2/7/08 - McDonald's Postmortem

So today, I will attempt to wrap up the McDonald's experiment with all of my findings, insights and life lessons I've come away with. I really wish I could have kept the experiment going longer than just the three weeks, but time is a very valuable thing, and I did not feel that what I was giving up was worth what I was gaining, both in regards to finances and life lessons. On top of that, I would have really liked to have made better use of my time during that time period. During that three weeks I was employed, I only worked on average, 2 days a week. When I applied, I let him know that I could work every day from 6-close and weekends, I could work all day, but didn't want to work Sunday mornings. I did have to change that and have Wednesdays off, but left six days a week that I was more than willing to work. They chose to schedule me every Sunday night, and then a day or two during the week. That was out of my control, and I'll touch on that in a second.

The first thing that I learned, and the main reason I started this, was that it is not difficult to put together a sandwich. I did mention the first day or two of work, that I was struggling, but that was simply because I couldn't remember what went on the sandwiches. Once I realized that there were two charts in front of me of what the sandwiches needed, I quickly started learning everything and only rarely had to return to the charts to make a sandwich. There were a few times where the condiment guns where not very accurate, but by using either the piece of cheese or meat to spread the tartar sauce/ketchup/etc. this could be remedied with virtually no time lost. I guess this is what I was expecting to find, the actual task in and of itself, separated from outside forces, is a very simple task that a trained monkey could do.

What I failed to truly take into consideration going into this experiment is that my whole basis for doing this was to determine what the sandwich making process was like. I did not care about how the drinks were served, how an order was taken, how the floor should be mopped or how the grill should be cleaned. I was actually surprised to find that there was actually quite a bit more to the job, than simply putting meat and toppings on a piece of bread. As part of my deal, I did not focus on any of the other parts of the job and only really cared about the sandwiches. I know for a fact that several of the guys I worked with were as frustrated with my ability to clean a serving tray as I was with their ability to put together a sandwich. For this reason, I realize that I was no better than anyone else at "doing my job".

Another thing that I found contributes to ugly sandwiches is the training process and constant correction from management and the front counter. McDonald's might be unique in this process (I don't plan on trying another fast food joint for comparison) but it appears that the main focus on service is speed and accuracy. Presentation is very low on the priority list. I do believe that if asked off the record, management, including corporate, would agree that 15 sandwiches with cheese hanging off the bread is more important than 10 sandwiches put together nice enough to be photographed assuming the same time period. From a monetary position, this makes sense. Customers do not pay extra for the sandwich to be perfect, the company should attempt to serve as many people as possible as long as the order is accurate. I blame this philosophy more than anything else for unacceptable quality in sandwich making.

Another thing I found is that a career at McDonald's (or on minimum wage) is no way to live. My entire life, I have never worked for minimum wage (I was working for $.25 above minimum wage for this experiment) and have actually never come close. I believe I worked for $7.50 for a year, but at the time, min. wage was hovering around $5. I say that only to say that I have always been able to find jobs that paid well and so never considered what it would be like to live on such small wages. In the time I worked there, I made roughly $220. This was after deductions by the government. Because I was working so little (not by choice), I was not making enough for Uncle Sam to care about getting their cut in taxes, the deductions were FICA and something else, I forget. Assuming that this was my primary source of income, there is no possible way I could have survived. Cristi and I, in gas alone spend somewhere between $350 and $400 on gas alone every month. Our cell phone bill hovers around the $70 dollar mark and I've never paid less than $300 for rent per month. A lot of the people I worked with on a regular basis constantly complained about not getting enough hours and begging others to be able to work their shifts. This surprised me, but after thinking about it more, it makes complete sense. In order to survive in today's society, at minimum wage, I can only imagine you'd have to be working two full-time jobs.

In return, I feel this has truly given me ample ammunition on explaining to our kids how important it is to have a college degree, a high school diploma at the least, and a simple desire to take your life to the next level. Many of the individuals I worked with, including one of the crew managers, who I know from conversation was making right around $7 an hour, had the knowledge, organization skills and people skills to at the very least gotten some sort of job as an office manager, secretary or something outside of crew trainer at McDonald's.

With all that said, let me see if I can summarize everything in a short paragraph. I enjoyed every minute of my experiment and truly wish I could have spent more time doing it in an attempt to gain even more insight. What I have come away is a better appreciation for what the average worker goes through. The sandwiches I get that are not put together from this point on will still frustrate me, but I will understand that there are several reasons that could have caused it. I will have a better respect for many of those individuals in a fast food worker position simply because I greatly respect many of those people I worked with. I think McDonald's is a great job for those in high school, or those people trying to get back on their feet from a down period. I do not believe that it should be a career job for anyone, ever. If you want to be a manager, then be a manager, don't start low and expect to work your way up. Surprisingly, after having worked there, I now want to eat there more.

I would like to extend a thank you to all those people who have followed along in my adventure and provided feedback and other comments. Hopefully, someone will come across this who deal and learn something from it. Whether or not that happens, I believe I have come out of this a better person and so every second of this was worth it.

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