When I turned fourteen, my parents wasted no time in pushing me out into the workforce. They encouraged me to apply for any jobs that hired kids my age. However, it wasn’t until after two years of filling out applications that I finally landed my first job. After one painfully awkward interview and a grueling training week, I was able to begin work as a Wendy’s crew member. Little did I know that the job of a fast-food employee entailed much more than just taking orders and handing out food. Soon, I would assume the role of a cook, a janitor, a customer service representative, and a confidant. A crew member at a fast-food restaurant may appear as a flat character to customers, but, in reality, we must be jacks-of-all-trades to provide satisfactory service.
After I completed enough training to start working, I discovered that I would be filling the shoes of a cook much sooner than I expected, and I found myself being assigned to the fry station. I later found out that all the new hires were put to work at the fry station. From what I gathered, it was because no one else would take that job. The massive friers full of hot, sizzling oil that popped and stung my arms were intimidating at first. It took some getting used to, but, soon, I was able to balance the orders from both the front counter and the drive-thru and knew when I needed to drop a fresh batch of nuggets or fries. After a few hours of standing over the scorching oil, you begin to feel as greasy as the food you serve, and, after a full shift, a cool shower is the best feeling in the world.
Thankfully, it wasn’t long until I got promoted from the fry station and assumed other duties. A couple of months later, my manager thought that it was time that I learned how to make sandwiches. What began as the most overwhelming, stress-inducing responsibility, soon became a welcomed break from grumpy customers and a chance to catch my breath. Wendy’s serves a variety of chicken sandwiches, burgers, and wraps with a surprising amount of ingredients. For example, there are seven different kinds of sauces alone that are used on Wendy’s sandwiches. It seemed like a lot of steps to remember and keeping up with the constant flow of orders was difficult at first; however, once I noticed similarities between each sandwich, it got much easier to manage. For example, many of the basic sandwiches, such as the Dave’s single, start off with the same two condiments: ketchup and mayonnaise.
Next, I would like to make it known that I’ve had plenty of experience cleaning up after some pretty horrendous accidents. Being the oldest of my siblings, often put me in charge of cleaning sticky spills off the kitchen floor and taking care of any other heinous messes that I will spare you the details of. This being said, I was not at all prepared for some of the scenes that I walked into after being sent to clean the bathrooms at work. In my time working at Wendy’s, I saw everything from bloody vomit to urine to any other bodily substance imaginable spewed or smeared across the floor and walls.
One time, I remember wiping splattered blood off the mirror, trying to imagine a scenario that explained how blood ended up there in the first place. Eventually, I decided I was probably better off not knowing, and, to this day, I still have no idea what happened in the Wendy’s bathroom that day. The good news is that I haven’t been called into the police station to discuss a murder, though. Because of situations like this, we checked the bathrooms for such disasters often, so it was nearly once a day that messes like these were discovered and in need of cleaning.
Of course, not all the messes that I was expected to clean up were horrific segments straight out of a horror movie. Sometimes, frazzled parents with faces full of embarrassment would shamefully approach the front counter to alert me of a spill caused by their obnoxious toddler who they had been struggling to calm down for the last half-hour at lunch. They usually apologized profusely as I gathered the cleaning supplies, and, of course, I assured them that it was no problem and that I was happy to help them. In the back of my mind though, I knew that mopping up this kid’s sticky Sprite would put me behind on dishes, orders, and other tasks that I had the responsibility of dealing with.
One of the primary and most obvious roles of a fast-food employee is being a representative for the customer. You may have heard the popular phrase, “The customer is always right.” Well, I’m here to tell you that, in most cases, that’s about as far from the truth as you can get. For example, I have, on more than one occasion, had customers insist that I entered the wrong order for them. When this happens, you have to repeat the order back to the customer for a second time and sometimes have to get a manager, all the while the customer is usually grumbling something along the lines of, “I ordered the same thing last week, and it didn’t cost this much,” when, in fact, it did. Nonetheless, when you work with people, you must treat even the most difficult customers with utmost respect unless you want corporate breathing down your neck.
In addition to the blatantly rude customers, there are also some that just simply throw their common sense out on the parking lot before placing their orders. One of my favorite stories to tell about situations like this is of one particular man who, in his defense, probably had a long day at work, rushing to pick up his children from school on time and having to resort to Wendy’s for dinner that night. Long story short, he was visibly disheveled when I greeted him in the drive-thru that night.
“Thank you for choosing Wendy’s. Go ahead and order when you’re ready,” I said in my painfully over-friendly customer voice which was met by the shrill squeal of one of his kids in the backseat. The man shushed the child, apologized for his outburst, and told me that it would be a minute.
After a few moments of going back and forth with his three kids, the man asks me, “How many nuggets are in the Kid’s 4-Piece Nugget Meal?”
In case you didn’t catch that, let me reiterate. How many nuggets are in the 4-Piece Nugget meal? At first, I thought it was a joke. After a few seconds of silence, though, I realized that this poor father was so frazzled he didn’t even realize the ridiculous question he asked me.
“There are four, sir,” I responded. Not all customers were rude, some just had a long day and didn’t have time to worry about making dinner.
Working closely with people means that you hear a lot of stories and get a glimpse into the lives of many different individuals. Being a confidant to customers is one of the most rewarding parts of the job. Once, a homeless woman came into the lobby, saying that she hadn’t eaten in over three days. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her, so I excused myself and rushed to the back in search of the manager on shift. I told him about the woman’s situation and, even though I’m pretty sure it’s against our policy, we gave the woman a free meal. When I called for her and held the tray of food out in front of me, I watched as her eyes welled with tears. She apologized for being emotional, but I didn’t mind. It was a pleasant change of pace to have someone be genuinely grateful for something we did, and knowing that I was able to make even a trivial difference in that woman’s life was rewarding. Listening to stories of hardships and struggles was another part of my job that, when I applied, I had no idea that I’d be doing.
Working at Wendy’s provided me with opportunities to learn and grow as an individual and a member of a team. To say the least, there was never an uneventful day on the job. In fact, I should probably thank my parents for making me apply to nearly every business in North Platte. If it weren’t for them nagging at me for two years straight, I never would have applied at Wendy’s: a place where I made lifelong friends and learned valuable lessons. However, I don’t think you’ll find me working in the fast food industry again anytime soon.