It’s a hot political topic: is minimum wage good enough for fast food workers, or should it be raised? Those who have been blessed in life, who have never worked fast food, say minimum wage is plenty. Those who have ever stepped foot behind the counter during a rush don’t agree. After serving fast food for two years, I’m part of the latter. Here are just a few reasons why.
1. Mean, abusive customers
You’ve seen videos of them online. You’ve seen them ahead of you in drive through. Maybe you are one yourself. These are the customers who do anything from screaming at the girl behind the counter over a ketchup packet to throwing things at employees rather than explain a problem so it could be fixed. But even if the new girl is in tears and the shift leader now has coffee burns, the customer is always right. That’s the theory, anyway, so most managers will shrug and tell you to toughen up.
2. Creepy, scary customers
From the customer who won’t let go of your hand to the teenager making lewd comments to the older man making blowjob jokes-‘creepers’ seem to be everywhere. But no matter how uncomfortable they make you, they’re customers. You have to smile and be polite if your manager is a male. If your manager is a female, you call her over and hope the guy finds her more interesting. More often than not, the female manager will have more experience in getting out of the situation safely and gracefully.
3. The pay rate and hours
This is the obvious one. While the original premise of minimum wage was that one person working full hours could support a family of four, that no longer holds true. Providing for a two person household might be possible if you work full time-but your hours aren’t guaranteed. My hours ranged anywhere from 8 to 42 hours a week, depending on what my manager felt I should get. On one hand, I would get yelled at for hitting overtime. But if I got sick or had an emergency, my hours plummeted. For a few months before I could afford to quit, I was taking out loans every month for rent and we were on food stamps. When I moved to a job with 35 hours at just three dollars more an hour, I felt rich.
4. Compromising health for good customer service
Going from minimal hours to overtime and back happened a lot. When I worked 11 hour days, there was no time to take a break from drive through. I didn’t drink water because I couldn’t afford to go to the bathroom. If there was waste, or food that was returned and not sellable, I would try to throw it in my bag to eat after my shift. I did this for customers. They wanted quick service and there was no one around to help while I took a break. But being dehydrated and eating five hour old burgers would eventually result in a sick day, causing my manager to say “whenever I increase your hours, you get sick. So you work four hours this week.”
If everyone was required to work a year in food service, conditions would either improve or minimum wage would become a little higher. Conditions are improved both ways.