Everything I Know I Found Out In A Fast Food
SOUNDS CRAZY but it’s true.
Fast food places can teach us a thing or two.
And one thing I do know to be true is that if you eat fast food all the time you will live fast and you will move on to the next life even faster.
But don’t get me wrong, when I say, fast food or fast food restaurants, I am not talking about our favorite thing to do in one, eating.
What I am referring to is that we could learn a thing or two from actually working in one. Aha.
And most things I do know could be traced to me finding them out first hand by working part-time while in college at a local fast food store in the heart of the city, commonly called the University Belt of Manila.
First thing, a little backgrounder, teenagers working in fast food places back in my day at least in the Metro cities of the Philippines, could probably be likened to working there at a call center today--hard to get accepted, needs certain skills, a status symbol and gets one a relatively good pay, especially if one works a place with tips.
Second, back in the eighties (my time) when McDonald’s first came to Southeast Asia and to the Philippines, all their stores were seen as “higher-end” and many of their young crew members were college kids working part-time studying mostly from the more expensive schools, speak good English and the local language, have great personalities and some could even have applied for modeling and acting jobs. Okay, some have two out of those four qualities, but studying in a university, could speak English and good looks are almost a given. And by this, I mean young, clear skin, latest hair style, no false teeth, no eyeglasses, smart-looking, above average height and weight in proportion to height. I know, the Philippine job hunters are mildly discriminatory to say the least, well some still are even as most people would not admit to it.
And so when my good looking friend and I applied for a part time McDonalds job in a store in one of the more affluent places in the city, we were denied off the bat. A few of our friends were working at Pizza Hut or KFC or still Kentucky Fried Chicken back then and so we thought, why not up the ante and work for the best. But of course we bombed out. LOL.
Anyway, my friend applied a few times now at the local McDonald’s counterpart, Jollibee, which was in fact bigger than McDonald’s in the Philippines but still not as glamorous as working in an American Restaurant chain. And in time he too got in. Well, he needed the extra money more than I did, so I didn’t join him in the less glamorous job at the Filipino chain. If it was at least at Wendy’s, maybe.
Anyway after a year, when money was getting tighter and after getting free food and drinks most times I visited my friend at Jollibee and finding how happy they seem to be working, I again applied for a job, this time at Jollibee. Me and my other friend did, another good-looking friend (well of course, if you aren’t that good-looking, you have to hang out with the better looking ones to be at least identified with them—free tip right there).
So I got past the initial screenings but unfortunately, like most first time applicants, my friend got cut off within the first three seconds, while I get to be back for a second interview. So you kids of today who work part time for McDonalds or some of those similar restaurants, it was totally a different world, some 30 years ago, nothing like you could probably imagine.
I mean, I don’t even need the money that bad, but of course any extra cash would help, but I am guessing a part-time job at a fast food store back then was so much hoped for and an accomplishment or something, I went back for a second interview. And I passed that. I haven’t known it yet at the time but if employers have a choice between two almost identical applicants and one had worked for an American food chain while in college, then they would most probably go for that one.
And so without me even knowing that, I thought I’d go for a third interview as well, a panel interview if I was not mistaken and then I had to pass the written test and of course the medical tests and all the hours and hours of training. Wow, one would think I was applying for a job at NASA or something.
And I’m still without a store or haven’t seen the kitchen of a store yet. We were all still waiting for an opening in one and the one final interview with a Store Manager who will finally select one of us to work within their store. And so it was like survival of the fittest or it’s me or you kiddo, among us new hires.
Yes, wow, fast food workers back then were really well selected and well trained, and when they finally end up working at the store, any store, they would work their butts off not to disappoint their supervisors, to please their customers and to give their brand and store a good name, it was really customer service at its best. And I am guessing most people who work in customer service today have absolutely no idea of what the hell I am talking about. “Say, what? I ate here once, filled up an application started working the next day and I just work here for the money and the free food, is there anything else that I needed to know?”
And that’s just the half of it.
The other half I learned by actually working inside a store.
And so there I was, and getting our on the job training within the busiest Jollibee store at that time, one that was taking in over a million pesos in sales every single day, more on weekends and holidays. A million pesos was still big money back then and in case you haven’t factored it in, burgers, sodas, fries, sundaes and pies were a lot cheaper back in the 80s.
And so there we were newbies in the locker room of the busiest fast food store in the entire Philippine Islands, changing into our new crisp and shiny uniforms using any free locker at the time, the lockers were cramped with territorial older, bigger, battle-scarred, old-timers eyeing us as like new meat or bumbling don’t know what we got ourselves into new kids in the block, which we are for the one or two weeks we had to work over there in hell’s kitchen. Also it is not hard to imagine that some of the old-timers probably saw us as someone who are trying to steal their jobs.
