Confessions of a Former Fast Food Employee

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I am not one that typically likes to follow what the celebrities are doing or who broke up with who yesterday. To be honest, I don’t care about the latest Kardashian divorce either. (As an aside I can’t believe that I just mentioned the Kardashians on Frugal Rules; there IS a first for everything!) That said, I have always been intrigued by celebrities and the jobs they used to have before they got their big break.

Take for example, Matt Damon (one of my favorite actors) who was a breakdancer. I really don’t see him doing that, but maybe that explains why he did many of his own stunts in the Bourne movies. Another one that caught my eye was that Christopher Walken was a lion tamer. Now, that one, does not surprise me seeing some of his movie roles or his need for more cowbell.

Sadly my first job did not result in a big break, but I have had some interesting jobs. I’ve not always been a nerd who enjoyed working with numbers ad nauseam. Most of us have jobs that we worked in the past that we took to pay the bills or because we were in high school and just wanted a part-time job to get some spending money.

Some of these jobs might make you laugh, cringe, or wish you could forget altogether when you remember them. I have had a few of those jobs myself from working at a convenience store to working as a bank teller to working at several fast food joints. When you start seeing how the sausage is made (literally) you start to question why on earth so many eat there and how something that nasty could be addictive.

They’re addictive because they make it that way. Now, I am not trying to debate about obesity and fast food, but simply pull back the curtain on some of the practices that might make you question whether or not you want that bowl of fast food chili next time. Many of us would be better off staying home and eating in, choosing healthier options or even making our own juicing recipes than we would eating fast food.

Following are some of the things I learned while working in the fast food industry during my high school and college years:

  • Despite how badly you may want it to, chicken does not come breaded and in the form of a patty.
  • We put a pound of mayonnaise on your sandwich because it makes it easier to choke down.
  • That salad you’re eating is crappy brown iceberg lettuce; not exactly the picture of nutrition.
  • The fast food joint has more ex-cons working it than a prison cafeteria.
  • Food was not meant to be put under a heat lamp. It does crazy things to the food.
  • That milkshake you’re drinking often has the same amount of calories as a normal person needs in a given day and starts as slimy goo in a plastic bag.
  • The “grill” marks on your burger are not natural but come out of the freezer that way.
  • “Crispy” chicken does not a healthy salad make, no matter how much you want it to be.
  • Most of the equipment is cleaned with some nasty chemicals…and they wonder why a constant diet of fast food burgers might cause cancer.
  • Yes, the employees DO spit on the food.
  • The ten-second rule? It’s more like the 60-second rule.
  • Gloves, shmoves.
  • You expect us to get your order right? We don’t even look at the bag when we hand it to you out the drive thru window.
  • Was I really supposed to wash my hands after using the bathroom?
  • Half of the people in the back are stoned off their a$$!
  • Under NO circumstance should you eat the chili…you DON’T want to know!
  • Relationships with the resident stripper are NEVER a good thing.

What was one of your first jobs? Did any of my “confessions” make you cringe? Would you like fries with that?!



Photo courtesy of: Nap Mayo

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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.


  • Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank says:

    I used to work as a fruit and veg guy at the local supermarket. At the time I hated it, but looking back I used to have some really great times with the people that I worked with.

    Also, I would rather not know about what goes on in fast food joints as I already don’t like eating there.

    • John says:

      Yea, I had some good times too. Though, you also learn some of the dirty secrets that make me not want to consume many of the things sold by most of the establishments.

  • Jon @ MoneySmartGuides says:

    I worked on a nursery. My job was to go to the mountain of plant soil, fill up the plastic pots with the soil and fill the 2 empty footfall sized fields of irrigation hose with those pots. Doing that for 8 hours in the summer sun is not fun.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    Yikes, some of those things on the list are truly disgusting. I also worked in the fast food industry (pizza) as my first and second job. I actually wasn’t disgusted by much that went on (and still will eat at those pizza places), but it could certainly vary by fast food chain.

