HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Did you ever work at a fast food restaurant? [moved from Food Media and News]

I did. Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips. It was my first job. I was 16 and probably stayed right through high school graduation in 1979. I reeked to high heaven of fish and grease after a shift. I was not allowed to meet up with my friends after work until I went home and had a shower. I did love the food though. Hey, I was 16. Plus, we were able to come up with crazy combinations of food because we worked there. Most of the other workers were older than me (in college) and would take me out drinking with them afterward. Yes, I was 16, but the drinking age was 18 then and I was older looking for my age. It was not an easy job but we had a blast working there.

How about you?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I worked at McDonalds when I was 13 years old. 2 of the 3 main managers were miserable people and that attitude infected the whole place. However, the 3rd manager was a great guy, and, at times, when he was there, the attitude would lighten up.

    1. My senior year of HS I was the head "fry cook" at a Chicken Unlimited. The company I worked for the past couple of years went under. My mother until the day she died thought that they had the best chicken - I actually brought home coating for her to do her own several times. Mr. D let me bring home a 50# bag of the coating for her once. Now they are all Brown's Chicken (I think) except for a few in Florida which is all that remains of a 400 unit chain.

      As the oldest employee outside of the owner and the great guy who in college and had worked there since he was 14 and was the accountant for the place, I had a ball. I got caught on break several times in the freezer with the rotating girlfriends, etc. The owner was a great guy who tolerated anything legal IF THE PLACE WAS CLEAN AND THE CUSTOMERS WERE HAPPY. If I ever pick up a franchise, 'Mr. D" is my goal to emulate.

      1. Mcdonald's from 16-18. I don't know how much things have changed but they were very well run, organized back then. We had to take tests (like knowing that 4 oz of ice cream went into a sundae or fries beeped at 1 1/2 mins before you had to toss or the 6 stages of selling or how long each meat was cooked) that I had to study pretty hard for (and I was a good student at school!). Then they'd have field days when the supervisor would come in and watch you, with a stop watch to make sure you had your orders out in a certain time, or that you did the 6 stages of selling and don't try to forget the selective selling (Do you want fries with that?). I was a good worker, never slacked, but marked down because a woman came in w/ her child and I gave them two napkins for one burger instead of one (one per sandwich). I thought they'd be sharing and could use two. And, then there were the surprise visits when you didn't know the person was a supervisor... It was kind of suffocating now that I think about it. And, that's not even getting into the polyester double knit uniforms that NO teenage girl would want to be caught dead in.

        12 Replies
        1. re: chowser

          "And, that's not even getting into the polyester double knit uniforms that NO teenage girl would want to be caught dead in."

          The uniforms at Arthur Treacher's for the girls were some kind of take on a Scottish plaid! Pants and blouses. Hideous. One day one of the girls spilled a hot pot of coffee on her leg and the polyester stuck to her. It was pretty horrific.

          1. re: chowser

            I was fired from McDonalds after a couple of months. I was trying to keep myself intellectually engaged, so I experimented with the six steps and figured out that if I re-ordered them, I could serve customers more quickly. My innovation (and my refusal to abandon it, because it worked) was not favorably regarded.

            I then went on to a successful multi-year stint at Roy Rogers, a much better place to work, because it was in a mall and I could play Asteroids at the arcade during my break.

            1. re: small h

              Anyone remember the Frost Top chain? I worked there in Tyler, Tx. in the sixties. I learned a lot of valuable lessons during my years there. The owner, Dick Doyle, taught me work ethic, the value of a dollar, and how to treat a paying customer. We need a Dick Doyle school of customer service in today's world. RIP Mr. Doyle.

            2. re: chowser

              Chowser, your experience and my experience were pretty damn different. Interesting.

              1. re: DougRisk

                Aren't McDonald's franchised operations? Wouldn't the ownership and management teams employed account for the difference in experiences?

                1. re: ttoommyy

                  I can believe it. I only know what happened at the McDonalds in Leonardo NJ in 1988.
                  - No tests.
                  - No exams.
                  - No surprise inspections

                  On my very fist day on the job, at 13 years old, I was told to work the large garbage compactor out back even though it had a big sign on it that said no one was to operate it under the age of 18.

