I was a full time student at university, but my schedule meant that I only had lectures 3 days a week, which left me with plenty of time to fit in a part-time job.
I had just moved to a new house with other students, and as it happened there was a McDonalds restaurant just a couple of streets away. They were advertising job vacancies, so I decided to apply.
Before I go on though, I want to issue the disclaimer that this is an account of the experience of working in ONE specific franchise of the company, among the very many in existence in Britain, not to mention the rest of the world.
Nowadays applications can be done online. A few years ago, when I applied, I was given a paper application form at the restaurant, and told to complete it and return at a later time to be interviewed by the general manager.
The interview itself was brief. I was asked what work experience I had, if any, and would I be able to deal with difficult customers, or be willing to do something"unpleasant", such as cleaning the toilets after someone vomited, for example.
I told him "sure, of course I'll be totally fine dealing with whatever comes up", because I wanted the job - and seriously, how hard could it be?
I thought he was putting too much emphasis on the hypothetical difficulties of the job.
The pay was low (minimum wage, with up to £0.20 per hour increase every few months, after a performance review) but the convenience of the proximity of the restaurant to my house and flexibility of hours made up for it, as I wouldn't have to spend time, money and energy in long commutes to and from work, and I was told I would be able to increase or decrease my work hours to accommodate my studies.
I was then given a date and time to attend an induction meeting at a very large, nearby McDonald's restaurant. The meeting itself was held in a medium-sized room on the first floor of the restaurant, next to where the children's birthday parties are held.
My induction meeting was attended by some 20 prospective employees. We all had to bring in proof of ID and bank details.
The person running the meeting discoursed about the McDonalds work philosophy as well as the practical aspects of the job.
She then ran through a list of dos and don'ts of the job, with emphasis on hygiene and safety.
Immediately afterwards we were given a multiple choice questionnaire, covering verbatim, point for point, what we had just heard.
We had to complete it, and if we had enough right answers, we would be hired.
I cannot remember exactly how many right answers were considered "enough", only that I was one of only two people who answered all of the questions right.
These were all very basic, straightforward questions, to which we had been given the answers just a few instants earlier, so I can only assume the others had not been paying much attention.
[There were a few people who achieved low scores, but a few months later they had been hired, so I assume they re-took the "test", and passed.]
After the questionnaire, those who had passed were told in what restaurant we would be working, and what day and time we were to start working.
We were also each given a small McDonald's information pack, a hair net and a padlock to use in the staff lockers.
McDonald's uniforms may differ between franchises in design, fabric and colour.
At my restaurant, the crew's uniforms were old, ill-fitting polyester trousers and shirt, complete with baseball-type cap.
The managers had better quality uniforms, comprising well-fitted shirts and a tailored skirt or plain black trousers. Managers don't have to wear caps or hair nets (unless working in the kitchen).
Everyone is supposed to wear black leather shoes and their name badge on their shirt.
Employees are meant to always have their uniform clean and well-ironed, and there was an ironing board and iron in the staff room.
There were three main work areas:
1 - working in the kitchen, cooking the food
2 - working at the tills, taking orders and serving customers
3 - working the "floor", cleaning the tables, floor, toilets, emptying bins, cleaning the used trays and returning them to the counter.
At the restaurant where I worked, new employees were assigned to the different jobs thus:
- Those whose english was not fluent were remitted to the kitchen or floor.
- Those with fluent english were put behind the tills, dealing with the customers.
- If everyone was fluent and language was not an issue, those with more pleasant countenances were put on the tills and floor. Those less aesthetically pleasing were sent to the kitchen. [I don't think this was official policy, just the local preference].
Senior employees had experience in all three areas, but new recruits were trained in only one area, although during less busy times, till workers could be asked to work the floor.
My first day on the job fell on a Saturday, the busiest day of the week.
I was to work at the tills, but there was no way anybody could teach me anything behind the counter at that moment given the frenetic pace, so I was sent to the drive-thru to learn how to use the till.
