How Working in Fast Food Prepared Me for Life on a Slippery Floor


Originally published May 27, 2014 over at the fabulous TueNight.

I have worked as long as I can remember. As a young girl, I used to pull dandelions for my mom at a penny a piece (I only realized as an adult that my parents were paying us to stay out of the house), and I swept the floors and stamped coin envelopes at my family’s magnet factory. It was awesome growing up around all those magnets, but the highlight was the huge piles of flattened packing boxes my brother, sister and I used to climb onto and lounge on. So, maybe we played a little more than we worked.

My first real job was in fast food. I worked at Gino’s and for those of you outside the mid-Atlantic region, Gino’s was a regional chain co-owned and named for Gino Marchetti of Baltimore Colts fame. They had the Kentucky Fried Chicken rights around here so (close your eyes and imagine this), KFC and burgers in one place. I know. Dreamy.

At 17 years old, when I retired from my Gino’s career, I had already acquired some important life lessons that prepared me for the future:

Do not define people by their outward appearance

I had an elegant brown polyester uniform. The good news was that it never actually looked dirty. From this, I learned that clothes do not define us. Because seriously — I was not the brown man-made fabric type. Did I mention the hairnet?

Just because it’s free (or cheap) doesn’t mean it’s a good decision

We had a meal allowance (see pay stub!) and I ordered a Gino Giant on every shift that cost just a couple cents. Gino Giant’s were just like Big Macs, but the special sauce was just a little more special. While I never tired of these yumtastic sandwiches, I came to realize that the elastic waist of those beautiful brown pants only stretched so far.

Choose the right shoes

Adding to the caché of our uniforms were the requisite white shoes. It was the ‘70s, after all. I had a pair of platform nursing shoes. In the world of nursing shoes, I thought they were the least awful. But with no tread, I was constantly sliding across the KFC oil-coated floor. This lesson has served me well while hiking (no flip flops), and shoveling snow (no sneakers).

Don’t tolerate bullies

One of the girls I worked with was the worst kind of mean. I was able to ignore her — until the day I saw her spit into a customer’s soda. I marched into the manager’s office and turned her in. She threatened to beat me up and actually waited by my car when I got off shift. Luckily, she only hissed at me. But, she never again spit in another person’s soda at Gino’s.

Trusting is good; gullible is not so good

Truth is, I haven’t found the perfect balance here. And when I first started this job and they sent me out to water the fake plants and then sent me outside to turn the light off on the huge bucket-of-chicken sign and laughed when I struggled to find the non-existent switch, I complied. You’d think the humiliation would have taught me to be more suspicious, but in fact, I’m still pretty darn trusting.

Respect your fellow workers and suck it up

When we were on duty, we were on duty until our relief showed up. Sometimes they were late and we couldn’t leave. Not cool. Respect your co-workers and do what you say you’re going to do. People count on you. And someone has to do the crap work. Sometimes it’s you, sometimes it’s not. I’ve learned to do what it takes to get the job done – both the glamorous and the not so glamorous.

Most importantly, I learned how to be professional and courteous when faced with extreme rudeness. Can you be cordial when a grown man throws a crispy chicken thigh at you? I can. How valuable a skill is that?

11 thoughts on “How Working in Fast Food Prepared Me for Life on a Slippery Floor

  1. That was nostalgia inducing–I can still taste the “little more special” sauce.
    I keep meaning to try the “new” Gino’s in Towson, but it doesn’t really look like a trip down memory lane ( apparently you can get your Giant as a wrap??!!) that’s just wrong.

    1. Jared – 🙂 And I feel the same way! We rode our bikes right by the Gino’s in Glen Burnie and I didn’t even get tempted to stop.

  2. I love it! My first job was at a remote-ish country diner called Chicken Mary’s. I was “the girl from New York” and inexplicably, didn’t fit in. My second job was at Hardee’s. It was there that I learned many of the very same lessons. Oh, and how to do math and make change without a computer telling you how to do it. I think that has served me quite well 🙂

    Unrelated: I keep forgetting to tell you how much I loathe your commenting system. I can’t comment by just leaving my details (as it promises), I have to log in through WP or through a social network. Which means I rarely comment even though I read often, because that annoys me so. Signed with love, your UX freak of a friend.

    1. We have such glamorous backgrounds, no?
      Thanks re: comments I had no idea! I just checked the settings and they look normal but I’ll doublecheck. I don’t want to be THAT site! UGHHH. Thanks for commenting. xoxo

  3. So many of the same lessons learned here too, although mine were while I worked at TCBY (the frozen yogurt place). I also learned:

    1. If you are doing your very best, going as fast as you can without compromising the product, and people still gripe at you? That’s on them and there isn’t anything you can do about it.

    2. I’m not a fan of people who try to pull the “it’s not my job” thing.

    3. Adding diet powder to ice cream and making a shake from it is not *healthy* (this generally taught me how packaging and presentation can be so very misleading.

    So many more…but I still don’t know what “sugar free caramel” is made from…

    1. Sugar free caramel – oh my! I like your additions – especially #1 which still, absolutely applies to my current career! Thanks for reading!

  4. This post reminds me of when I used to work as a dishwasher and had numerous times of close calls with having a bad fall and breaking my neck, slamming my head, kapow-ing my joints, etc. Even though I wore non-slip shoes too. Yup, food service work can sometimes be the pits. It was sickest when I had to put my hands into a deep sinkful of bloody water (from thawed out meat) and with whatever else was in that water (pasta, rice, chicken, some kinda guts, etc). I’d always go home with pieces of carrots and whatnot inside of my apron and all over my hair. The worst part was getting all wet from head to toe (even down to my undies – for reals!) by the time I was finished working my shift and drove home. I always walked to my car all squishy and sloshy. Ewie.

  5. This post reminded me of when I worked in our local hospital in the kitchen 28 years ago, except our lovely white food stained uniforms matched our lovely white platform nurses shoes 🙂

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