                  1. re: DougRisk

                    "On my very fist day on the job, at 13 years old, I was told to work the large garbage compactor out back even though it had a big sign on it that said no one was to operate it under the age of 18."

                    Now that's a franchise owner with a lawsuit in his future!

                2. re: DougRisk

                  Yeah, I can't believe they let a 13 year old work! We had a strict 16, though that was a state law. I wonder if it was a franchise difference (I don't know if mine was franchise or corporate) or time (late 70's, early 80's). As tests go, I was about the only one who took them seriously. Each test passed was a nickel per hour raise. I was probably the highest paid worker.

                  1. re: chowser

                    I don't remember the exact laws, but, in NJ, I believe that the law was something like 15 or 16. That is, for working, say, up to 30 hours per week (don't quote me on any of this).

                    However, they had some sort of program that would allow 13 year old kids to work if they got a special form signed by the parents. So, some businesses came to the junior high and you could sort of interview with them. McDonalds was one of them, and I got hired.

                    1. re: DougRisk

                      In Philadelphia (probably all of PA, but I was a teen in Philly), you could start working at 14 if you got "working papers," which just meant a parent took you down and signed that it was OK for you to work. There was an hours limit (I thought it was 20 hrs\week, but like Doug, I'm fuzzy on this).

                      However, newspaper delivery was exempt from this, so I really started working at 11.

                      1. re: gaffk

                        GaffK, that sounds exactly what we did, so, you probably have the numbers right. If I remember correctly, there are something like, 8 exemptions to the Child Labor laws, paper boy being one of them (i.e. working at your parents restaurant, mowing lawns, etc.).

                3. re: chowser

                  I had to wear one of those hideous orange and brown scratchy polyester uniforms (elastic waist!) for the 6 weeks I worked at Burger King the summer before I left for college. I would like to say the uniform was the worst aspect of the job, but unfortunately, it was not.

                4. I worked at Burger King for a very brief stint in high school. The job wasn't bad, except it was circa 1980, when the uniform was that brown, orange and yellow polyester with a poofy hat. And it was only a few blocks from home so I had to walk back and forth in that fashion statement. I got fired for having the unmitigated gaul to take a vacation during my 3-month "probationary" period. I was a high school kid, it was summer, my parents had plans for the family (and that inluded their daughter).

                  After that I got a job in a mom & pop pizza place making steak sandwiches, hoagies, etc. Other than smelling like fried onions, it was a much better job. The delivery guys would pick up beer to put in the walk-in so we could enjoy clean up time. That's also where I learned to make a serviceable pipe out of restaurant-grade aluminim foil. Funny when I think about it--we were only in high school and the owners lived above the restaurant and were down often (they did insist we put the beer in drinking cups)--different era. (And believe me, with the Italian "mom" of the mom & pop, that place was CLEAN when we left for the night.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: gaffk

                    I forgot--I worked at Burger King before I worked at McDonald's. I was also fired for taking a vacation and telling a manager who forgot so I didn't show up for the shift I was assigned (I was a high school kid, too, with no control over my vacation). The head manager manager didn't care. It was a far cry from the overly managed job at McDonald's. They put me on stations w/out telling me what and how much went on anything. What, no mustard on a Whopper? Who knew? How much ketchup? I didn't know, just piled it on. At McDonald's, it was all controlled, pull the trigger, the right amount came out--they could have used a robot.

                    1. re: chowser

                      The BK I worked on was pretty well controlled. Each employee had a station--I was at the whopper board. And we had cards taped up telling us how much of each thing went on the whopper.

                      Funny aside--I've never actually eaten a whopper. At the time, BK had an Italian chicken sandwich: fried chicken cutlet, mozzarella and marinara sauce. These were easily the best thing BK served but not very popular. So every now and then, the chicken board person would "accidentally" make an extra one. After it sat the requisite time (I forget if it was 7 or 9 mins), it had to be discarded; but the managers always let us eat it ;)

                    2. re: gaffk

                      My first real job was at Burger King, 1981-82, and I had that same brown, orange and yellow polyester uniform. My mother would wash it separately from all the other laundry in extra hot water and hang it in the backyard to air out, but the smell of french fry and burger grease never ever went away. And I mostly worked the "front of the house" (cashier or drive through), not the food prep stations. We also experimented with our own customized food items for breaks - I can still taste the original chicken sandwich with extra mayo, cheese and bacon. Oh, to once again be young and blissfully unconcerned about fat and carbs.

