The 5 Worst Things You See While Working in Fast Food
When I asked her to sign the slip of paper indicating that I planned to drop out of college, my English professor told me, "Whatever you do in life, make sure it involves writing." And with that, I moved to Wisconsin and embarked upon a four-year stint working in fast food restaurants.
If you've ever earned your keep by flipping burgers, you already know what kind of horrifying sights await anyone brave enough to venture into the greasy back room of a fast food restaurant. As for the rest of you, let me assure you, it's much worse than you can imagine back there.
Here are five awful things I've seen while working in fast food restaurants.
The Five-Second Rule
I'm assuming you all know what the five-second rule is, but just in case, it goes something like this: If food that's fallen on the floor is picked up within five seconds, it's perfectly fine to eat. People joke about it all the time at home, where the floors (ideally) are relatively clean and free from the rigors of heavy foot traffic. That's not what a fast food floor is like, though, especially not in the back where the food is made. So you might be horrified to know that not only is the five-second rule in constant use in fast food restaurants, but the "five second" part is nothing more than an often ignored suggestion.
One particularly harrowing case from my fast food days happened at a sub shop I worked at for a few months. They sold a ton of those gigantic 6-foot subs, which, if you've ever had to handle one, you know are unwieldy to the point of being impossible to carry by yourself. To add an extra layer of danger to their offerings, this place would also deliver your huge sandwich. It was on one of these deliveries that I saw something that would have put me off the idea of vegetarianism for life if the delicious taste of steak hadn't already done that so many years before.
We've been together ever since.
While I was warming up the restaurant's windowless white van, which looked exactly like the kind that park in front of your house when you're being investigated by the FBI, a co-worker who I'll refer to only as "Mike" because I don't remember that idiot's real name exited the back door of the restaurant with all 6 feet of food in his hands.
Even without the delicious meat that normal people add to a sandwich of this nature, we're still talking about 6 feet and maybe 10 to 15 pounds of cumbersome bread and toppings precariously placed on a surprisingly flimsy sandwich board.
The good news is that "Mike" made it into the van without incident. The bad news is that the first foot of the sandwich did not, instead choosing to break free from its plastic binding and spilling its contents onto the disgusting floor of the van. Granted, this was a veggie sandwich, so it didn't matter much because that's barely real food, but there was a bigger problem. We only had 10 minutes to make the delivery.
Remaking the part of the sandwich that now lay on the floor of the company rape van was out of the question, as that would take at least an hour. With no alternative other than to just give them 5 feet of sandwich instead of the six they'd paid for (we're no animals), "Mike" decided to scoop up the mounds of lettuce and pickles and cheese that had spilled onto that nasty, rusty van floor and put them back on the sandwich.
And with that, we were off to make our delivery. As far as I know, there were never any complaints. I'm assuming that's because people just naturally expect a sandwich with no meat to be terrible and taste like dirt.
Spit in Food
You've heard the warnings before: Be nice to people who serve you food, or else they'll spit in it. Well, guess what? The warnings are true! There is at least one employee in any restaurant, fast food or otherwise, who will totally spit in your food if given sufficient provocation.
Unlike the sandwich dropper from the previous story, I definitely remember the name of the premier food spit specialist from my fast food days. His name was Greg. He stole a case of ground beef patties and a jar of Maraschino cherries from the stock room on New Year's Eve once. He was suspended for three days after he huffed the contents of a whipped cream canister while working. He was that kind of employee. The kind who is almost incapable of not being a dick to people who give him orders.
And, disastrously, at some point during his time as my co-worker, he was moved from the relative safety of the dish room to the very front of the store, where he could make food, interact with customers, and just generally be driven into a blind rage at the thought of having to wait on people on a daily basis. His protests toward customers began as a simple flipping of the bird to anyone who made too much fuss for the person working the drive-through window.
But when hand gestures nobody could see no longer became enough to quell the need for vengeance that burned inside this man (I should add that we're talking about a 45-year-old man who behaved this way), he decided to make a drastic change in tactics.
Upon arriving to work on what was going to be a busy Saturday night, Greg pulled me aside and said, "Check this out," before arranging a bun on the prep table in front of him. With only the slightest parting of his lips and a movement that was practically unnoticeable, Greg fired an expertly aimed stream of saliva onto the bun, and then proceeded to do it five more times, each one with military-like precision and accuracy.
When I lied and said I wasn't sure what was going on here, he explained it to me. "I can spit in someone's food and make it look like I'm just working as normal. You can barely see me do it! I've been practicing that shit, dude."
It didn't take long for Greg to put his new skills to use, either. Later in that shift, I eyed him spitting in the food of a particularly unruly drive-through customer. I didn't say anything, because I was 17 and Greg was old and huge and probably a convicted felon. So, all night long, I had to live with the guilt of knowing that, by a conservative estimate, every fifth or sixth sandwich Greg handed over that night came with a horrifying extra ingredient.
If it makes you feel any better, I'm sure he spit in my food from time to time also. He was really into it.
You know what fast food restaurants are excellent for? Committing crimes. The fast-paced environment and constant traffic make for the perfect cover for all sorts of illicit activities. And no crime runs more rampant in the fast food restaurants of America than drug dealing.
In fact, I don't think I've ever worked at a restaurant that didn't also have an unofficial drug dealer on staff. I promise you it happens everywhere, but I also promise you I'm not going to give you details and names because, no matter how long ago it was, we're still talking about drug dealers, and I'm absolutely terrible about keeping up with old acquaintances. For all I know, one of these people could be today's answer to Pablo Escobar or something. No thanks, I'll keep the stories anonymous this go 'round.