    • John says:

      Yes there is DC! I worked at a pizza place for maybe two months my first year in college. It was ok, but I quickly learned that I wanted the pizza to be fresh as opposed to being under the heat lamp for long periods of time.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

    Oh, the memories are flooding back! Yes, I worked in the fast food arena myself. There’s not much to add to your list, as you’ve covered most of it, but I’ll leave you with a short story regarding the handwashing bit: Several years ago as hubby and I sat in a busy drive-thru line at a well-known fast food joint, he ran into hit the bathroom while I sat in the drivers seat. Out of the blue, hubby comes running full-speed out the door, slides over the car Starsky and Hutch style, gets in the car and says “GO, GO, GO!”. I quickly bust out of the line and head for home as he tells the story about how when he walked into the bathroom, some guy was puking in the bathroom stall. The guy – A COOK it turns out – leaves the stall without washing his hands and heads back to work, eager to prepare our dinner. EEEEWWW! Needless to say, we’ve been a little wary of fast food joints in general ever since. Heed John’s warning, my friends!

    • John says:

      WOW, just WOW! That’s just plain nasty! I can imagine why you’d steer clear of fast food places after something like that.

  • pauline says:

    I was a baby sitter, tutor and piano teacher in high school but my first company job was McD for a year. I still love their burgers in spite of having seen it all backstage. To their defense, because the French were very opposed to McD and junk food they have had to adapt and offer more salads, yogurts, fruits… from early on. Still have doubts on the 100% beef patty though!

    • John says:

      I don’t know that I love their burgers but will eat them if I am desperate. I agree, I have serious doubts about the 100% beef patty…especially from McD’s!

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    Fast food is so gross…especially McDonalds!

  • Johnny Moneyseed says:

    I don’t eat fast food. I used to, but the idea of it makes me sick and has for a while now. I watched the documentary Hungry for Change over the weekend. It was pretty eye-opening to how TERRIBLE most food is for you.

  • Grayson @ Debt RoundUp says:

    Thanks John. Now I will never eat fast food again!! Just kidding, I rarely eat there as it is, and these don’t surprise me at all. They do disgust me, but that is another thing all together. I worked at a drug store chain as my first job, so I don’t have many crazy things, except for the people always trying to steal drugs.

    • John says:

      Lol! Sorry to burst your bubble Grayson. πŸ˜‰ That’s crazy that people would try and steal the drugs, though it does not surprise me one bit.

  • AverageJoe says:

    “Relationships with the resident stripper are NEVER a good thing.”

    I want to hear the longer story here.

    • John says:

      LOL! I told my wife that you’d be the first one to point that out Joe. πŸ™‚ I never personally was involved with the resident stripper, but she was awfully busy with many others…customers an employees alike.

  • Mrs. 1500 says:

    That bit about chili makes me sad. I go to Wendy’s and USED to buy chili and put it on a baked potato. Thank you for not telling me what I have ingested in the past, because I will take your word for it and not ever eat it again.

    I had a boatload of food-industry jobs. I can tell you that messing around with people’s food is not reserved for fast food. Tip your server, and don’t be rude. There are SOOOOO many things that can happen back in the kitchen. I never could bring myself to do anything to anyone’s food, but that sure didn’t go for the rest of my co-workers.

    But I learned so many life lessons working in the food-service industry.

    • John says:

      Sorry to point that out Mrs. 1500, but truth be told you’ll be much better off for not having it. I never worked outside of fast food, but I would totally agree that many of these things do happen outside of it. Great point on tipping and not being rude…often times the server is just the messenger so don’t shoot them if you’re food tastes like crap.

  • Budget and the Beach says:

    LOL, I totally believe it because I too worked at a fast food place in high school. It’s just nasty, and I almost NEVER eat at FF unless somehow that is the ONLY choice down a deserted highway. I will eat at subway, which probably doesn’t always follow health codes, but at least I can make some healthy choices. I feel like I just did a commercial for them. ha ha!

    • John says:

      We’re generally the same way Tonya. Though, it can be difficult since the kids know what they want now. I generally prefer Subway, or something like it, at least then you know it’s not fried.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar says:

    I actually don’t mind the kids who work in fast food. At least they are a bit motivated. It’s the adults that scare me a bit. Personal hygiene is obviously not a huge requirement. I’m always amazed how people who make minimum wage still have money to smoke. If you drive behind a FF restaurant, you’ll see the ones on break getting their nicotine fix.