I stood next to the girl at the drive-thru, watching her take the orders and quickly going through the actions for me: "This is what you do: you press here, and then there, and you scroll here, then you scroll there, and then you do this and this and this and that's it."
Honestly, it seemed like the most incredibly complex system, and when she left me there to try it on my own, it was like being thrown in the deep end not knowing how to swim.
It was stressful because we were under pressure to serve people quickly (within 90 seconds) and every time an order has to be changed, it cannot just be cancelled or erased from the system: it has to be "voided" using a key (now a magnetic swipe card), and each void is recorded in the system.
This is to prevent thefts: if it was possible to simply change or erase orders without trace, it would be possible for till workers to manipulate the system and pocket the difference without being noticed.
The problem is, "VOIDS" are to be aVOIDed, as we were told that every void would downrate our performance.
Taking longer than the target time per order would also impact negatively on our performance.
That first day the restaurant was too busy for me to have someone there by my side guiding me through every order, so I spent the rest of my shift "making" Happy Meal boxes: propping up the flatpacked cardboard boxes, putting a toy inside each one of them and then stacking them.
It was during my next couple of shifts that I finally got the hang of the system, and eventually the actions become second nature and you just do them automatically.
Another key procedure we were emphatically instructed to follow was the "selling up" questions: Asking the customer if they wanted large or supersize meals (there was still the supersize option back then). We were never to suggest the "medium" meal option. Also, suggest desserts to go with every meal.
When you work at the till, you are given a float, wich consists of an amount of money in coins and banknotes. You are responsible for this money, as you will have to sign for it, and at the end of your shift (or whenever you change floats), after all the money is counted, if the amount does not add up (is either more or less than what it should be) it reflects poorly on you and in cases where a substantial amount of money is missing you may be asked to pay it back from your salary.
The amounts are all kept in your personal record, so if you repeatedly end up with more or less money than what you are meant to have, this impacts poorly on your performance.
Also, the system records how long it took to take the orders, as well as how many times orders were voided, and what the voids amounted to (in pounds). All this reflects badly on the till worker, even though it was not his/her fault if the customer changed his mind and took too long to place the order.
This is where the McDonald's experience turned ugly.
You see, there is nothing inherently difficult about taking orders, collecting money, giving out change, preparing drinks, putting burgers and/or fries on trays or paper bags.
Sure, if the store is busy and the shift is long, it can be physically tiring, but no more so than any other job where one has to be on one's feet and run around all day.
Whether your experience at McDonald's turns out to be a positive or negative one all depends on the human factors: the people you work with & the people you serve.
The restaurant I worked at was in a rough, over-populated part of the country.
It was open 24 hours a day: the restaurant closed its doors between 23:00 and 07:00, during which time the drive-thru and walk-thru remained open.
Our customers were many and varied: families, schoolchildren, pensioners, locals, tourists, homeless...
There were regulars who came to McDonald's every single day, and who always ordered the same food.
Most, of course, would come in only once, never to be seen again.
Up until the moment I found myself behind the counter and put in a position of having to serve people, I had never imagined that a restaurant could be anything else other than a place to get some food, and a restaurant's employees people who enabled you to get that food.
In particular, in all the years I had been a McDonald's customer, my modus operandi had always been the same: Decide what I want to eat, order it at the counter, take it home or eat it in, then put the rubbish in the bin, leave the tray on the space provided on top, then exit restaurant.
I was always polite and I was always clean.
As it turns out, a lot of people have very different views of what restaurants and their employees are there for, and which way to use them.
The first thing that hits you is just how absurdly rude so many customers are. It is absolutely staggering.
If it had happened only once in a while, it would have been easy to laugh it off, but it was relentless: one nightmare customer after another.
We had all sorts:
- Some were purposely difficult, and consciously tried to be as obnoxious as possible.
- Some had obvious mental health issues, which made having to interact with them rather unnerving.
