It was 1978. I sat in the darkened basement of the McDonalds Restaurant on Marshall Avenue in Longview, Texas, watching the training film flicker on the collapsible screen. I learned the history of the company, how to smile and take orders and—gulp—upsell by suggesting an order of fries and a drink to folks who ordered only a burger.
Working in a fast food joint seemed like a good solution for a starving student’s wife until I learned we had to pay full price for anything we ate. I began packing my own bologna sandwiches and learned to work with a rumbling tummy. “Free Meal” cards were sparingly handed out for special rewards. Just once, I earned one for having the perfect amount of change in my drawer at the end of my nine-and-a-half hour shift.
One day we received a call that a bus-load of football players was on its way. The crew in the back scrambled to assemble dozens of Big Macs and fill the fry bin, while out front we began pre-filling large cups of soda to the brim. When the burgers remained in the bin after their expiry time passed and we still hadn’t seen the bus, I thought my heart might break as we filled garbage bags with the unsold food, counting every Styrofoam box and recording it on the waste form. We learned later that the bus had shown up at the McDonalds across town—which had not received a call and was not prepared.
|Me in my polyester uniform.|
The polyester uniform seemed like a good solution for a starving student’s wife, too, until I learned I’d need to buy my own navy or black shoes. I stopped at a department store and bought the cheapest pair I could find. They were comfy, but made of nylon that allowed no breathing room. By the end of my first week, the shoes stunk so bad I left them out overnight to fend off burglars. And since my weekly trips to the laundromat were not frequent enough to keep the uniform fresh, I learned to swish it around in the bathtub each night and hang it up to dry.
I was to punch my time card and be at the counter, smiling and ready to take orders before 6:30 each morning. I learned to keep the coffee pots going continually and fill any momentary lull with counter-wiping and cup dispenser restocking. No standing idle, no drinking water in sight of the customers, no chit chat. And never, ever stop smiling.
I got two fifteen-minute breaks for which I needed to punch in and out, neither of them over the noon rush of course. By the end of the first day, I thought I’d die. I complained of sore feet to my parents over the phone. After a month, Dad asked me if I’d grown used to being on my feet.
“Well, put it this way,” I said. “I’m used to sore feet.”
The neatest learning experience coming out of that job came from the mostly African American staff. It was an education to be a minority for the first time in my life, to discover that the others could easily communicate without my knowing what was going on if they wanted to, and that they possessed a sense of humour I could only hope to emulate. I was the dumb white Canadian to be taken under wing, and I could not take myself too seriously if I wanted to get along.
I earned $3.10 an hour. When evaluation time came, Management gave us grades for our work. An ‘A’ grade meant a ten-cent raise. ‘B’ meant room for improvement while you continued at your same pay rate. ‘C’ meant a cut in pay (yes, they could actually do that) and ‘D’ meant you were fired.
Confident I’d soon be taking home an extra 95 cents a day, I went to my appointment smiling. But left in tears.
My manager had given me a ‘B’ and told me I needed to do more upselling. I’d been on the job nine months, and this news was all the incentive I needed. I spent my days off applying for secretarial positions until I was hired by a guy who sold swimming pools.
But that’s a story for another day.