13+ Things Your Fast Food Worker Won’t Tell You

These surprising secrets about your favorite fast food restaurants might make you think twice next time you're in line or at the drive-thru.

By Michelle Crouch from Reader's Digest Magazine | November 2012
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    After we cook something, we put it in a holding cabinet and set a timer.

    When the timer goes off, we’re supposed to throw it out. But often, we just reheat the food. So for the freshest meal, come between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. or between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. More people are in the restaurant then, so we’re cooking and serving new food constantly.

    That plain chicken breast may have been a healthy choice out of the package,

    but sometimes we have to slather it with butter just to make sure it doesn’t stick to the grill.  

    There’s usually a way to get expensive menu items for less.

    If you’re craving a Big Mac, for example, order a $1 McDouble with no mustard or ketchup and then add shredded lettuce and Mac sauce for a small charge. It’s basically a mini Big Mac, and you can get two for less than the cost of one Big Mac.  

    Most fast-food joints clean everything, including the grills and the drink machine nozzles, with super-concentrated chemicals at the end of the day.

    If you’re one of the first customers in the morning, you may be getting some of that chemical residue on the food or in the drink you order.  


    Those grill marks on your burger?

    Not real. They were put there by the factory.

    Most of us will cook something fresh for you if you ask.

    But if you want to make sure your french fries come right out of the fryer, order them without salt; that forces us to cook you a new batch. Then you can add your own salt.

    Avoid asking for “extra” of something, like cheese or sauce.

    As soon as you say “extra,” we have to enter it at the register and charge you for it. Instead, just tell us you want us to “put a good amount on there” or “not to be skimpy with it,” and we’ll load you up.

    Yes, our chili is made from what you think:

    Meat from old burgers.

    It makes me laugh when someone comes in and says she’s trying to be healthy—and then orders a salad with crispy chicken.

    At McDonald’s, some of those salads have about as many calories as a Big Mac. In fact, a small order of french fries contains four fewer grams of fat than a packet of our ranch dressing.

    Because we’re timed on how fast we get customers through the drive-through,

    we always prioritize those in line outside over anyone at the front counter.  

    One of my coworkers once got so mad that he spit in someone’s food.

    He was suspended for three days; most of us would never do something like that.


    Here’s a good way to know how clean a fast-food establishment really is:

    When you get your drink, bend down and look up into the ice chute. If you see mold and other stuff growing in there – which is more common than you might expect – they’re not cleaning the machine as often as they’re supposed to.

    Those gorgeous pictures of our food in our advertisements?

    They’re airbrushed and touched up with fiberglass and paint. It probably takes two hours to make that picture; obviously, we’re not going to be able to replicate that.


    Please, please, get off your cell phone.

    I’ve had people pull up to the window, pay, and drive away without their food because they’re talking on the phone and not paying attention. Then they’re mad at me.

    At most fast-food restaurants, it’s tough to give away free food, especially things like burgers because they’re inventoried.

    We can sometimes give away French fries, ice cream or drinks because we get those ourselves, but it depends which manager is on duty.

    We hate it when you order an ice cream.

    Most of the time, we’ve got to make it, and it’s already melting by the time we hand it to you. If you order 4 or 5 cones at a time, it’s almost impossible to get them to you before they melt everywhere, and then you want new ones.

    Here’s something that surprised me when I started working at McDonalds:

    Our clam grills are set at 750 degrees, and they can fully cook a regular beef hamburger in just 38 seconds, a quarter pounder in 70 seconds. The first time I ever saw that, I was like, ‘Ewww.'

    We’re happy to replace something if we mess up, but we can usually tell when you’re making up a story to get free food.

    There was one guy who found a pebble in our parking lot, put it in his food after he ate most of it, and then asked for a replacement. Another lady took 10 tacos home. The next day, she brought just a few of them back, showing us that their lettuce was brown. She wanted another 10 tacos. But of course if you leave tacos out for 24 hours, the lettuce will turn.

    Some fast-food workers definitely follow the 10-second rule.

    I have seen people drop food and then pick it back up and put it on the grill.

    No, most of us do not donate our leftovers.

    I can’t believe how much food we throw out every day, especially at the end of the night.

    All fast-food restaurants are not created equal.

    Even restaurants within the same chain can vary widely depending on the owner and manager and what kind of standards they set.

    When you take three handfuls of napkins or fill your purse with ketchup packets,

    I don’t know what you call it, but I call it stealing. You’re just making things more expensive for everyone.

    Please don’t ask what ingredients are in our fried chicken coating or in our special sauce.

    All of our recipes are proprietary, so they don’t even tell us what’s in them.

    At some restaurants, managers get a bonus if they hold onto their employees and keep their turnover rate down.

    That gives us an incentive to keep people who aren’t very good, even if they don’t know the difference between a French fry and a screwdriver. And I’m not exaggerating; I’ve had employees who were that bad.

