What I Learned While Working at McDonald’s

My career started at McDonald’s. I remember the day that I turned 16 years old. I received my temporary drivers license and then walked into McDonald’s to fill out an application. My sister was working there, and it only made sense that I do the same. I was hired that day and began a 3-year journey of learning (beyond making a hamburger) that I have carried with me throughout my career. It provided an excellent foundation for work ethic, leadership, execution, flexibility, accountability, and customer service.

My starting wage was $3.35 an hour. I was given two uniforms, two weeks of on the job training, and the work began. My initial tasks included cleaning the lobby and making French fries. Eventually, I was trained to work the register to take and deliver orders. This gave me the opportunity to interact with the customer which I really enjoyed, especially during the holidays. I also had to manage my cash drawer well, making sure that when counted, my drawer balanced (give or take a few cents).

After some time, I was able to work my way up to working the drive-through. This required communication skills over a speaker and managing all transactions through a 2’ by 2’ window in all sorts of weather. The drive-through also increased the pressure, exponentially! There was a queue to be managed and at times there was a stop-watch to help you understand how you were doing versus expectations. I loved the pace and excitement when working drive-through. And I usually had an amazing ‘runner’ by the name of Sue who literally would dash to collect all the food, put it in a bag, and bring it to me to give to the customer. I still marvel today about Sue. Her task was extremely important and she gave it her all; her energy was infectious!

Well into my time at McDonald’s, I was introduced to the grill and all tasks pertaining to making the sandwiches. This is where most of the young men worked. Being a young woman working in that environment was exciting and intimidating. Yet, I was up for the challenge. This was a whole new experience to be working ‘behind the scenes’ and to follow standard work processes. We would toast the buns, dress them with condiments, lettuce, pickles and cheese and finally add the meat. There were times where we had to vary from the process to make a special order to hold the ketchup or onions or to dress a hamburger like a Big Mac.

I believe my favorite time of day at McDonald’s was working during our breakfast hours. The store was quiet, the customers were ‘regulars’, and the food on the grill was different than the typical burger. It is here where I learned how to crack two eggs at a time into the Egg McMuffin rings. My shift would start at 5:00 am, but I would be home by 1:00 pm to enjoy the rest of the day.

My career at McDonald’s lasted 3 years; from the end of High School into my early College Days. Important lessons that I have carried with me to this day include:

  1. If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean!
    It was expected that you are always busy. In periods of a lull in customer activity you had to look for activities to complete while ‘on the clock’. There was a running joke that if you stopped too long, you would be given a toothbrush to clean the wheels on the equipment!
  2. Multiple roles and tasks keep the job exciting
    Coming in for a shift you never knew what your assignment was for the day until you looked at the schedule. From the dreaded French fries and lobby to the exciting drive-through window, you did what you had to do to contribute to the success of the store that day.
  3. Perks are distinctive
    McDonald’s provided a free meal every shift that you worked. This was meant for you and there was a break room provided to eat with peers. That time was special to build morale among the staff. The food was delicious and was a highlight of a break or at the end of a shift. I believe this perk reinforced McDonald’s commitment to their employees and in turn staff would go the ‘extra mile’. I never tired of the food. I still enjoy a Big Mac today!
  4. Be flexible to support the business, especially during peak periods
    I can still hear our general manager yell, “BUS! Run it a Dozen-Six!” Translation, a bus just pulled into the parking lot and soon there would be a swarm of people at the counter. In preparation we would begin cooking a dozen hamburgers followed by six Big Macs, then repeat! If we were having an exceptionally busy Friday night following local high school football games, we could be asked to stay beyond our scheduled shift or could be called at home to come in to support the high volume.
  5. The art of leadership
    I worked for many managers while at McDonald’s. Some were fantastic and others not so much. Good managers sought input, recognized good work, provided coaching and intervention when needed, and created a culture of mutual respect. Bad managers dictated, scolded, rarely complimented, and created a culture of indifference or fear. These early experiences helped to shape me into the leader I am today. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” … T. Roosevelt

I loved working for McDonald’s and have a heart for others who have worked there as well. I get excited when I see McDonald’s work experience on a resume. I understand the foundation of the candidate’s career and have great respect for my fellow alumni. I know the world of fast food has changed over the years, but I will always be drawn to the golden arches – Good Food and Good People!