    • John says:

      I would agree Kim, it is the adults that scared me too. I was always outnumbered by people who were twice my age yet acting like kids. That’s a great point about the smoking breaks…I was definitely in the minority by not smoking.

  • Do or Debt says:

    Oh dear, you just confirmed why I don’t eat fast food any longer! I used to be in love with Wendy’s Chicken nuggets, and frosties and had en epiphany….those are just NOT natural. So then what ARE you eating? Ugh. I will never eat fast food again! I’ve had a few interesting gigs, which I outlined the juicy stories in my ‘What is the strangest thing you’ve done for money?” post.

    • John says:

      Yes, those frosties do taste good, but that was until I saw how they were actually made and that is was just a lot of mystery goo that is tailored to get you addicted to it.

  • Canadianbudgetbinder says:

    WOW, although most of that is not surprising but you can get lots of that at many restaurants. I’m not a fan of fast food nor was I ever and we rarely eat out. I did work as a dish washer in a pub when I was younger but that’s as far as I went into the food industry. The wife on the other hand says she did and has seen it all but never someone spitting in food.

    • John says:

      I agree Mr. CBB, you do see it in many restaurants and not just fast food joints. It was rare to see someone spitting on food, but it did happen enough to know that it’s not as rare as we think.

  • My Financial Independence Journey says:

    I eat fast food maybe once a year, at most. And this write up makes me even more confident in that policy.

  • Mackenzie says:

    Ewwwwww! I am not a fan of fast food restaurants, no matter who it is. The food is always gross!

    Also, as Joe mentioned above, you MUST expound on the whole stripper/co-worker thing. Enquiring minds want to know πŸ˜‰

    • John says:

      Lol! I see you caught that too Mackenzie! πŸ™‚ Like I told Joe, I was smart enough to stay away, though I can’t say the same for many of my co-workers OR the customers.

  • Michelle says:

    And this is why I hate going out to eat. AH!

  • Girl Meets Debt says:

    John, I NEED to know why I can’t eat the chili πŸ™‚

    Mentioning the Kardashians on Frugal Rules might draw in young Gen Y readers πŸ˜‰

    • John says:

      If you only knew…suffice it to say that if you think the “meat” in the burgers is nasty then think again about the chili. πŸ˜‰

  • Melinda Gonzalez says:

    Ugh, some of the stuff we did when I worked fast food makes me sick now. I remember one time a guy dropped a hamburger patty on the very dirty floor, and the manager told him to just put it back on the grill as it would kill all the bacteria.

    I second the chilli advice, we also sold chilli and the vent above tended to attract grasshoppers and crickets. They would jump through the drive through window and into the vents. I don’t know how many times we found those little critters inside the chilli.

    Ahhh, maybe this is why I never eat fast food. I know too much.

    • John says:

      “I remember one time a guy dropped a hamburger patty on the very dirty floor, and the manager told him to just put it back on the grill as it would kill all the bacteria.” That’s just nasty and to make it worse I saw that way too many times myself.

      You don’t like the little critters in your chili?! That’s just extra protein. πŸ˜‰

  • Alan@escapingmydebt says:

    Some of what you said brings back memories of working at McDonald’s. I do not remember so much about someone spitting into the food. But we did have a 5 second rule but I only applied it to buns. Anything other than that got thrown out. The comment about more ex-cons working in the back than a prison made me laugh. The McDonald’s I worked for was about a mile from a prison and we had current cons there on work release. Granted these were not your murderers or gangsters. They did make it a lot of fun working there though.

    • John says:

      Glad I could bring back some memories Alan. πŸ˜‰ I never worked at McD’s, but I did at a few others. Yea, the 60 second rule applied to virtually anything though I would always do my best to pitch the item unless the manager was standing right there watching me. I bet you had a few ex-cons out on work release. πŸ˜‰ I never saw any hardened criminals, though some were on work release and made for some VERY interesting stories.

  • The First Million is the Hardest says:

    My first job was at a grocery store, but my most interesting one was as a cook in a popular chain restaurant. The cooks don’t mess with your food, but an angry server will…so treat them nice! Most restaurants are amazing places…the employees seem to “date” almost exclusively within the restaurant staff and if you ever find yourself in a spot where you need to find any sort of illegal drug, just walk in to any restaurant and go talk to the dishwasher. I promise they can help you with that.

