by Nichole Fox

I have worked at the same fast-food restaurant for more than nine years now, for seven of which I have been the general manager. In my interaction with customers, and in participating in workshops with several other fast-food chains, I have noticed that there is a bad stereotype attached to being a fast-food worker. The job may not be as prestigious as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. It may not have the earning potential of a lawyer, or even the dedication of a teacher. However, the fast-food employee is often much more than an uneducated, unmotivated, and underpaid worker.

Many people eat at quick-serve restaurants on a regular basis. The customers seek out a particular eating establishment for a variety of reasons: location, cost, quality, etc. The fast-food employee greets them with a smile, serves them their food promptly, and invites them to come back again. Though many appreciate the customer/employee relationship, few appreciate the actual employee.

I have been confronted by less-than-friendly consumers who complain about prices, menu changes, and slow service. In addition, the attitude of "the customer is always right" goes to many people's heads. Yes, I want them to choose my place of business over the competition's, but I don't deserve to be cursed at, laughed at, or called names because of a simple mistake. Admittedly, we all make mistakes.

A lot of the animosity that I see toward people in my occupation comes from people who have never worked fast-food themselves. They look down on us because they believe we make minimum wage, that we have no desire to attain higher goals, and we couldn't find a job anywhere else if we tried. This is a myth.

Most fast-food employees make more than minimum wage. If they didn't, they wouldn't stay at a job so demanding. Maybe they don't make a lot more -- in my opinion they don't make nearly enough for the job they do, when you consider that there are few jobs out there that are as stressful and fast paced with so much responsibility.

Regardless, in my nine years behind the counter I have seen some highly intelligent, dedicated people who come in and enjoy doing a job that is essential to your way of life. I have seen high school students who want to make their own money instead of living off Mom and Dad. I've employed college students who desire not to live off loans and be indebted for their entire adult lives. I've employed single moms who want to provide for their own child rather than living off welfare. I even have mentally disabled and elderly people who enjoy serving people, making a difference in both of their lives.

There are many reasons why they choose the fast-food business to work in. They do it because they like the small-team unit. It is a place to make lasting friendships and social connections. Furthermore, they grow as people as they learn responsibility, respect, and teamwork. They fulfill a position for the company and still have the flexibility to be able to spend time with family and friends, attend school, or go on a vacation. Through their employment, whether it is a month or a year, they learn fundamental skills that prepare them for greater feats in life.

So, the next time you go into a fast-food restaurant I urge you to look at the employee in a new light. Don't see a person in a hat and apron wasting his or her life. See a person who has responsibilities and ambitions. Realize that this is but a stepping-stone into the future for them. As a manager, I give my employees positive reinforcement, a sense of self-worth, and skills to build on. However, I can only prevent their job from being thankless to a certain degree. Kudos from the customer is what gives them satisfaction in their job. So please give them a smile, a thanks, and your respect.

Thunder in the Bay Car Show & Cruise @ Bayview, Idaho

July 17-18
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