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"Unskilled" Labor Ain't So Unskilled

Updated on September 28, 2009

The Other Side of the Register

            As many of you know from my first blog on this website, I have been looking for a job since May of this year with no success. However, about two weeks ago, on the same day I submitted an application on, I received a telephone call. Two interviews later, I was hired as a Team Member at my local Taco Bell.

            Everyone I have told about this has said the same thing: “you can do so much better.” Perhaps in a better economy, this would have been true. Right now, my motto is this: “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.” A job is a job. My mom told me that my grandfather would be proud of me for taking any available work in order to pay the bills.

            One of my professors’ comments stuck in my head: that it’s a pity that someone of my educational level has been forced to take an “unskilled” position to earn an income. After about a week working there, I find the word “unskilled” to be grossly inaccurate. If anyone reading this has ever worked in fast food, you know what I’m talking about. For the rest of you, let me paint a picture:

            In any fast food restaurant, when you get your receipt you generally see codes indicating the items you ordered. Most customers probably don’t give a second thought to what they stand for, usually discarding the receipt when they find that their order is correct. However, to me, those codes matter. The first thing I was trained for was how to work the cash register. Every code falls under a specific category, e.g., “Tacos,” “Burritos,” “Nachos (and Sides),” etc. When I first looked at the list, I thought “how can anyone memorize this stuff?” Many are very counter-intuitive. For example, can anyone guess what “BGS-BF” stands for and which category it’s filed under? The answer to the first part of the question is “Grilled Stuffed Burrito with Beef.” You probably think it falls under “Burritos,” right? Wrong! It’s under “Grill,” along with the various quesadillas (“Q-CHZ,” “Q-CK” and “Q-ST” for cheese, chicken and steak, respectively) and the “Crunchwrap Supreme” or “CR-WRP.”

            If that wasn’t bad enough, how about the “LTO” and “SPECL” categories? “LTO” denotes their newly-added menu items, though I have no idea what it literally stands for. “SPECL” means “specialty items.” Seems simple enough, but how does one distinguish “new” from “specialty?” Here are two examples: “CM-HLF” falls under “LTO,” while “PIZ-BF” falls under “SPECL.” The latter stands for “Mexican Pizza,” while the former is “Half-Pound Nacho Crunch Combo.” The “combo” in this particular case stands for a combination meal, which includes not only the “Half-Pound Combo Burrito” (which is “CM-BCP” when ordered by itself), but also a “Crunchy Taco” (“T-BF”) and a large drink (“LG-PEP”—do they just use Dr. Pepper as a default? I personally prefer their iced tea.). While most combo meals fall under the “COMBO” key, this one does not!

            I could go on about this, but I think you all get the idea. In short, it’s very confusing. I have a set of note cards and papers with additional notes so I can distinguish an enchirito from an empanada. Flipping through all of them to find the proper code when I am the only one on a register and there is a line of people going out the door into the parking lot takes more time than my managers would like. However, apparently, my attempts to memorize have fallen short—two days ago I was told that my “constant” mistakes are costing too much money in refunds, so now they want me to just clean up the dining room and restrooms, which all cashiers are expected to do anyhow while they are on order-taking duty. All tasks must be done quickly, accurately and cheerfully.

            Okay, rant over. My point was not to complain. I am grateful to have any kind of income at all. Times are difficult, and many people I know are still unemployed. Some have kids and pending divorces to deal with, and I have neither. I simply wanted to illustrate how inaccurate certain labels can be. Fast-food service is usually categorized as “unskilled labor.” Trust me, it takes skills: memorization, speed, social skills and physical coordination (those industrial-grade mops and buckets are heavy and awkward). My height doesn’t help either—when replacing condiments and utensils, I usually need to ask someone taller to reach a box of sporks or napkins on a high shelf.

            Thankfully, most of the customers have been very understanding. A few “regulars” seem to really like me, and they haven’t even known me that long. One man comes in every day without fail, orders one small item, sits down and eats it, then orders another small item and sits down and eats it too. A college freshman who’s only been in this town two months has come in twice since I started working there. He was very happy when I remembered his name before looking at his credit card. I think he’s lonely, stressed and grateful to see a semi-familiar friendly face. As it happens, we share the same undergraduate major (Psychology).

            No matter how long it lasts, this is an interesting learning experience. Fast food service definitely takes skills, many of which I am developing as I go along. I believe that every individual experience helps shape our lives as a whole. Each one has something to teach us. This is showing me what life is like outside of academia and offices.

            Next time you enter any fast-food restaurant, consider what it’s really like on the other side of the register. Those who take your orders and give you your change, as well as those who prepare the food and provide more toilet paper, are regular people just like you and me with a variety of real skills to help them navigate and improve their lives.  

Could YOU Take This Order?


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    • vash99 profile image

      Richard sears 5 years ago from memphis ,tn

      working in food service and retail for the past 20 years i can say without a shadow of a doubt that it is not easy work we r often overworked,under paid,and under staffed

      with management knowing less about general store operations then we do

      we appreciate all the help that comes

    • conundrum profile image

      conundrum 8 years ago

      Very true, cryora :-) About a month ago, they scrapped the codes for buttons that actually write everything out (e.g, the button for a crunchy taco reads "CRUNCHY TACO" instead of "T-BF"). Interestingly enough, THAT gave me trouble for a while, partially because the buttons' positions changed too. (I wasn't the only one confused--even the managers were! One said that we should have had a formal training session to get used to the new system.)

      I have gotten the hang of it now. It definitely made finding the condiments easier :-)

      Thanks for reading!

    • profile image

      cryora 8 years ago

      Well, whoever made up those codes was probably unskilled.

    • conundrum profile image

      conundrum 8 years ago

      Thank you so much!

    • wannabwestern profile image

      Carolyn Augustine 8 years ago from Iowa

      Thumbs up! I like your writing style. Stick with this HubPages thing and you'll go far. As for the job, there is no such thing as work that is beneath us. I have learned that after changing many diapers and dealing with illnesses. I agree you will learn lots and I respect you for taking a job that isn't in your career field. Best, Carolyn


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