So, at the end of each and every tension filled shift, we were dead-tired, our arms, our backs or our feet killing us, we were all ready and can’t wait to go home or worse to school depending on what our schedule was. We still had to literally walk on eggshells, keeping away from any tired old-timer’s way while trying to quickly change out of our work uniforms and trying to find out who among us newbies was the target of the locker room thief for the day. You see back then, our work uniforms have no pockets, we cannot carry any cash with us while working and being the busiest store in the entire country, they were staffed wall-to-wall, some of us trainees didn’t have any “safe” locker to keep our stuff in and we get no respect and no love.
Lesson One: Not Everyone In the Workplace Abides By The Golden Rule Or Is Out To Help You Out.
Imagine, we were fresh college kids, most if not all of us are working for the first time. And some of us go to the better schools or live in the better neighborhoods and have lived sheltered lives.
And it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that a few of us would quit after a couple of days working under those conditions. Especially the ones who really do not need the extra money the job pays in the first place. Although as I have said, that is probably part of the reason why this job or the American fast-food uniform was highly coveted or even esteemed. And funny why I said that because I am pretty sure I still have my old work uniform and my name badge, in a box somewhere in the garage.
Lesson Two: Good Things Sometimes Do Happen To Good People But Sometimes They Don’t.
Now after us trainees have gone through our hell’s training, a good thing happened, a new store opened which will be staffed with lots and lots of workers. And the company let us all know that fact, that we were all fortunate to be able to work for a store just because they are opening a new one and not just for the fact that we worked out butts off in training at the head office and working on-the-job at a store.
And so there we were, pioneers all, manager, supervisors and everyone else working for our very own store, our own turf, nobody looking down on us.
But then, the first batch of workers were ready to be evaluated if they would be extended past their initial two month or so work contract. And most of the really deserving workers did get an extension of their contracts while a few, even those who were better than the others who were retained, of course weren’t. I kind of liked the job already and the company of my co-workers who were all mostly the same age as me and are all studying, dreaming and sharing our dreams of becoming whatever we wanted to be. But the sad part was that some of those who were cut-off were students who had to work to pay for their school tuition. And many of those who were retained came from rich families and didn’t need the money they get from their paychecks.
Lesson Three: All Things Will Come To An End, No Matter How Good It Is.
And then inevitable, the next evaluation came but because the management did a lousy job of planning the start of the store close to the summer time which is a bad time to do it as the store was located in the heart of the University Belt and most students will be caught nowhere near their schools if they could help it.
And so the second evaluations ended in more cuts and more people not making it. And it’s funny that I learned this single fact first there, that sometimes it’s not really how good you are that will determine your future but rather how good you know the manager. And of course, all the close friends of our bosses all made it while the one’s who weren’t that close didn’t. And so as we were out planning to drink and drown out our miseries for sending off more of our friends out of work, one of them I forgot his name, but I know he was studying Marketing and some other Business course, told me this one truth. “What do you expect, we cannot all be working at the same place all our lives.” But of course being young and having so much fun, one would hope otherwise. But then again, deep down we all know we wouldn’t all be staying here, especially after graduation, but after working two or four months, and after working that hard to get to that point nobody wanted to be cut-off.
Lesson Four: Business Owners Make All The Money, The Workers Do Most Of The Work.
I wasn’t business-minded at the time, but after watching all the drama unfold, all the ins and outs of a store operation, all the office politics, and meeting the store (franchise) owners and everyone else, I was convinced that even though the workers will work hard sometimes as hard as the business owners, it will eventually be the business owners who will get rich off their business and the workers will still be surviving from paycheck to paycheck, even be laid-off all because of the bottom-line or because of profit. No respect, I tell you.
Lesson Five: There Are Many Different Types of People Out There, You Have To Go Out There To Find Out For Yourself And Not Just Believe Stereotypes Or Anything You Hear.
I wasn’t really sheltered but still working in those places, in those conditions and in those positions especially the ones out of your comfort zone will impact how you view things and would most times change your preconceived notions about other people.
While working there, I have met people who live in the ghettos, I have met people who have worked jobs that one wouldn’t want to admit to anyone else, I have met people who lived and slept in the sidewalks as I go home past midnight working the night shift, I have met transport drivers, I have met and worked with messengers, security personnel, cleaning people, small business owners, street vendors, street cleaners, the police. I have met with the parents of my co-workers and some of them, especially the rich ones I am more afraid of than any of those who live in the streets or work in the streets if you know what I mean.
One cannot generalize, there are good people in bad places and there are bad people in good places.
And now that I live in another country, in another continent, and in another time all together, all these things that I learned inside that Fast Food makes it all the more necessary.
And I hope that you have learned one or two things yourself.
“Would you want ketchup with that?”