25 April 2018

The truth about working in a 'fast food' restaurant & Why I quit

*Disclaimer: While I've heard a lot of 'fast food' restaurants are similar, I am only writing based off my personal experience at one particular chain. The name of the restaurant WON'T be mentioned in this post.*    

So, if you've been following my Twitter for a while now, you'll know that about a month and a half ago I was super excited to be starting a new job. Don't get me wrong it wasn't anything special, just the standard, I-need-to-get-a-job-so-I-can-survive-uni-life-next-year-and-ironically-still-come-out-40,000£-in-debt-afterwards, kind of job. But yeah, it was still something. Considering I had previsously been working as waitress in another restaurant, and as an events host, I was pretty confident that it wouldn't be anything too new. Little did I know, I was stepping into a completely different world. The world of 'semi' fast food. Semi fast food you say, what's that? Well, to put it simply, it's fast food with a fancy coat. 

While I've never really had a problem with fast food, I mean, who doesn't love the occasional foot-long everything subway, working in the industry has definitely made me realise the problems that lie within. It's one of those things  you never really think about until you've actually seen behind the scenes. So, if you're thinking of working in a similar job, or you're just a bit nosy, here are my discoveries from working in 'fast food' and the reasons why I decided to quit. 
  • Pay
Like most restaurant jobs pay is minimum wage, and while the argument of how much minimum wage should be is probably best saved for a completely different post, I thought I would touch on two specific issues. One of the first things I was told when starting was "you must only tap in just before going on the floor, and you must always tap out as soon as you leave the floor," And, yes, while this seems fair, I also believe that it's a little petty. As a huge franchise, it seems a little odd that they couldn't afford to pay workers the extra five minutes it takes to put belongings in lockers. Yes, they would mention this if you accidentally tapped in before putting things away. I know it's not a huge deal, and I guess you could say i'm equally as petty for even picking this out, but with the amount they went on about it, I couldn't not mention it. 

Which brings me to the second point, 20/30 minute breaks. It's the law in the UK that if you work 6 hours or more you're entitled to a 20 minute break, and depending on the employer this could be unpaid or paid. Personally, I believe this is wrong. Although, technically it is a break, 20 minutes isn't enough time to go home or, well... anywhere really. So, this usually means just staying in the place of work. If you're at work and you have to be there (you do otherwise you would miss your start time) I believe you should be paid. Again, as a huge franchise, I would have expected them to do this. 

I am well aware that this is the norm for most minimum wage jobs, and would actually go as far as to say the law should be changed to say 20 minute breaks must be paid.  
  • Hours 
Hours are very unpredicatable and usually depend on how many customers turn up. Sometimes I would go in expecting to work 8 hours, but come home after 4. And, yes, that might sound great, but it makes it very hard to track hours and plan days. It also means not reaching the contracted hours. As someone who's fortunate enough to still have my parents helping me, I don't neccessairily need the hours, however I imagine someone who relies on the income from the job would find this hard.  The rota would change a lot too, making it impossible to plan days off. Just because days off weren't necessarily a weekend, like in most jobs, managers almost didn't expect you to plan anything on them, so would often just change them with a days notice. 

This probably wouldn't apply for everyone, but as I was working in a mall quite far away from my home, this often meant taking a 45 minute bus trip to and from work. This meant that it wasn't possible for me to go home and come back easily. As I was often given 4/5 hour breaks between shifts, and couldn't go home, I usually just ended up sitting in a café or the restaurant. For me this just became really inconvenient and I found I was wasting a lot of time just waiting around. I totally understand that this wouldn't be the same for everyone and would probably work out well for people living close by, but it just didn't work out for me.   
  • Management
Mostly it just seemed that waiters/waitresses were promoted to managers after working at the company for 2+ years, despite have little or no qualifications for the job. My main problem with this was that none of the 4/5 managers seemed to be able to create a good rota. We would often be understaffed at the busiest times and overstaffed when there were very little customers. On top of this, managers would make you feel guilty for taking a break during busy times, despite the break being scheduled on the rota by them. Certain members of management were extremely unhelpful, with one just expecting I know practically everything from day one and getting annoyed when I, *shockingly*, needed help. One of the managers who was supposed to be working front of house aswell, usually spent the whole day in the managers room contributing even more to the lack of staff during peak hours. I understand that they must also get a lot of admin work, but if this is the case, why not take the time to create a rota with this factored in? Maybe ensure there is another staff member replacing you front of house?
  • Service
Always understaffed. 