    • John says:

      That’s a great point, just another reminder of why to be nice to your server if the usual common courtesy is not enough. Lol at the drugs! We had quite the little illegal drug ring going on at one of the places I worked, which I guess should not surprise me as the ex-cons outnumbered the straight and narrow.

  • John says:

    That’s a great arrangement Michael, even better that you got to skip out on working in fast food. πŸ™‚

  • Nick @ says:

    Your picture makes me hungry. Thanks for the content and curbing my hunger. πŸ˜‰

  • Tony@WeOnlyDoThisOnce says:

    Wow, thanks for your insight. Great post!

  • Financial Samurai says:

    Awesome! I am a fellow Fast Food employee comrade John. Opened up McDonald’s for one summer.

    Since we kept our floors so clean w/ fresh mops, it wasn’t bad to pick up the quarter pounder patty we dropped on the floor and put it back in the bun right? Of course I would never do that.

    • John says:

      That’s awesome Sam! Hey, if the floor was clean then what does a few more chemicals do to a perfectly fine quarter pounder patty?! πŸ˜‰ The only time I would abide by the 60 second rule would be when the manager was the one standing there and telling me to do it. I understand keeping costs down and all, but that’s just insane.

  • krantcents says:

    I worked for my parents when I was young, but I was uncompensated. My first paid job was a door to door salesman. At one time, I owned a fast food restaurant and I enjoyed it. It was in a cool part of the city and the customers were great too. I had celebrities and regular folk too. We sold a lot of food, so fresh was important. My place did not have the issues you described although I did have a Penthouse Pet and her brother frequent my place. He would give out cards for his sister to strip for parties etc.

    • John says:

      That definitely sounds like some interesting times. I would imagine that having more high profile clientele would increase the need to serve fresh food. I couldn’t imagine handing out cards for my sister to strip though. πŸ˜‰

  • Kathleen, Frugal Portland says:

    Well, I’m thoroughly grossed out, and simultaneously feel justified for my food snobbery. So, thanks!

  • Jose says:

    Thanks for the insight! I always suspected that they spit on my food. Now I’m convinced, blech! My first job was at a transistor factory where I got exposed to nasty chemicals, which probably explains why I’m a bit of a nut job now. I did get a solid exposure to electronics, which ultimately led me in the field I’m in now (IT) so it was probably a good thing for me.

    • John says:

      Not a problem Jose! Spitting on/in the food was not a terribly common thing I saw, but it did happen enough to know that it wasn’t as rare as thought. That’s nice that your first job is part of what led you to the industry you’re in now.

  • Sicorra @TacklingOurDebt says:

    The daughter of a friend of mine once worked at Wendys and she told us that the chili was made from leftover burgers from the day before. That is all she said, but I bet there is more to the story.

  • Shannon Ryan @ The Heavy Purse says:

    Ewwwww….I don’t eat fast food and it’s good to see my reservations were justified! The girls occasionally try to convince me to take them. (McD’s does a great job marketing to kids!) Normally, I can convince them to go someplace that I’m willing to eat. Thank God!

    And try living in LA where the Kardashians (Or Lindsay, or Britney) can be the top news story. LOL!!

    • John says:

      Yes they are Shannon! I agree McD’s does a great job at marketing to young kids and they know it too. The closest one to our house is less than mile away and I cringe when we drive past it for that very reason.

  • Jacob @ iheartbudgets says:

    Another 20 reasons I avoid fast food at all costs!

  • Edward Antrobus says:

    I have purposely and deliberately stayed away from food service as employment. My father used to be a meat hauler and learned a fair amount about the meats we eat on a daily basis. As you mentioned, the grill marks aren’t actually from a grill, but a chemical spray.

    • John says:

      I have heard some nasty things myself Edward, but that pales in comparison to actually seeing it first hand. Yes, those grill marks are definitely not natural.

  • Mr. 1500 says:

    Wow, you just saved me a lot of money over the course of my life. Goodbye fast food. Blech!

    My worst job was at a computer return facility during college breaks. The shift was from 6am to 6pm, 6 days a week. Boxes would come flying down the line and I’d have to open them with a razor knife. I was constantly tired and would cut myself frequently.