- There would be people who would walk in the door already fuming, raging against the world in general, and their life in particular, who would go straight to the counter and take it out on the first unsuspecting worker they found behind it.
- There were people who would try to scam us by paying with fake money, often sending their young children with counterfeit cash to do it.
This was quite common and we were under instructions to check every banknote against the light to make sure it was real. So, naturally, this would lead to some customers feeling offended that we had dared to suspect their honesty, so we had to endure their outrage, too.
The overnight shifts were the absolute worst: Every drunk, drugged, unstable insomniac would wander up to the walk-thru or drive-thru and proceed to let us know just how troubled they were.
Being in a car, with physical proximity being limited by a window, it seemed to allow people to lash out even more freely, and so at least 8 out of 10 orders would be accompanied by torrents of verbal abuse, death threats, people throwing food and scalding drinks at employees.
There was a psychiatric hospital situated a few streets away from the restaurant (maybe a 15 minute walk away) and after my first overnight shift I became convinced that they operated a night release scheme, and that's why there were so many psychologically perturbed people roaming the streets at night.
If you are reading this and thinking that I may be exaggerating for effect, let me dispel that notion and assure you that I am not: It was GRIM. And then some.
Having to endure this treatment day after day took its toll on everyone. People became unmotivated and depressed, and eventually many would stop coming to work altogether.
Those of us who stayed on had to learn not to take the abuse personally, because it really was not.
Those customers did not relate to us as human beings. We were just part of the "furniture", a convenient tool that was there to serve and be used by them.
Similarly, all customers morphed into one homogenous blur. Every new one that approached the counter no longer an individual but merely another representative of that vast, anonymous entity, a nuisance that as soon as it approached us we endeavoured to dispatch as quickly as possible in order not to be bothered again.
The standard of behaviour we came to expect from customers was so low that on the rare occasions a customer displayed the most basic courtesy that anywhere else would have been taken for granted, it was such a contrast to the norm that it was like a ray of light piercing a heavy, oppressive fog.
Then there were those customers that probably did not intend to be difficult, but were just so clueless and careless that drove us up the wall all the same.
Customer has spent several minutes queuing, waiting to order. Finally gets to the counter.
McD's employee - Good afternoon. May I take your order?
Customer [Surprised at the question, as if he has no idea why he is being asked such a thing. Eventually remembers he is standing at a restaurant counter]: Uh... Let me see what you've got...
[Stares at the menu, mouth agape, for a couple of minutes] I'll have ___________________.
Employee: Will that be a meal?
Customer: Uh... Yeah. No. Yeah...
Employee: Would you like a large meal?
Customer: No, small.
Employee: That would a Happy Meal, otherwise the smallest size is medium.
Customer: Alright, medium.
Employee: What drink?
Customer: Uh... I'll have ________________. No, __________. Do you still have _____________ ? I 'll have that instead.
[Employee starts taking the order]
Customer: No wait... Actually, I will have that other ________________ meal. With _________________.
[Employee has to void the first order, and key in the new one]
Employee: Will that be all sir?
Customer: No, hold on... [Pulls out mobile phone, calls a number, waits for answer]
Hey babe... Guess what, I'm in McDonald's. I'm getting something to eat, do you want anything?
[Stares at the menu again] They've got _______________, _____________________. ___________________
[Reads the menu to other person.
Meanwhile, the time is ticking, there's a queue forming behind and all the employee can think about is how this particular order is going to look on his/her record, with the void(s) and the time it has taken to complete, and how the manager will harangue him/her for being so terribly slow and inaccurate].
Another complication came in the form of the "special orders".
This was a new concept for me. I had not been aware, in all my years frequenting McDonald's, that it was possible to ask for a custom-made burger with extras or without something! And if I had, I would still not have availed myself of the opportunity.
I never liked pickles in hamburgers. Solution: Order a burger, remove pickle, then eat burger. Simple and effective.