                      1. re: cookie monster

                        You're lucky . . . I had to wash my own uniform. I think I threw baking soda in to try to cut the aroma; but as we know, polyester can really hold a scent. It used to crack us up when guys would try to flirt when we were in that outfit, but now that I think about it, the smell of onions and burger grease was probably a turn on to the average American teenage boy.

                        1. re: cookie monster

                          We did the same thing with my BK uniform. My dad would pour distilled vinegar in with the Tide to cut the french fry grease, which was somewhat effective.

                      2. My first job at 16 (outside of my family's business) was at Arthur Treachers too. I had never tried it before, but loved the chicken sandwich and the fish sandwich covered with liquid "cheese". Then I got double pneumonia and missed a few weeks. The manager decided to jerk me around after I was well enough to come back (hospital receipt and doctors note) and scheduled me daily for one hour. I found something else fast.

                        I did a 1 month stint at McDonalds when I was in college. I had never had problems with acne until then. All the grease in the air made my face look very unappetizing! This was my first experience with a place requiring you to come in so they could determine if you were sick - I had tried to call in first thing that morning. I came in with the type of cold where your nose just won't stop - and they wanted to put me on a register until the person I found to fill the position could come in. I looked at the manager and asked "would you really want this nose handling your family's food?" We had a stare down for a few moments and he told me to get out of there....

                        So ended my life in fast food.

                        1. Actually, Arthur Treacher's was my # 2 go-to, for US fish-n-chips. A competitive group, H. Salt, was # 1.

                          Now, back in about 1965, I was a host, at a semi fast food restaurant. I did not last long, as the patrons all wanted me to go "dumpster diving" for bones to give to their dogs. I quickly realized that this was not MY thing, and resigned.

                          Some folk are cut out for the jobs, and some are just not.


                          1. Winchells

                            Orange Julius

                            Random, non-chain Chinese fast food restaurant

                            Random, non-chain bakery

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Wow, Orange Julius. That is a name, from way back in my past, prior to the myriad "smoothie bars."

                              Good stuff, way back when!


                            2. Many coworkers in my office often comment on my work ethic. I always attribute this to great lessons learned in my fast food days as well as days waiting tables. I have carried those good work habits forward and am able to apply them to the way I work in my current job. As a bonus, I am a wiz in the kitchen as well, especially when it comes to food prep and cleanup.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: ttoommyy

                                Never worked fast food but I agree on lessons learned waiting tables and bartending. Started at 18 yo and it was an education!

                              2. Shakey's Pizza helped finance my college education. I worked there for several semesters, earning a coveted "bartender" position where I served 3.2 beer and got to pick the black and white movies that played in the dining room. Black pants, red and yellow striped shirt, plastic hat.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Samalicious

                                  I loved Shakey's when I was a kid. Still remember the feel of those bumpy plastic rootbeer cups.

                                2. Nope , never did....most of my friends worked at either McD's, BK, White Castle or KFC...they all hated it...I did however work in a mom & pop pizzeria....They were simple, organized and were more concerned with making all of us happy, putting out great food, so that we could project those feelings to our customers. Heck our delivery boy worked ther from teh time he was 17 until he got married @ 25...I understand he continued on Sunday nights for extra $$$...I loved that place.

                                  1. I worked at Carls Jr at The City in Orange CA back in the late 70's. We too had to wear these brown polyester uniforms with an orange rainbow across the chest. I sold hot dogs at the hot dog cart and they had a hot dog type salad bar with chili & stuff. It was actually pretty good. I loved their french fries back then. They had this machine that would extrude mashed potato-french fries into the hot oil. They were killer.
                                    I then moved on to a take out Chinese place. Han Hong Chinese Food in Garden Grove. It was run by a very nice couple from Beijing. They served very good Cantonese style take out.

