The fast food industry has not been the same


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Drive-thru open sign.

Where did everyone go?

When I was younger, I can recall walking into any fast food restaurant, and there would be workers at every station. Nobody looked too overworked or stressed. No one person was doing the job of what should be three workers. All of that has changed. 

When I was younger, I never looked into the behind-the-scenes of a workplace. It wasn’t until I turned 16 and started working at my job that I finally developed empathy for these workers.

Following COVID-19 and all of 2020, unemployment has skyrocketed throughout the U.S. This fact is no secret to anyone at this point. What you might not know about is the type of stress it puts on workers. Everyone complains about not having anyone around to take their order the instant they walk in, but these are the same people that would never want to work back there themselves. 

With this lack of staffing, it is often tougher on managers than anyone else. Every gap needing to be filled is a day they lose to relax. Managers can often go from five scheduled shifts to six or seven in an instant. Fast food is often taken for granted; it is frowned upon to work there later in life, but people still want to go out and get their usual burger and fries. 

With a lack of employees comes chronic stress and the feeling of burnout. Managers are worked until they drop because, while business rises, the number of employees doesn’t. 

Customers can also cause significant issues with an employee’s mental health. 

Sometimes you get very compassionate and understanding customers and you try your hardest to make them happy, but sometimes there are those customers—the customers that come storming back into the building asking why their burger took a minute longer than average. Mistakes happen all the time in fast food. New employees are constantly being trained; wait times might increase a bit. 

Customers can make or break a shift or even an employee’s self-esteem. Every place tries its best. If a mistake is made, there is always a calm way to go about it. I’m sure if you go about it the right way, you could even possibly get a coupon or refund of some sort. Kindness to workers can go a long way. Even a compliment or thanking them for what they do can help them finish that last hour before close.

Fast food is not easy, and with fewer workers and more challenging customers, employees feel backed into a corner.

Fast food is not easy, and with fewer workers and more challenging customers, employees feel backed into a corner. Their corporate levels will often implement new rules or procedures that can benefit the business. These rules usually add extra work to the underpaid workers. Corporate will have higher expectations but expect you to complete them using impossible methods. 

Next time you pull into a drive-thru, think about how long these workers have been there. Think about all the problematic customers they have had to deal with. They don’t need to be praised like a god, but a bit of appreciation can go a long way. After all, nothing is stopping you from eating at home.