Shaping Work Habits – High School Jobs Revisited – part 2

Part 2 of 3 – McDonald’s

2020 has been a disruptive year for everyone. Like millions of others, I’m wrestling with furlough and career choices. While we rarely list high school jobs on our resumes, I’ve been thinking about the three jobs I had during my teenage years. They all had an impact shaping my future professional career. So, I thought it would be a good exercise to document what I learned from each position. The innocence of youth meets reflection and learning. 

The summer before my senior year I worked at a McDonalds. I would have continued to work at Winn-Dixie, but I had moved and the Golden Arches was hiring close to me. McDonald’s was the opposite of Winn Dixie. Rather than working alone at my own pace, I was a piece of an operating team delivering a service as quickly as possible. I started as a cashier at the front of the store and then transitioned later to drive-through cashier. I’ll never forget my first live customer. When I made his drink, I didn’t put enough ice in the cup. The dispenser had predetermined settings based on the size and after my selection, it didn’t fill the drink all the way to the top. The customer was disappointed and gave me a verbal cue. Before the summer ended, I had many more failures. 

Here’s what I learned:

  1. How to run a cash drawer – Keeping my drawer balanced for the count at the end of my shift was like a game. I was always disappointed with myself when the shift manager would tell me my drawer count was over/under the amount that should have been in the drawer. Typically it was some amount around 25 cents. To this day, I wonder where those missing pennies are. 🙂
  2. What it’s like to work in a timed operation – I’m not going to lie. It was an awakening working on the other side of the fast-food service counter. The time to deliver the order to the customer was present on the screen in front of us. Everyone could see when orders went over the target time. Customers expected food quickly and with accuracy. Rapido!
  3. How to fail – Perhaps my biggest learning that summer was how to fail and bounce back. As I mentioned, my drawer was balanced after every shift and the manager would tell me if their count didn’t match what was supposed to be in the drawer. If I didn’t have a perfect drawer, I considered it a failure. Perhaps they counted wrong sometimes, but even a penny-off motivated me to work for perfection.

  4. My most memorable failure was somewhat comical and a fun story to tell (although not funny at the time.) One day during the peak rush of lunch hour I was working the drive-through window. The kitchen couldn’t meet the demand of the rush and fell behind. So the shift manager tells me I’m needed in the kitchen to help with Big Macs. So I quickly move into the kitchen and someone was there to train me. He said something like, “I’m going to do this once to teach you. Then I have to go to another task so you take it.”. I knew the song. Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun. But watching someone assemble a Big Mac with the goal of rapidly making a batch of 12 was like seeing a guy juggle six bowling pens. Suddenly I was on my own. I remember hesitating and second-guessing the sequence.  I made it through about six sandwiches when the manager reappeared and I was relieved of my duties and placed back in the drive-through. It was a complete failure. I didn’t make a batch in an acceptable amount of time and most likely the sandwiches I did complete may not have been exactly right. Other than dropping french fries in the fryer, it was my only food prep activity of the summer.

Working at McDonald’s definitely gives me an appreciation for the fast-food service industry. Fast-paced, timed delivery, accuracy, customer satisfaction are all part of the equation.  I don’t eat Big Macs any longer, but if you do, then appreciate the one who makes it for you. It’s an orchestration to put all the pieces together when the clock is running. 🙂

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Renzelle Mae Abasolo – via creative commons