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

    • http://twitter.com/hjanette54 Janette Hanson

      Lol, yes we do laugh when a customer mispronunces our menu items or is yelling at their kids or something. Sometimes we get ppl talking on their phone when they pull up and they’ll be like “love ya” to whoever they are talking to and we’ll all be like “awww, love you too!” lol :D. Of course not into the headset though…

      If you want fresh fries just ask for them, don’t ask for no salt… it’s much easier to get a fresh fry then one with no salt. If you really want no salt then whatevs ask for no salt, but if you want fresh then ask for fresh.

      I don’t know how it is at other fast food restaurants but the one I worked at everybody wore a headset so they can hear you as soon as you order… so your food starts being made right away. When you order something inside, the sandwich maker usually doesn’t hear your order so there’s a delay as to when your food starts getting made. That makes coming thru the drive thru quicker… and yeah there is a timer for the drive thru so the orders do get done faster… but not always, I think it really depends on the crew and how busy it is.

      • APasserby

        On customers and menu items. I once had someone ask me (I worked at McDonald’s) for a “Half-pound burger” and a “crispy chicken sandwich”. McDonald’s has no such thing as a “half-pound burger” and the Angus sandwiches (which weren’t even a half-pound of meat to start with) were discontinued, and there are SEVERAL types of crispy chicken sandwiches we can serve you, so just saying you want a “crispy chicken sandwich” does nothing to explain what you actually want. Said customer then proceeded to yell about how I couldn’t tell him that “there wasn’t no half-pound burger” and call me stupid for not understanding his extremely vague order. Sir, please read the menu next time.

        • kagrace

          ha! They must have thought they were at Wendy’s. Half pound burgers are just doubles, and we have a crispy chicken sandwich.

        • blarg

          This drives me nuts too. I work at Wendy’s and people come through wanting McNuggets, McChickens, Snack Wraps, or order a Happy Meal. Then they get mad when we tell them we don’t sell those items but we have chicken nuggets, crispy chickens, go wraps, or kids’ meals.
          Or ask for onion rings or Whoppers.
          I literally had someone yell at one of my crew members because they didn’t know how to make a Whopper… wrong place, people.
          I have no problem differentiating between different restaurants’ menus. I don’t see why customers can’t keep stuff straight.

    • guest

      when people ask for fries with no salt we allways give them older fries that we just refry for a few seconds to get rid of the salt =) but if you ask nicely and say fresh fries we will do it, we don’t like when people try to trick us.

      • APasserby

        Man, I would never do that when I worked fast food. But I did call the customers that wanted unsalted fries (then salted them themselves) very rude names behind their backs. If you want fresh fries, just ask. But trust me, you do NOT want fresh fries, because fresh fries come out coated in oil and taste like the oil, too, you can’t even taste potato. The oil hasn’t absorbed in yet so you get a mouthful of just gross, reused fry oil.

      • dannicalliope

        I worked at McDonalds (and ours was very strict about customer service) so if you asked for fries with no salt, we dropped fresh fries for you. We never complained about it unless the person who ordered them gave us gruff for having to wait the extra three minutes it took to fry new fries. Oh, and we wiped the fry bin out with paper towels to cut down on the salt content and wiped all the utensils that came into direct contact with the fries down too. We tried really hard to make people happy, and it paid off for the most part. Our store was super clean, too.

    • Name

      The writer of this article is an idiot, you need to take a servsafe course so you can understand more about food safety, and move out of whatever ghetto, disgusting town you live in and work somewhere that has standards like the rest of the world.

    • guest

      i would have to disagree with this post… i work in fast food for the past 7 years 5 being in management. a lot of the this in this post are in fact false. managers watch there employees like hawks along with cameras the employees cant not get away with a thing if a manager was to condone such behave here then they would be fired end of story… and in fast food you are being watched and you WILL be snitched on..

    • willy Beans

      I always cleaned the grill with water 

    • Batiz16

      you  want fresh fries, peel some potaoes amd fire up the fry daddy

      • APasserby

        Mmm, home-made fries. :D

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IYVR4IXSCM4XDO5NU2LXH6LKVQ gruntled

       Mini Big Mac? When I managed at the clown place, the “McBible” stated that Mac sauce was NEVER to be put on anything but a Big Mac.

      • APasserby

        You have clearly never seen that youtube vid about the Ghetto Big Mac.

        People at the McDonald’s I worked at used to get McDoubles, the little $1 burgers, all the time, and put mac sauce and lettuce on them along with everything else (except ketchup and mustard). It costs extra, sure, but same taste. Just without the little center bun.

    • Guest

      #17 states that the grills at McDonald’s are set to 750 degrees. This is not even remotely accurate. No McDonald’s anywhere cooks anywhere close to that temperature. By cooking meat from both sides at once (at correct temperatures), cook times are reduced and food safety and speed of service are improved.

      #19 says that employees drop food on the floor and reuse it. Food safety continues to improve every day, and something like this would never happen in any chain restaurant

      #28 says many employees don’t wear gloves. This is simply not true. New FDA regulations require the use of disposable gloves when preparing ready-to-eat food. Most employees don’t want to get their hands dirty by directly touching food anyway.

      There are many more inaccuracies in this slideshow that do injustice to the fast-food industry. Sanitation, cleanliness, food quality, and service are constantly improving. Most fast-food restaurants are far cleaner than any home kitchen, and use higher-quality ingredients.

      • APasserby

        We’d get in a LOT of trouble at the McDonald’s I worked at if we EVER worked without wearing gloves while prepping food, or if we EVER scooped food off the floor and used it! In fact there’s usually food all over the floor back there, especially fries, and it gets swept up with the rest of the garbage when we clean back there. You would NOT want food off the floor of a McDonald’s kitchen anyway, it’s seriously disgusting. Those red tiles hold so many bacteria and crap in the crevices… We also don’t hold stuff in cabinets, at least not at McDonald’s. If the food’s too old, it gets thrown away, or a crew member will snag it up and eat it.

    • Fiver

      This article is wrong in so many ways its ridiculous.  It’s almost impossible to get a grill up to 750 degrees to start with.  They have clam shells that cook the burger from top and bottom, that’s how they cook so fast.

      • APasserby

        Some of it’s pretty accurate, if you’ve ever worked in fast food. But that is true, you can’t get a grill up to 750 degrees (Fahrenheit or Celsius) that easily; you need butter or oil, but that kinda temperature will make most fats (like butter or oils) burn and evaporate.

    • guest

      #20 – Many restaurants will donate the raw materials on request (e.g. patties, buns, condiments) but when you donate food you loose control over the quality. If the food pantry holds a big batch of meat on the counter overnight, serves it up the next day, and gets a lot of people sick suddenly it’s your fault.