Personally, I found the till questions and certain service 'rules' extremely tedious and, quite frankly, embarrassing. Everything was quite obviously just an attempt to drive more sales. E.g. Constantly asking the customer if they wanted extra cheese, extra ice cream, extra sauces, extra, extra, extra... Not only was it mind numbing for the server, but annoying for the customers who 99% of the time said no to everything. One of the service 'rules', checkbacks, which included going back to a table after noticing customers had taken a bite of the food, was equally as annoying for the customers. Not to mention, it usually involved a waiter/waitress awkwardly staring over at eating customers, who in response felt equally as awkward, to see if they had taken a bite. I agree that checkbacks are important and can be a nice way to make customers feel well looked after, but I felt this way was slightly over the top and, in some ways, did well to do the exact opposite. 

Service also included cleaning tables and wiping down surfaces. The product used for the surfaces was an irritant and, although diluted, was still pretty strong. Again, not a massive deal, but using it everyday without gloves and in such a quantity probably isn't the best for anyones skin... I wasn't advised to use gloves (as I was in previous jobs and at my current one), and when I mentioned to the managers that it was irritating my skin they basically ignored me.  
  • Food
Considering the company I worked for was, as I mentioned above, a semi fast food chain, the food was pretty mediocre for the price. In fact, the price was far higher than usual fast food standard, while the food remained the typical greasy, fatty, fast food rubbish. I actually distinctly remember one of the kitchen staff holding up a bucket full of cut fat from the meat oozing with oil. I was even more surprised to find that the salads were equally as oily! You were quite literally left with a pool of oil at the end of every meal. I often found that the oils and grease from the kitchen and food would cause my skin to become oily, and more prone to breakouts.  

Not only did the food seep fat, but the drinks were equally as bad. Each milkshake contained an ENTIRE ice cream tub! And even the kids shakes had about 3/4 of a tub in. Don't get me wrong, i'm all for eating whatever you like, but I also believe that when one milkshake covers your entire daily recommended calorie intake, they should probably mention it somewhere on the menu. I also believe that the quality of the food should be reflected in the price, so food of low quality should also have a low price.

My biggest problem with the food however, wasn't really food itself, but the way it was presented as 'good food.' I believe that if a brand preaches quality and insists on having high prices, the food should be quality. The whole branding seemed like a massive lie.       
  • Excessive Food Waste
Along with the point mentioned above, this is probably also one of my main reasons for quitting. As someone who is trying to cut down on all types of waste, it seemed very hypocritical to be working for a company that creates so much. I understand you can't control how much food a customer orders or force people to eat everything on their plate, but I can't believe that nothing can be done about the sheer amount of food waste. Despite having worked in other restaurants, I had never seen so much! It was very common for people to leave at least 1/4 or even half of the food they ordered, and even more common for people to leave milkshakes, sometimes even untouched. The food bin was almost always full and constantly needed to be thrown out.   
  • Extremely un-eco friendly
Surprisingly, this was probably my main reason for quitting. While I understand and can handle being overworked, which is unfortunately the norm in most restaurant jobs (and others), when it comes to my beliefs I'm a lot less willing to just 'accept it.' That being said, I'm also not one to live in a bubble, I'm perfectly aware that it's pretty much impossable to run a massive chain without some eco unfriendliness. So, when I first noticed that there was no plastic recycling bin, I decided to turn a blind eye. I mean, to be fair on them, this is a pretty common occurance in restaurants and cafés. However, as time went on I started to realise just how eco-unfriendly this chain actually was. Not only were plastic straws mandatory in every drink, but it was also used as a way to differentiate between certain drinks, meaning some drinks had two straws in! Considering straws are made of single-use plastic and go straight to landfill, they are one of the worst plastic items for the environment. In fact, they're one of the top ten items picked up on beach clean-ups.

Other completely unnecessary wastage included, little paper plate decorations, throwing away paper menus with the smallest of marks, and binning every childs menu after use. It was also obligatory to give review card to every customer despite knowing that about 99% would be left on the table and binned at the end of service. While I agree that customer reviews are good, I don't understand why they couldn't have just created an automated review system on their app (which most customers had). 

Considering most of these issues can be easily fixed, I find it a shame that nothing is being done about it. Personally, I think it highlights not only the problem with fast food but just a general problem with society. Everything and everyone is so focused on money that we forget about the ethical implications. 

Again, I'd just like to state that I'm only writing from my personal experience at one 'semi' fast food chain, and that the points made in this post may not be relevant to other chains. 

Have you ever worked for a fast food chain? I'd love to hear your thoughts below!

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