Frontlines: Fast Food Worker Hell

Fast food workers face degrading working conditions as well as low pay. (Image Credit: iStock)

We can all agree that fast food is not good for our physical health. But what about the health of those making and serving the food? Fast food is cheap and quick, but what do workers have to go through in order to keep things fast and cheap? Well, here’s my account of what it was like working behind the counter at the U.S.’s favorite fast food joint. The toll on workers mental and physical health is huge; something I learned quickly while being there.

The entire time I worked in McDonald’s I was stationed in the back drive-through and I hated every second of it. I had to not only take orders from the drive-through, but also confirm, charge, and take coupons from customers at the window simultaneously, for eight hours straight. I was expected to stand up the entire time. If we were lucky enough to have a slow period, I wasn’t allowed to rest even then. No sitting, no snacks, no phone usage, nothing. It was exhausting. Every day after I got off I would pass out as soon as I got home.

Each store within a certain area was in competition with each other. On a flat screen TV management displayed the average time it took each store in the area to get customers in and out of drive-through. We were pressured to compete with each other to be the fastest, and as far as I can tell, there wasn’t a benefit or prize to be won, other than for the managers. Each store aimed to have customers in and out in under 90 secs, meaning they could take no more than 30 sec at each window. This is unrealistic for many reasons:

  1. Customers didn’t always know what they wanted when they got there, or they may have had a massive order.
  2. Many customers wanted to change their orders at the window, had some sort of coupon, or just took a long time to pull up.
  3. There could be some sort of human error on either end, whether it was an employee mishearing the customer, or an item not placed in the bag so it held up the line.

So, when things slowed down, it was usually for reasons out of our control. But we were the first to be blamed by management, regardless of whose fault it was.

On top of all of this our “break room” was pathetic. There was no fridge, no microwave, barely any chairs, and a small table. This meant we ended up having to sit in the dining area with customers during our break. If you think using the bathroom was something we’d be able to do any time, you’d be wrong. We had to ask permission because the bathrooms were locked, so managers had to unlock them or someone at the counter had to buzz us in. There was no respect in any of it.

Working there took a harsh toll on my mental and physical health. Every day I came home from work tired, miserable, and annoyed from being talked down to and even yelled at by managers and customers. I had such little mental energy it was amazing that I was able to keep up with the school work that I had at the time. I am so glad I was able to leave, but I think about the fact that some people are forced to spend years working in the industry because they have no other choice. In my experience people are used to being treated this way. We just try to accept things and work through them, especially since often we think of it as temporary work. But we shouldn’t have to put up with this kind of treatment for any amount of time. Fast food isn’t worth our health, time, or energy.