It was quite something to witness people customising their orders with such exquisite detail, you'd think they were talking to their wedding planner about the nuptial banquet:
"- I want a quarter pounder with extra cheese, without the onions. I want mayo in it. And lettuce. And lots, LOTS! of pickles. I want the first fries off of a newly fried batch. Without salt, because of my high blood pressure. And a diet coke. With 4 rocks of ice."
The conclusion I have come to, taking in consideration what it means to be an employee and what it means to be a paying customer, is this: if business is slow and there isn't much food already made and ready to serve, and the person serving has to call out for the order to be made from scratch, it is ok to say "Hey, can you ask them to leave out the_______" or "Can you make it with extra _____?"
Otherwise, if the restaurant is busy, there are stacks of food already prepared and the rhythm is so frenetic that the workers don't even know which way to turn first, this is not the time to be fussy.
It is a fast-food restaurant, after all, and interrupting the production line to prepare a special burger heaps even more pressure on the already overwrought workers.
Also, people who have health conditions should be aware that by the sheer nature of the food that is available in the restaurant and the way it is prepared, handled and served, it is impossible to ensure that cross-contamination will not occur, and no item of food can ever be said to be entirely without salt/sugar/nuts/mustard/etc...
* Just for the record, and for the sake of completeness, this is what the perfect customer behaves like:
1) Checks menu and decides what he/she wants to order. If a meal, which one and what size, and which drink to go with it.
2) Queues up.
3) Once at counter, places order promptly and clearly.
4) Does all the above with politeness as befits a civilised person.
The other human variable, and the most crucial one.
Because even if the customers are difficult, if the workers are united and helpful towards one another, this is a support system that makes it easier to get through the day.
Unfortunately, even this support was non-existent at my restaurant.
From the beginning it was clear that the restaurant was not being run smoothly. The store manager was always stressed, the lower management formed a consortium of ineptitude and the new crew members bore the brunt of everyone's frustration.
As time went on we became aware that there were many mismanagement issues:
- The restaurant, despite being busy, was not meeting its target profits and the manager was under pressure to increase revenue.
- Despite the influx of new recruits, the restaurant was chronically understaffed.
- The lower-level management could not care less. These were people who had been promoted to management level purely by default: Not because they had been particularly efficient as crew members or envinced any leadership qualities, but simply because they had stuck around long enough, while most crew members quit after a short while.
There were far too many of them. At any one time of the day or night there were usually more "managers" than crew members on duty, the crew having been reduced to the bare minimum to keep expenditure low, while a gaggle of managers earning twice as much loitered at the back of the restaurant.
Out of all of them, only three were efficient and only two treated us crew members with any respect and consideration.
Everyone else followed the formula whereby the amount of power held was inversely proportional to the power trip one embarked on: The smaller the droplet of authority bestowed on a "shift manager" the more fiendish the inner despot it awoke and fed was.
Most of these shift managers were very young, in their late teens or early twenties, and they still seemed to emotionally and psychologically inhabit a playground where they got free reign to bully others.
Then they wondered why new recruits didn't stay long.
During winter time, there would be people spending entire shifts in the drive-thru, freezing in the unheated corridor in front of the opened window, until their hands froze and they could not move their fingers.
Breaks were 30 minutes long, if working a shift up to 5 hours long, and 45 minutes if working 5 hours or more.
Despite the enormous amount of food that would be binned throughout the day, every day, during breaks we were only allowed to have one sandwich, one medium fries, medium drink and one dessert (one ice cream/donut/apple pie).
This may seem like a reasonable amount of food - but not when you are running around all day, as you'll burn the calories quickly and end up depleted of energy.
Apart from during our break, we were not allowed to drink during our shift, except on especially hot summer days when we could have sips of tap water.
The overnight managers were conspicuously absent. They would disappear to their office, or outside, and leave us to deal with the stream of abusive customers. They did not care what we had to endure, as long as the cars kept on moving along and the money kept coming in.
