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.


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    Your Comments

    • Girl

      If you come in and order, please don’t point to the soda machine and ask if that’s where you get drink or point to the machine and ask if you get your drink yourself. Why would we have a soda machine in lobby if we get your drink for you? And if you come in and order a drink, where else do you think you’re gonna get it?

    • m91

      Think you’re making my job easier by wiping that soda you just spilled on that table? Think again. We have to go around the restaurant during our free time and make sure there are no tables that need to be sanitized. If we find any that clearly needs to be sanitized, we have to wipe it down. So, even if you wipe that soda off the table, we still have to sanitize the table. If you leave the soda there, it’s easier for us to tell whether or not the table needs to be sanitized whereas if you wipe the table down and we don’t see you, we can’t tell whether the table needs to be sanitized or not.

    • Megan

      If you see a stack of trays next to the monitor, please do not set your money on the top tray unless you’re eating in and I haven’t set one out on the counter yet. Otherwise, you’ve just contaminated the tray and I have to take it to the back, which gives me less time to help put your order together or take other people’s orders. Also, please do not lick your fingers and then hand me your money because then I have to go wash my hands and that also leaves me less time to help put orders together or take other orders.

    • bob

      Tip to all other fast food workers on here, if you redrop fries it melts the salt off of them. That way you can send out unsalted fries in a rush

    • Megan

      Please don’t ask me whether or not I like something on our menu. In case you haven’t noticed, you and I are two different people, which means we have different opinions. Just because I like something doesn’t mean you will and vice-versa. But I’m not allowed to tell you that I don’t like something. However, if I say something along the lines of “I’ve never had it”, that might mean I don’t like it. And please don’t criticize me for not eating it. I am entitled to my opinion just like everyone else and therefore, I do not have to like the same things you do. Thank you.

    • Guest

      Can you not see that I’m trying to take someone else’s order? If you can, please do not try to grab my attention while I’m taking an order. If you can’t here’s a good way to tell that I’m taking an order: if you’re in the drive thru and you see me standing at the counter poking the monitor, you can bet that I’m taking an order. Or if you’re at the counter and you see me talking into a headset and poking the monitor, that means I’m taking an order in drive thru. If I’m doing something else, I’ll gladly drop what I’m doing to help you. It’s just common courtesy and if you want something after I’ve already handed your order to you, you should’ve said so before I handed you your order.

    • Guest

      If you order at the counter and hear a bunch of people talking as loud as they possibly can or like 100 machines beeping and buzzing behind me, please DO NOT mumble. If you do mumble, don’t get mad at me for not being able to hear you and don’t get mad at me if I get your order wrong.

    • Guest

      You are aware of the fact that if I took your order, I didn’t make the food, right? I don’t know how you wouldn’t be aware of this, but if you weren’t, you are now. If you’re aware of the fact that I didn’t make the food and there’s something wrong with it, don’t get PO’ed at me like I’m the one who made your sandwich. And please do not ask me what you just said. You’re the one who’s ordering you should know what you just said. And if you’re ordering for other people, please write down their order before you come in. If you don’t, then you have to call them, wait for them to answer their phone, then wait for them to decide what they want. If you can’t write the order down before you come in, please step out of line and let other people order. If you call someone else while your ordering for them, it’ll probably take around 5 minutes for you to order and in the time it took you to place your order, we could’ve already had your food out to you as well as taken someone else’s order, gotten their food out to them, and maybe even get started on a third person’s order. And then the people forming the conga line behind you are getting mad at me because you’re taking your sweet time ordering.

    • Chasity

      I’ve done number 14 lol but it was my fault.