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Always Have Hash Browns: Four Lessons Learned From Working in Fast Food

Posted on September 19, 2012 at 11:25 PM

Note: You may notice I'm being much less snarky in this blog entry than normal, and that this entry contains no profanity. This is for a very, very good reason - because this entry talks about a workplace of mine that has a very strict approach about saying anything bad about the company that runs it, let alone anyone working there. If I say anything objectionable in this entry, it could well cost me my job, and I don't want that. Therefore, any and all names, including that of the restaraunt in question, have been left unknown, all events have been described in a more positive spin, and there is no discussion concerning anything personal about any employee at that workplace. That should allow me to honestly talk about this in peace without getting in trouble for it.

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So yeah, I haven't been writing blogs as much because of school, but I also happen to have two jobs now. The first is obviously my tutoring job, and during Tutor Training this semester, all the tutors (new and returning) got certified by CRLA (the College Reading and Learning Association) at Level 1. Yup, I'm actually a certified, for realsies, internationally recognized tutor now! Ignorance of statistical concepts shall not escape my sight!  Those needing my assistance in these areas no longer need fear the villainous F on their exams, for I shall swing in like some kind of math-themed Batman and save them from their despair. I shall call myself... The Standard Deviant. Fear my normally distributed data! Fear it.

... So, as I was saying before I had a daydream moment...

I currently have two jobs. The first is the tutoring position, but just this month I began working at a fast food joint and have been there about five weeks as of writing this blog entry. So far, it's a pretty sweet deal - the fast pace is just about perfect for someone like me, who needs a little bit of a push lest I become placid and lazy, and I get a free meal for every shift I work. For the most part, I like my coworkers and managers a lot, and haven't really had any sort of beef with any of them. When I do get stressed, the managers are incredibly nice to me and very understanding, which is really helpful when I do start to get overwhelmed. So basically, not a bad job for me overall; I come to work happy most days and I leave with a full belly at the end. Really not much downside, except for the occasional rude customer.

And actually, that job has taught me some very important things about life.

Now, before you guys click that back arrow thinking this is some Chicken Soup for the Soul glurgy nonsense, trust me when I say it's not. Really, it's not. This is stuff I honestly feel like this job has taught me about life, managing my stress, and dealing with human beings like, well, an actual human being should. This is me being fully honest with you guys. I've come a long way from when I started this site back in 2009, and now that I'm 21 I've been reflecting back on my life a lot. I'm a different person now than I was then, and it's really been interesting to see where I learned the lessons that made me who I am today.

So anyway, here are some lessons I learned on the job that I feel will serve me well in the future, and why I think they could serve you guys well, too.

  • Lesson One: Always Have Hash Browns/French Fries. Okay, so for those of you who have never worked a fast food job before (all three of you), one of the very first things you're trained on, besides cleaning, is how to make french fries (and hash browns, if you work a morning shift). Now, french fries are popular, and they are popular for a very good reason - they taste like Manna from Heaven. The vast majority of Americans love french fries, and many Americans turn to fast food frequently for their fry fix. As a result, I have often found myself working the fry station, preparing these fried, salted potato strands. And there is where a new person gets in a lot of trouble, very fast - if you're working fries, and you're working during the busy period (or even during a sudden spike in customer traffic), you will be absolutely doomed if you do not have several baskets of fries in the oil at once. Why? Because meal runners and drive-thru people are always taking the fries you make up, and if you don't have any more fries prepared to go into the bin, you'll never get caught up. I've had this happen more than a few times, and chances are if you've ever worked fast food you've had it happen a few times, too. And it's just not a good feeling when you're behind with no way to get ahead. So you always have to come prepared. It's like that in fast food, and it's like that in life, too - if you don't have what you need prepared beforehand, it's just like not having enough fry baskets down in that oil. If you're not prepared for a big hit, you will never get ahead, and that is going to cause you undue stress in the future. It's not being prepared for a big hit that gets people into the most trouble - financially, in the workplace, in school, whatever the case. If you aren't prepared for class, your grades will suffer. If you aren't prepared for an emergency that needs money, you're in especially big trouble. And if you don't have enough fries or hash browns ready before the big breakfast/lunch rush hits, you are going to be one sad little puppy. So always have fries down, because otherwise, your life will be filled with way more stress than anyone should have to deal with, and what's worse is it'll be your own fault.


