While we were in Florida for two weeks at the end of December, my Uncle and Aunt helped me get a temporary job at a Wendy’s fast food restaurant. Taking advantage of the opportunity I worked nearly 100 hours in 10 days, immersing myself into the life of a Wendy’s employee. This was my first time working in Fast Food but I thought I would be well prepared for the position with past experience as a wedding caterer, smoothie maker, cafe barista, farm stand manager, University dining staff, janitorial staff, and volunteer at a food bank. I was wrong. This was possibly the most exhausting, challenging job I’ve ever had and I’m so grateful for the experience. Here’s why.
In applications I write my strengths as resourceful, quick learner, team-player which are traits I truly think I have gained from my many odd jobs. But working at Wendy’s made me second-guess my abilities. I have a Masters degree but could not pour a soda while taking a drive through order at the same time. Wendy’s employees are masters at multitasking and I had so much to learn.
I would regularly think to myself “Give me a break, I’m working the most demanding position right now.” As soon as I would be moved to another position, I would immediately think the same about my new role.
Drive Through: Running the drive through register means simultaneously helping two sets of customers at the same time. Giving one car their change while telling the other car through the headset how much they owe. Making drinks for the first car while listening to the complex order of the next car. Was that no mustard and extra pickles or extra mustard and no pickles? Did I mention turning on and off the headset at the right time? Sheesh… talk about high stress.
Fry Station: The fries should get just the right amount of measured salt, and the station should remain immaculate . Make sure there are always enough fries for the orders coming in but no excess! As soon as the fries came out of the oil, a timer was set and if they were not to the customer within 5 min, they would be thrown in the trash. Wasting too many fries? That’s on you. Co-workers and customers waiting for fries because you ran out? That’s on you. This job requires you to predict the future and every other one of my co-workers seemed to do a pretty good job at it without complaining. Did I mention it is friggin HOTT? I sweated more after 30min on fry duty than biking through the desert of Mexico.
Dining Room register: Similar to the drive through except for the added responsibility to keep the dining room and bathrooms clean and everything stocked. There is no down-time. If there is a 2 minute break in customers, you are scrubbing toilets. I would come home from a day working at Wendy’s and be 10x more sore than a 60 mile day of uphills on a fully loaded bike.
Sandwich maker: That’s for the experts. No way was I ready to touch that station.
My co-workers and managers would tell me to calm down but they also told me to pick it up. Aren’t those opposites? Not for most of my co-workers. I once observed someone working the drive through who was literally on the other side of the store restocking things and doing her other responsibilities that drive-through has (that I never came close to getting to) while simultaneously greeting a new car through her headset, slowing walking back to the register, stopping to fill the ice machine (that someone always helped me with when it was empty), handing out a soda, giving change to the previous car, and giving the new car their total. MAGIC. She is a magician. There is no other explanation. The skills that my co-workers had were nothing short of amazing.
Wendy’s is a competitive restaurant that strives for the highest quality food while still offering it in an instant. Whatever opinion you have about health, diet, processed foods, if you are choosing to eat at a Fast Food restaurant, the people who are working their butts off in this high stress, minimum wage job, deserve not only your respect but your gratitude. There is this common conception that in the service industry, the people serving you are less than you. Many times they are treated less as people and more as a means- to- an- end. Have you ever walked into a fast food restaurant and looked directly up at the menu behind the cashier and tell them what you want without ever really looking at them? They are merely the thing that this punching in your desires into a computer.
As a Wendy’s employee, I had an inside-look at just how ridiculous the expectations of some customers were. In my observations there seemed to be 3 main types of customers:
Decent. These customers ordered their food, patiently waited, and many said thank you. They did not necessarily acknowledge me but also never disrespected me. This was the majority and I’ll take it.
Mean. Sadly, I was expecting this type of customer and I sure got it. For example, a customer extensively yelled at me through the headset for my greeting taking too long. (Their rant took a lot longer). Burgers were literally thrown at me through the drivethrough window when they were angry it wasn’t fish. (We didn’t make fish and they didn’t order fish). I had complaints about having to wait too long (less than 5 minutes) after having requested fresh dropped fries. Impatient jerks who spoke too fast or too soft who seemed to enjoy telling me how bad I am at my job for asking them to repeat their order. I had a customer desperately try to convince me to VOTE TRUMP. And although the majority of these “mean” customers did not personally attack me, their interactions with me made me feel “less than”. In their eyes I was lazy, uneducated, unmotivated. I felt myself wanting to say “You don’t know me. You don’t know these amazing, hard working, family-oriented people working next to me.” Their judgements oozed out of them and it made me feel greasier than working under the fry machine. As a mere observation working in a diverse part of Florida, this type of customer was nearly always a white adult, 40-60 years, equally male or female. They were commonly agitated upon arrival, had a stressed-out energy, thought-consumed, impatient, and in a heck of a bad mood when they entered the restaurant. They looked miserable and seemed to want to make everyone else more miserable than they were. I felt bad for them. It would really suck to be that mean.
Inspiringly kind. There were many more of this type of customer than I was expecting, which made me extremely proud of humanity. These customers would look me in the eye, ask me how I was doing, smile, and genuinely thank me. These people did not treat me as just what was between them and their food. I was acknowledged as a person, called “hun”, “sweetie”, and some even took the time to read my nametag! I received simple compliments on my voice and smile and when I was obviously learning the ropes, they encouraged me and told me I was doing a good job. They weren’t judgemental or condescending. I felt respected for having a job and trying my best at it. As a general observation, there was no common trait for this type of customer. They ranged in age, race, gender, family or individual. In my experience, it was based on individual personality and I wondered about their life story that allowed them to make the simple effort to treat a Wendy’s employee with dignity. Their sincere smile would re-energize and focus me. These people make the world better.
I wonder how much nicer and more empathetic the western world would be if everyone had to work Fast Food at some point in their life. Through having this experience, I will at the very least be patient in the drive-through, smile and look at employees in the eyes and not treat them like a means-to-an-end. These seemingly little things made a big difference to me.