At one point, it transpired that stock was disappearing from storage. For some reason, up until the time I left nothing had been done about it.
Every once in a while the Area Manager would drop by, sending all levels of management into paroxysms of fear.
This gigantic, cyborg-like man would march into the restaurant and systematically make his way through every corner of the premises, his eyes instantly identifying every flaw within their field of vision, be it a missing name badge, or a badly calibrated milkshake machine (x-ray vision in action, right there).
One day while exiting the staff room I caught him giving a dressing down to the general manager.
Towering over him, he delivered a barrage of abuse like something out of one of those army films where there is always a sadistic officer victimising an underling. "WHY DO YOU PERSIST ON BEING AN INCOMPETENT, UNDERACHIEVING SCREW-UP, WHEN I'VE ALREADY ORDERED YOU TO STOP BEING AN INCOMPETENT, UNDERACHIEVING SCREW-UP?????????"
I felt sorry for that manager, a grown man, having to put up with this, and within earshot (and in my case, sight) of his workers.
Curiously, this Area Manager was the person that treated me the best out of everyone I encountered at the workplace.
He always spoke to me softly, with the utmost gentleness; one would never guess from this the harshness he was capable of.
The first time he ever came to the restaurant while I was working there I was surprised that he knew my name. We had never met and I had not received my name badge yet, so I can only surmise that he took the time to inspect every new worker's file, and memorise their names and faces.
If this was the case, it was quite a cognitive feat, given the number of restaurants he supervised and the constantly revolving door of new recruits.
In any case, the pressure that was put on the management to improve performance was transferred unto us crew members.
A cunning plan was devised to increase profit by way of desserts and other extras. We were instructed to ask every single customer, no matter what his/her order was, if they would like 2 donuts or 2 apple pies for 99p, and "suggestive sell" other items.
One morning I was put on the drive-thru window and the manager informed me: "I want to see apple pies in every order that comes through".
When every single order did not contain apple pies, he would run down the corridor "I'm not seeing enough apple pies! I want to see more apple pies!!! And donuts!!!"
Me: "I am suggesting them without exception to every single customer".
Him: "Don't just suggest! Make them buy! You're a GIRL - You can sell stuff much better than any man" *nudge, nudge*
I'll just seduce them into buying apple pies!
I'll just turn on the charm and they'll be buying a dozen each, and then coming back for more.
I will then hypnotise them with my feminine wiles into buying an extra hash brown, too.
I'm at the drive-thru window. Customers stop by. They are tired/sleepy/stressed/in a hurry to get to work. They want some breakfast. I have a few seconds to take their order and suggest a number of designated extras. They either want them or they don't. End of.
Amazing what nonsense one had to put up with.
IMPACT ON LIFESTYLE AND HEALTH
I had joined McDonalds to occupy my free time and earn some extra money. However, the flexibility I had been promised did not pan out:
In the beginning, they were giving me short shifts a couple of days per week. I asked them to increase my work hours, but they would not, as they had plenty of new recruits that had started at the same time as me, among which to distribute the hours.
Then, as the months wore on, and the new recruits started dropping out one by one, they increased my hours, to the point that I had a shift every available day (which was every day I did not have lectures).
When my coursework load increased, and I needed extra free time, they wouldn't give it to me, as they now found themselves with a shortage of staff.
I was busy every day. If I was not at university I was at work. Often I did double shifts.
The very different times I was scheduled to work also had a negative impact on my day-to-day life.
I would do morning shifts for a period of time, that required me to get up in the middle of the night. Then would do evenings for a few days, then overnights, which meant catching up on sleep during the day, if possible.
Sometimes I worked overnight and then went straight to university to attend lectures.
This disruption of sleep patterns, added to the daily demands on the body meant a progressive physical exhaustion that I was not initially fully aware of.
Working behind the counter at a fast food restaurant may not seem particularly strenuous. I'm sure it does not compare to being a lumberjack or construction worker, or any other job having to carry heavy loads, for example.