                                    1. Back in the mid 60's in Brooklyn (It's in NYC) before McD, Burger KIng and Wetsons (anyone remember The Big W?) invaded the East coast we had 2 "Quik Burger" locations. That's as far as that chain got. Thru word of mouth my friends and I all worked there at one time or another. It was not bad as far as after school work went.
                                      When I got home I could scrape off the fry grease on my skin. They used a conveyor (similar to BK) to cook the burgers and "Quik Steaks".
                                      One day the boss takes me into the walk in cooler, takes out a box of boneless "steaks" that were a bit past their prime. The boss says: "Run these under cold water and wring them out like a dishrag to bring the red color back." It worked but I never ate anything there again!!

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Motosport

                                        One day the boss takes me into the walk in cooler, takes out a box of boneless "steaks" that were a bit past their prime. The boss says: "Run these under cold water and wring them out like a dishrag to bring the red color back."

                                        I'll have to remember that trick! lol

                                      2. I worked at Jack in the box part of my senior year in high school and my first quarter at UC Berkeley. We would make crazy concoctions - whopper bun with fish patty, burger party, all the sauces, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles. Soda with at least two flavors.

                                        Brown polyester pants with a yellow and orange tunic and yellow kerchief - all polyester. The grease smell was awful. Hated working the drive through window - worse was wearing the clown suit and taking orders outside. We were open 24 hours so drunk folks would come through and order a Moby Dick (instead of Jack) and laugh. One guy drove through while his gf was , ER, ah, you know.

                                        On grave yard shift there were 2 people working. One pair always went upstairs and had relations. I worked with someone and we'd work really hard and get everything done and take turns napping because someone had to awake for drive through.

                                        One guy I worked with hated "high-riders", one guy in particular and when guy came through drive through in his high rider co-worker made tacos, spat in them, stomped on them and bagged them. Another guy took a fifteen minute break and was gone for over an hour. The manager made me fire him and his mother called and threatened to kill me.
                                        The manager had been fired from his teaching job because he was having sex with and living with a teenage student.

                                        I actually like their super tacos and ate them after I stopped working there. Even after hearing about the horse meat issue. I didn't eat the burgers though. They had us fry them ahead of time and keep them in a pan with warm broth so we could assemble orders faster. We were supposed to discard them after 30 or 40 minutes - I forget- but, of course, they sat there for hours and hours. Surprised no one got sick.

                                        After I left there worked about and a half at a burger place in North Berkeley. The store manager loved me. The district manager popped in and overheard me say something to another student who was a customer about my new gf. This was over 30 years ago and the dude must have been homophobic. He forced the manager to fire me. Ostensibly because I was wearing jeans which all the guys did. There were no anti-discrimination laws in Berkeley at the time so I didn't fight it.

                                        Haven't had fast food in several years now. Unless you count tacquerias.

                                        1. First job was at McDonald's when I was 16yo.....wore the original weird brown-ish polyester uniforms, then they switched to polos & khaki-ish pants which were much better!! I was a whiz at Drive-thru & our store won the contests between the 3 stores in our area regularly!! I loved working Drive Thru on Friday nights and could usually talk the partyers into giving me a beer or two which I kept in a bag under the register! We usually had to lock the doors on Friday nights & have the cops show up due to the amount of people and the fights.

                                          Left there & went to Sizzler which was more money eventually. I was in charge of the salad bar & setting it up in the morning. Then I ran register for the rest of my shift.

                                          1. I got a job at Hardee's (like Carl's Jr for you west coasters) and only worked there a week before I was fired. The district manager hired me but nobody provided me any training on the cash register, they kept saying they were going to get to it and they kept sending me out to the dining room to clean it up and clean the mirrors and sweep and mop. I also got drinks and bagged orders but nobody taught me to run the register. Then we got into a rush and they needed me to get on the register but I didn't know how, nobody had showed me. The manager fired me, on the spot because I had been there a week and didn't know how to run register. I went across the street to Wendy's and got a job and worked there for over a year. So take that.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: rockandroller1

                                              "Then we got into a rush and they needed me to get on the register but I didn't know how, nobody had showed me. The manager fired me, on the spot because I had been there a week and didn't know how to run register."

                                              This is so typical of the run around some teens get when starting out in the working world. Could you imagine your adult self taking that kind of reason for being fired from a job?