  • Lesson Two: It's Hard To Stay Angry At Someone Who Is Sincere. So, I'll assume that everyone reading this has eaten at a fast food place before and has probably been through a drive-thru. I will also assume that on occasion, you may have gone for fast food during a very busy period, like lunch or dinner, and someone had to be pulled aside, out of the drive-thru lane, in order to get their food prepared, either because the food isn't ready yet, because your order is huge, or because they've just got so many orders coming in that yours is taking time away from other people being served. If it wasn't you being pulled aside, then it was somebody else, and chances are that somebody probably wasn't too happy about having to wait for their order, especially if they're on the go. Now normally, some crew member (like myself) will end up running the order out to the car when it's ready. Let me tell you, I thrive for these moments even though there's a chance that I could be yelled at by an angry customer (and trust me, that has happened to me at least once), because it gives me a nice change of pace from just taking orders or just doing french fries. Plus, it also gives me an opportunity to genuinely show that, yes, as an employee I don't just think you're some random person that provides my business with money so I can get a paycheck every other week - I know what it's like to be frustrated. I know what it's like to have to wait on things when we're busy. That's why I personally make it a huge point to apologize for the wait before I say anything else to the customer, because I sincerely am sorry that I or someone else had to make you wait when you just wanna get your food and go on with your life. It doesn't matter if the customer wasn't waiting for that long. It doesn't matter if the customer was just pulled. I always apologize first. I do that before anything else because if you're sincere when you apologize, or even just being a nice person, it is very, very hard for someone to yell at you for something that wasn't your fault. Nine times out of ten, if I bring an order out to someone who has been waiting for several minutes and I apologize first, the customer always says something to the effect of "That's okay" and is a lot nicer to me. Let me tell you a secret - this works outside of the workplace, too. It's very, very hard to stay angry at someone who is sincerely sorry about a mistake they made, or some inconvenience to you. It's also really hard to stay angry at someone who is being nice to you even if you're being a jerk back. And nine times out of ten, I find that most people will instantly change their attitude and even have a better day if you approach them with a demeanor that indicates you mean well, but happened to make a mistake, and you're really sorry that happened, can I do anything to help you? So, try being nice today, a little bit more than you normally are. You might be surprised at how many people seem more willing to forgive your shortcomings, to compromise, and to be nice back. Plus, being nice makes you feel better, too. What possible downside is there to being in a good mood?