    Most of us, even the managers, aren’t making much more than minimum wage.

    You wouldn’t believe the stuff we put up with for that kind of money. People constantly talk to me like I’m a two-year-old. I’ve had customers throw drinks at me and cuss at me. I’ve been held up at gunpoint.


    At Taco Bell, most of our food does carry over, so we reheat it and serve it the next day.

    That’s why I never take my lunch break early.

    For the best deal at McDonalds, order off the dollar menu.

    You can get a lot of food for the same price as a meal and it will fill you up more.

    We were supposed to wear gloves when we made food,

    but a lot of times my co-workers didn’t do it, and that really skeeved me out.


    Most of us don’t wash our hands as much as we should.

    Even though there are signs everywhere reminding us it's the law.

    Look around to see how much trash is in the parking lot,

    whether the bathrooms are dirty and if the dining room is picked up. When things that are so publicly visible are neglected, you can bet that even more is being neglected in the back and in the kitchen where no one can see them.

    Once your order is in at the drive thru,

    we have two minutes to get your food before the screen turns red, and the manager asks what’s going on.

    We do laugh at you behind your back,

    like when you mispronounce our menu items or when you think we can’t hear you through the drive-thru speaker, yelling at your husband or kids.

    When it was slow, sometimes we would all take the garbage out and smoke marijuana in the back.

    Really, it's true.


    Your Comments

    • Guest

      Wanna know a good way to make a fast food employee mad? Treat them like your maid and not clean up after yourself or your kids. A lot of fast food places have their employees do a bunch of different things at once, which leaves less time to clean up after customers and then we get to hear about it not being clean from other customers.

    • guest

      I can’t believe I even have to say this, but if you don’t know what you want and there’s other people behind you, don’t just stand there and go “um, uh, uh, um”. Either pick something or step out of line and let someone else order while you decide what you want. It’s just common courtesy. Even more so when there’s people backed up to the door.

    • Guest

      If you’re sick, please do not come into the restaurant. Not only are you putting me at risk of getting sick, but you are also putting the other people around you at risk of getting sick.

    • Megan

      I’m seeing a lot of people posting comments like these refer to every fast food restaurant. Remember #21- “All fast food restaurants are not created equal. Even restaurants within the same chain can vary widely depending on the owner and manager and what kind of standards they set.”

    • boody

      what i did know that

    • kutlessrocker

      The chili thing is only semi-true. They’re not “old” per say. They were on the grill too long and were burned too black to serve, so we put them in a bin that is about as hot as the side of the grill that they were already on. Chili meat is drained, washed, and chopped after every lunch hour and sporadically throughout the day as it fills back up. It’s nowhere near as disgusting as they make it out to be, nor is any of this as bad as they make it seem.

    • http://courtneyscorneronline.com Courtney

      #27 – Please do not repeatedly clarify that you want the item from the dollar menu. If you look at where it appears on the regular menu, you will see that the item has the same name and is still a dollar. It’s also the same button on the touchscreen, and the cashier is not capable of changing the price. So, if you order a small fry, you get a small fry, and you will pay a dollar, whether or not you actually say the words “dollar menu.” All the “that’s the one off the dollar menu, right?” question does is make you look foolish and delay getting your food until the cashier feels he or she has your permission to push the total button.

    • cool guy

      fast food restaurant should be banned or they should make real food


    • acsdog

      #32 is so true. Where I work (Burger King) what you say at the drive-thru is played on a speaker in the kitchen so we can try and make your food before it is put on the screen. When you have a funny voice or accent, mispronounce a menu item, or are an @$$hole we can all hear you.

    • Blah

      I work at White Castle so I’m going to go through each slide and tell you what is true and what isn’t about the one that I work at.

      1. Some places do do that but we do not. We have cameras on us all the time so they see if we do something like that but the times are accurate, however I will say that we hold fries and we will throw them out after the appropriate time has passed. Also, outside of the our peak hours, everything is cooked fresh.

      2. We cook our grilled chicken in butter/oil so that is true.

      3. N/A

      4. We actually clean our grills with water.

      5. N/A

      6. True.

      7. True.

      8. N/A

      9. N/A

      10. Our drive through and our dining room is timed.

      11. I’ve only seen that happen at a Krystal video on YouTube.

      12. True.

      13. Not sure about that.

      14. True.

      15. We actually replace your order if we get it wrong.

      16. N/A

      17. N/A

      18. True.

      19. We don’t do that at ALL.

      20. True.

      21. True. Depends on the manager on duty.

      22. True.

      23. True.

      24. I don’t know if that is true about White Castle.

      25. True.

      26. N/A

      27. N/A

      28. We ALWAYS wear gloves.

      29. Not true. Some don’t but not most.

      30. Not true, especially during peak hours because we don’t have enough time to go out there and clean everything during a rush.

      31. We have 3 minutes.

      32. Hate to say it, but it’s true.

      33. If you are caught high at work, you are terminated immediately.