                                              1. re: ttoommyy

                                                Totally agree. My Mom was SO pissed when it happened, she wanted to drive down there and give them a piece of her mind, but I was just like mom, NO, that would be even worse. Then she pointed out, rightly, that I didn't want to work for people that treated me like that anyway, and that I could easily get another job. And she was right! The Wendy's job was actually good training for the job I had the last couple of summers before going to college, in a little tiny deli downtown. It was really fun and very fast work and much better than working for a chain, just a tiny storefront with a guy that owned it and his assistant who helped him make the sandwiches. All the sandwiches were written on brown lunch bags that were clipped to 3 levels of clothesline that faced out to the customer - no printed menus, so you had to quickly figure out where each bag was located to know how much to write down for each item. That's the job my Mom taught me to make change for, since the registers there didn't do it and you had to actually MAKE the change. Nobody knows how to do this now.

                                                1. re: rockandroller1

                                                  Great story rockandroller1. So many lessons learned in these early jobs were valuable; we just didn't realize it at the time. Thanks for sharing.

                                            2. I worked at a Ponderosa for two and a half years while in high school back in the late 70s. got to wear the cowboy outfit but because I didn't work register, I didn't get a hat. I had to wear the blue mini-skirt and red and white checkered shirt. As a bus girl, I got tips. I think it was because at 5'9", I had legs to die for. My husband was a friend back then and he'd come visit me at work but he readily admits it was the uniform. In 1979, we changed to this ugly brown wrap "apron" with a horrible multi-color print shirt made out of the grosses polyester material you can imagine. I think BK and McD's had better polyester. Stuff stank to high heaven no matter what you did to it. At least the old cowboy outfit didn't stink!!!

                                              Any way, I enjoyed working there and learned a lot about food prep and food safety. We had pretty cool managers who let us do our jobs however we liked, provided the final result was within company standards.

                                              In fact, in 1989 a friend of mine was managing a Pondo and asked if I would work Friday/Saturday nights during football season, since most of his staff were from the local high school. It took me 15 minutes to recall what I used to do 9 years prior. Still had a blast!!!

                                              Now I do product development/technical specifications. Don't know how that transition happened!!!

                                              1. I worked at Arby's and Jack's Steak House in Raleigh NC.
                                                At Jack's I had a lot of trouble refilling the catsup and other condiments at each table in the time given to me for the job. My pet peeve was that the manager would keep us company when we all ate together after the lunch rush. She didn't eat but she sat and smoked while she chatted with us at the same table. Yet I got in trouble because I had a glass of water at my work station in the kitchen. This was back in the day.
                                                At Arby's I wasn't warm and friendly enough when I greeted and talked to the customers. Introverts like me tend to not do well waiting on the general public. Sometimes they would send me home (and other employees too) on a slow night. Other times my dinner break consisted of five mintues of standing in the doorway to the kitchen scarfing down a sandwich while I watched for customers coming in.

                                                1. Roy Rogers!!!!!

                                                  Worked the grill, fryer, drive though, front counter . . . . . it wasn't bad but the smell didn't wash off for years I don't think.

                                                  1. My first job was a candy store- but I left there to go to Pizza Hut, that gave me more hours and $.50/hr higher pay. I was a phone girl, since it was a delivery/takeout only location. I did get trained as a 'cook,' and everyone washed dishes and cleaned up if we were on closing shift. The Cutting Board was the premiere job, which is kind of hilarious now that I think of it- I angled for that cuttong board spot on a busy Saturday night, and when I had a successful shift (no dropped pizzas, no mixed up tickets, didn't get backed up) they agreed to send me to their management trainee program.

                                                    I'm a merchandising and accuracy supervisor in a large apparel warehouse now, so I suppose that trainee gig actually did me some good. That and poring over the JC Penney catalog as a dirt poor tween, learning garment construction terms.

                                                    1. Steve Forbes said he'd rather hire a person who had managed a fast food joint for 5+ years than someone with a wall full of degrees.

                                                      1. Pup 'n 'Taco. Horrible Southern Californian chain. When people came through the drive-thru, our boss instructed us to give our customers no napkins. Can you imagine how many angry people came back? Apparently, back in 1977, napkins were worth more than gold. And the food was so nasty, that i never partook of my half-price meal. I mean, this place made Wendy's seem tasty. And my girlfry told me about the way they made the chili there. (shudder)