    About halfway into my stint there, an employee of one race was driving a forklift and hit an employee of another race. That incident almost resulted in a huge fight between the two groups. The place was actually shut down for a while to let the situation cool off.

    However, I am so thankful for that job. 15 years later, it makes me appreciate my current work that much more.

    • John says:

      Glad I could be of some help. πŸ˜‰

      That does not sound like a pleasant job at all, I’d probably cut my fingers off Lol! That does not sound like a good situation, especially when race issues are thrown in to boot.

  • cashrebel says:

    What’s in the chili!?!

  • Catherine says:

    I seriously want to vomit. My husband worked at a fast food joint for about 3 months in our first year university and the crap they did was foolish. While he doesn’t have any stories about bad stuff happening to food that was to be served (thank God) they used to get up into all sorts of badness like mixing pickle juice and water in a rubber glove freezing it, peel off glove and deep fry it haha.

    • John says:

      I’ m sorry. πŸ˜‰ Wow, deep fried frozen pickle juice…interesting. πŸ™‚ We did our share of things like that, you had to in order to maintain some level of sanity.

  • Justin@TheFrugalPath says:

    Wow! You should write a book. Those facts alone should keep a lot of people away from those places. As far as my jobs go:
    Dishwasher. I was in a cage, we literally had to crawl under a counter to get in.
    Various jobs at a grocery store. Was a small family owned chain. Was a great job, they sold to a bigger chain and I couldn’t pass the drug test. Me the guy who’s never touched anything remotely illegal in his life.
    Busser/server/admin for a restaurant. I agree that a lot of employees are big stoners.

    • John says:

      I would, I’ll have to throw it on my pile of stuff to be written. πŸ˜‰ Wow, doing dishes in a cage. I’ve never heard of that one.

  • The Happy Homeowner says:

    Haha…love this! My first “real” job was Wendy’s–on my 16th birthday, my mom took me to the high school to get my work permit instead of my driving permit. Then she drove me over to Wendy’s (where she’d already lined up a job for me) so I could pick up my uniform… πŸ™‚

    My first paying job was at 11 years old picking strawberries on a local farm; nevermind that the legal working age was supposed to be 12…hahaha!

    • John says:

      I worked at Wendy’s as well, though it was in college. πŸ™‚ Hey, who thinks about legality issues when getting their first job?! πŸ˜‰

  • Jordann @ My Alternate Life says:

    You just made me so happy that I don’t eat fast food. The most I’ll order is a smoothie and french fries, I’ve never eaten a hamburger from a fast food joint, and it’s been years since I had any chicken.

    My first job was managing a stable of six horses getting young ones used to a rider. It was super fun since many 13 year old girl’s dream is to spend all day with horses, but it wasn’t all that magical…there was a lot of horse poop involved.

    • John says:

      Count yourself lucky Jordann!

      That sounds like a fun job to start out with! I have a family member who works on a ranch to supplement retirement and they love it.

  • Wayne @ VisualFin says:

    While in high school, I walked at Subway in between baseball seasons. When my friends came in, I would let them wear the hat and apron so they could get behind the counter and make their own sandwiches. If a customer came in, they would have to make their sandwiches as well.

  • Mo' Money Mo' Houses says:

    I worked at a fast food joint for almost three years when I was in high school and university and ya there are just some things I will never order at a fast food place now.

  • Chad@thstockmarketandi says:

    Really with that post you should go work for the Department of Health and Human Services. Obamacare would not be an issue. Everyone would be skinny.

  • David says:

    After high school my first job was making snow at a ski resort. I enjoyed that job more than any other in my working life but it didn’t pay enough to get by. When I was 50 years old with no mortgage and fully funded retirement accounts I went back to work as a snowmaker. There’s nothing like being outside all night in winter on the side of a mountain. People who try that job either love it or they very quickly know it’s not for them. The combination of high pressure water hoses, 480 volt electricity, steep terrain and wind chills down to -125Β° is too much for most people.
    The ironic thing about the job is now that I don’t need the paycheck they made me a crew chief and pay a fair wage. Now I need a fun summer retirement job. Whitewater rafting guide looks good.

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