Yet, being on one's feet all day, constantly on the move, running in every direction to get from one end of the counter to the other, carrying bucketfuls of ice from the freezer to the drink machines, reaching up or crouching about a thousand times a day to get sauces, sugar, milk, bags, cups, lids, etc - every shift is a long aerobics exercise. When you are doing 8, 10, 12 or even more hours per day, day after day - it's a lot.
I was running on adrenaline and did not realise how tired I actually was. I would get home after a long shift, and fall asleep, but then the alarm would go off and I would get up and go to university or do another shift without skipping a beat.
I first realised what a toll it was taking on my body after about three months of working at McDonalds: It was the Christmas holidays and I took a break to go home to my family.
I arrived home, and after lunch decided to take a quick nap... I slept for 23 hours straight.
It was as if my body knew it was home, and finally allowed itself to relax and rest.
After the holidays I went back to university and to work. I remained at McDonalds another 4 months.
In total I was there for 7 months. I remained there for so long even though I detested it because I never like to quit. Whenever I start something, my instinct is to plough on no matter what.
Eventually it came the time when I realised it was just not worth it. The little money I made did not justify the emotional and physical drain.
On my last day, on my way out I found the all-aware Area Manager outside the restaurant. "So, you are leaving?" He said with a smile. "Yes, it's time", I replied.
I felt like taking this moment to tell him what he wanted to know:
"These are the problems with the restaurant:
- There are too many "middle managers", most of which are ineffective and are getting paid a premium for substandard work.
- There's someone stealing stock and nobody cares.
- The reason you can't retain new workers is because the working conditions are insufferable: The customers are a pain and the management are bullies, so no one enjoys being here and they get out at the first chance.
The restaurant is popular and is almost always full. Get rid of the endemic incompetence and get in new people who both know how to work AND respect their employees, and there will be no reason for the restaurant not to thrive."
However, I was just so relieved that I had closed this chapter of my life, that I could not wait to leave it entirely behind me.
So I just said goodbye and skipped happily all the way home.
I learned about human nature, having had to deal with so many different people and seeing how they behaved.
Most importantly, I learned how important it was for me find a career in something that I truly enjoyed doing.
Money is not even the most important thing, but being able to engage in my job whole-heartedly and love doing it, as opposed to just going through the motions doing something I don't like to get a paycheck at the end of the month.
After all, with the exception of those who work from home, a full-time worker will end up spending more of his waking hours at his job with his co-workers than at home with his family and friends, so being surrounded by people you like doing something you enjoy makes all the difference.
To illustrate my point about the difference the people around you can make to someone's quality of life, at the same time I was employed at McDonald's I had a flatmate who had just left McDonald's where he had worked for a couple of years in his home town in rural England, before moving away to attend university.
This was a small, quiet town, and he told me that he had enjoyed his time at McDonald's immensely. The restaurant never got too busy. Everyone, both staff and customers, was friendly and polite.
Employees were generously paid (compared to what we were earning) and were allowed to eat or take away any left over food.
And he was working there with his friends from school, so there was a lot of camaraderie and he had a lot of fun.
Consequently, his time there was like one big, well-remunerated after-school party, which contrasts nicely with my dismal experience.
So this is the summary of my brief experience as a McDonald's employee.
And nowadays, when I go to McDonalds I can't help but assess things most people don't even notice.
It's like if you are a filmmaker, when you go to the cinema you can't help noticing the lighting, the editing, the choice of camera angles, etc...
The same way, as an ex-employee when I enter a McDonald's restaurant I find myself noticing whether the workers seem happy or miserable, if the hygiene procedures are being followed or not, how the managers relate to the crew members, etc...
I always try to be a "perfect customer" (see above).
If the people serving me seem stressed and irritated I can empathise with them. At the same time, knowing how appreciative I was of every good customer, I expect good service in return.
~~~~ Thanks for reading ~~~~
Summary: Hard work, low pay, priceless life lessons.
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