Working at McDonald’s

Written Fall of 1980

“Nobody can do it like McDonald’s can, “ but then who would want to?

Feelings such as these come to mind when I think of this past summer.  I was employed at McDonald’s of Souderton.  I begged for more hours and higher pay, but hated every minute I spent there.  Well, maybe that is a little strong.  Let’s say, on the average, every other minute.

My hours regularly ran from eleven AM to seven PM, Monday through Saturday.  I spent my early mornings in dread of the approaching eleven o’clock hour.  Luckily, by the time Phil Donahue was in its last commercial break, I had usually succeeded in pasting on my plastic smile and psyching myself up for another day at the “grease pit.”  Then I quickly stomped on my Ford Torino gas pedal and did not look back till I reached the golden arches.

With a pleasant appearance and a boiling interior, I pushed the 6-3 combination of the Employees Only door.  Due to the fact that I never wanted to arrive a minute too early, I usually had to punch in immediately.  Then I politely asked the nearest manager the familiar question, “Where am I today?’

If I was lucky, I got to be on a register to pant the orders given, in less than one minute’s time.  But if I was unlucky, I had to do the breakfast dishes and then go out in the lobby to empty trash, clean windows and tables, fill napkins and straws, and sweep and mop the floor.  Either way I was a goner.  This is one of the many times when the question, “Why am I here” arose in my mind.

On an ordinary day I worked register or drive-thru over lunch hour and then on grill during the slow afternoon hours.  I enjoyed working on grill by myself though everyone else despised it.  True, you did sweat profusely, running from buzzer to buzzer, turning the quarter pounders, searing the hamburgers, and dressing the filet-of-fish.  It was no easy job, especially when there was a rush and the hamburgers are burning, the pie buzzer is going off, and you realize you forgot to put the filet buns in the steamer.  It can be disastrous if at this crucial moment, with your face wet with sweat, a person on register bellows the unforgivable words, “I’m down six cheeseburgers.”

This is a fatal phrase in all McDonald’s.  It means that a customer has given an order but the product requested is not in the heated bin ready to sell.  This causes the grill team to drop all the more hamburgers and rip all the more buns.

But at least back on grill no grouchy customers can yell at you because their quarter pounder with cheese is too rare, that there is not enough hot fudge on their sundae, or that you charged them too much for their medium coke (to which you courteously point out that three cents tax is added).

I found the greatest number of complaints to come between the hour of four and five.  This is when groups of elderly women with pinched lips and pinched purses would order a plain filet-of-fish and a regular size cup of coffee.  Then they would immediately flash their “Golden Arches” membership card.  (This is a card given to senior citizens which entitles them to a free cup of coffee.) They then stared at the register till finally the all-telling digits appeared.  If I happened to forget to subtract their cup of coffee, they would make it known with an indignant shake of the finger.  One lady even stood at the counter for over five minutes, insisting that I had charged her two cents extra and demanding that I add it up again.  At moments like these my plastic smile grew rudely artificial.

The crew of workers surrounding me was not always easy to get along with either. I became an oddball because I was about the only one who did not join the beer and pot parties every weekend.  Due to this and also my failure to swear, I was often chosen to perform such tasks as taking the trash out or cleaning the bathroom.  Fortunately, as I continued to be faithful to McDonald’s, the managers began treating me with respect and even once advanced me to the position of “Crewperson of the Month.”

I soon learned the rule that all the workers, even the managers, followed, “How to do as little as possible and still get away with it.” Guilt often pricked my conscience when I kneeled behind boxes in the stockroom to shove “Chocolately Chip Cookies” in my mouth, when I took a ten-minute break instead of the required thirty minute, or when I sat in the bathroom filing my nails.  But it was ironic how everyone seemed to be doing it.  The managers were unpredictable—you never knew which way to turn.  At one time a manager would say, “Relax, take a walk around the parking lot” but at another time, “If you got time to lean, you got time to clean.  Hop to it, Benner!” The only time when everyone was working as hard as possible and the managers were prodding us for better QSC (Quality, Service, Cleanliness) was when the supervisor made his monthly visits.

Now that I look back on it, I feel no antagonism towards McDonald’s, only pity for the slaves caught up in its system.

See also 1979 McDonald’s commercial at

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