  • Lesson Three: There Will Always Be Angry Jerks. We all knew this one was coming. Some people are just jerks to other people. These types of people exist in the world. They are a thing, and that's unfortunate, because just about everyone around them finds them very unpleasant to deal with. For example, there was one customer that came in one morning on my shift who had ordered two breakfast bagels for breakfast along with drinks an ice cream cone. Now, the customer had ordered this right before the breakfast-to-lunch shiftover, and by the time I got the order in, it was officially lunch, so the grill was changing over, and this poor customer ended up having to wait on the bagels while the grill scrambled to get the steak and onion mix for the sandwiches down, despite it being lunch. Massive apologies and free meal tickets were given to the customer from manager and crew member alike, but said customer was still obviously upset, and had every right to be, even though it was technically not the fault of anyone on front counter (including myself). So I, trying to be helpful, go to get the order's vanilla ice cream cone to give to the customer, thinking that the customer might like to at least have that while they waited. The customer saw me offering the cone and just exploded. I have never heard anyone get that upset over having dessert before breakfast. The customer outright refused to take the cone and proceeded to complain about how I apparently didn't know that it was "common sense" to serve food before a dessert. I of course am aware that most of people eat food before dessert, not the other way around, and was rather hurt that this random stranger would chew me out over something as unimportant as an ice cream cone being served off first. All I was trying to do was be helpful and do my job, and I had been yelled at for that. One wasted vanilla cone and two sandwiches (finally) coming out later, the customer did come back and apologize, but by then the damage had been done and I was still somewhat frustrated. Of course the apology helped and I'm glad this customer did apologize; my job isn't as easy as it looks and I hate being treated like crap for stupid little things. This isn't the only example either, I've had customers come in and look at me like I'm just some dumb kid working at a fast food joint instead of a human being trying to do her job, and that really hurts. But you know what? I can't change those people. All I can hope is that they will eventually realize what jerks they're being and how they're treating people that they feel are "beneath them", and someday feel bad enough about it to change. Until then, my job is to be a nice person back, because that usually stops them in their tracks. It's pretty hard to be mean to someone who's being nice to you, far nicer than they probably should be given your behavior. This even works with angry people outside of work - like I said above, it's hard to be mean to someone who is nice and genuinely means it. If being nice doesn't work, then just let it go - it's not your fault that person is being a jerk, it's theirs, and someday they'll have to own up to that behavior. In the meantime, it's best not to let yourself get sucked into the cycle of jerky behavior. Just like violence never solves anything, being a jerk to a jerk only creates more rudeness and negativity, it doesn't solve a single thing. So be nice! :3


  • Lesson Four: If You See Something That Needs Fixing Or Help, Do It Yourself. Guys, I love fish sandwiches. They are delicious little things that I believe should be made the national sandwich of America. Forget burgers. Forget chicken and keep your burgers - the humble fish sandwich, with tartar sauce, cheese, and a simple bun, is fast food perfection. God bless its tasty soul. Now, you all should know by now that all fast food places have fry vats, usually placed close to both the front counter and the drive-thru window, because both areas need to handle fries. But there's also a little small vat off to the further side of those vats, one with slender wire baskets that are divided in half. These baskets are used for certain sandwich meats that need to be fried, such as patties for chicken sandwiches and fish filets. More often than not, when I am doing fries, someone needs some fish filets dropped into the oil to cook, and more often than not, people are able to drop some filets in the basket, but are too busy running around or being at their stations to get them back out when the need arises. Now, what do you think would happen if nobody took those filets out when the timer went off? Of course, the beeping would be obnoxious and the filets would burn, but it'd also be a waste of food because of the burned fish, a waste of effort because they'd have to be tossed, and a waste of time because more would need to be put down. It's that last part that's most important in regards to fast food, because if you waste time, you end up getting behind, and that is very, very bad. So whenever I work fries, I usually make a note to myself mentally when fish filets, chicken patties, or nuggets get dropped, so when they're done I can pull them and either hand them off to assembly or at least say something about it. Nobody else can do it, they're all extremely busy. That means it's up to me to take the initiative and pull those filets, because if I don't help out, then food preparation lags and grinds to a halt. And you know what? Most of the time, when I notice little things and fix them, people thank me much later for it. See, the thing is this - small problems like to become big problems later. And people like a little extra help when they're stressed or busy so that those small things don't get too big to handle. People can't do everything at once all the time, even if their work demands it. Even the most experienced person might need help at some point. And if you show up and fix a small thing? That's one less thing they have to worry about. So, the next time you see something that isn't getting done but needs to, take the initiative - do it yourself and let others know it got done so they have one less thing to worry about. Not only is it good to do that in a business, it's a good practice to get into socially. Trust me - the next time you notice that someone's made a tiny math flaw when they're budgeting, or the next time you see someone struggling with a heavy package, and you fix it? That person will be very grateful, and both their lives and your mood will be a lot better for it.


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