If you think drug dealing at fast food restaurants isn't a thing, just Google that shit. The phrase "drug arrest at fast food restaurant" has 78.8 million results, and there are stories about it from pretty much any part of the country you can name. A recent example happened in Slidell, Louisiana, when 14 french-fry-scented co-conspirators were arrested as part of a heroin-dealing ring that operated, at least in part, from the back of a very much open for business fast food restaurant, allegedly without the knowledge of a single other employee or manager.
To be fair, they probably lack knowledge of a lot of things.
You know, besides those who like heroin. You can bet every single one of them knew.
When the employees aren't selling drugs, you can usually count on a transaction of some sort to be going down in the parking lot or, even worse, the bathroom. Fast food parking lots, for their part, have long been a favorite location for drug dealers to connect with their customers who've yet to hit rock bottom and therefore still have transportation with which to travel to pick up their fix.
Personally, I've always assumed that a Walmart parking lot, which is going to have way more cars and activity, makes a better choice. But I also just say no to drugs, so I've never had to find out. There are plenty of stories of people getting arrested after conducting a drug deal from the comfort of their car in a fast food parking lot (some of them even have guns!), so the mainstream media assures us it does happen, even if you're unwilling to take my word for it.
What's the big deal, though? Drugs should be legal and all that, right? Well, sure, but for right now, they aren't, which means selling them in public is illegal. And any illegal activity is going to draw some shady elements to your establishment. That's exactly what happened in Dallas last year when a drug deal in the parking lot of a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell went horribly awry, leaving one man dead of a gunshot wound before the tacos even had a chance to kill him with heart disease.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you can buy drugs at every fast food restaurant. That's absurd. I'm just saying that, while I haven't checked them all, I'm pretty sure you can buy drugs at any fast food restaurant.
Now here's a story I will share about a criminal I used to work with. Again, I don't remember this guy's name. He took over for me after I left a powerful position as a Subway Sandwich Artist in favor of assistant-managering the shit out of a Burger King. I had to hang around and train him for a few days, and, interestingly, between the questions about how to cut bread and/or put meat and vegetables on bread, he asked something kind of strange. "What do you do if you get robbed?"
It wasn't a terrible question. We worked alone from 7 p.m. until midnight, for one thing, and that's definitely unnerving. But it was still weird how he asked the question. Kind of like he was expecting to get robbed, even if I'd worked there for a long time and never had been.
Sure enough, a few days later, I heard that the store had been robbed and that the guy I was training had been locked in the walk-in cooler when it happened. I immediately knew what actually took place. This guy staged a robbery so he could steal from the store himself (he was eventually caught). Does that sound like some movie shit? Because it shouldn't. Just like the drug dealers that I promise you are working at your local burger chain, someone at every restaurant has figured out in their mind, down to the most minute detail, exactly how they would rob the place if given a chance.
You don't need blueprints for a job this small, but they sure look professional!
It makes sense: As an employee, you know all of the inner workings of the place and can make elaborate plans with all the time you spend not actually working, and that's exactly what people do. The only thing is, sometimes they also go through with it.
For example, two fast food employees in Virginia Beach were arrested when one entered their place of employment wearing a mask and took the other employee, his accomplice, hostage with a knife, demanding money from the manager before letting his "victim" go free.
Another incident, this time involving a manager, went so far as to include a staged carjacking and the theft of nearly $9,000 in cash (or 18,000 2-for-$1 tacos) from a Jack in the Box.
The first thing you look for in any major crime is motive. When it comes to fast food restaurants, no one hates them more than the people who work there.
It won't shock you to find out that fast food restaurants can be terribly filthy places. That's especially true in the bathroom. Again, you've seen a fast food restaurant bathroom, you don't need my descriptions. Even with a team of employees (hopefully) taking shifts to keep the restrooms in presentable enough shape for public use, they inevitably fall into a state of disrepair at least 15 times per day. That means, all day long, employees are in and out of the bathroom, cleaning supplies in tow, fighting the dirtiest fight in the building.
That can cause problems when a manager starts doling out responsibilities to employees who are already handling multiple tasks. For example, at a burger joint I worked at very briefly, I saw an employee, fresh off of cleaning the restrooms (plural), asked by a manager to fill the shake machine.
"So we can keep making moments like this."
This involved emptying a 30-pound bag of yogurt or something like it into a bin at the bottom of the machine.
I was already a little put off when, instead of putting away the cleaning stuff and maybe tidying up his hands, my fellow employee just dropped the cleaning supplies where they were and went to retrieve the shake mix. After returning, things got worse. A failure to estimate the force with which liquid chocolate flows from a plastic bag caused an excessive amount of shake mix to spill onto the top of the bin (there was a lid on top with a hole in it where the liquid is poured in). What he did next haunts me to this day. Instead of grabbing a roll of paper towels to clean up the mess, this nasty animal took the same rag that he'd just been using to clean the bathroom, meaning it was full of cleaning products and disgusting bathroom filth, and used it to push the spilled shake mix back into the machine.
Someone else actually spotted this and intervened before I had a chance to speak, but here's the thing: They didn't do anything about the shake machine. A refresher course in proper cleaning techniques might be all that's needed to get the employee in order, but who's going to see to removing the E. coli that's just been pushed into those frosty shakes? The answer to that question, unfortunately, was no one. If you happened to be at that restaurant on that day and ordered a chocolate shake, I'm sad to report that it was probably way more chocolate than you even realized.
I quit shortly after that incident. I'd love to tell you I did it out of protest or something, but honestly I just hated my job, just like damn near everyone else who works in fast food.
Adam hosts a podcast called Unpopular Opinion that you should check out right here. You should also be his friend on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.