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10 Polite Habits McDonald’s Workers Actually Dislike—and What to Do Instead

Updated: Nov. 29, 2023

Sometimes good intentions miss the mark when we're trying to be cordial at McDonald's. Here are the habits to avoid, straight from employees.

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The dos and don’ts of dining at McDonald’s

McDonald’s workers deal with a lot of customers every day—roughly 68 million people are served at one of the chain’s locations on a daily basis. With that many people passing under the Golden Arches, there are likely going to be some characters who make etiquette mistakes. Even people who are trying to be polite and follow etiquette rules may make some missteps that actually make workers’ jobs harder (though this is something McDonald’s employees won’t tell you).

They understand that you’re trying to be nice, but there are habits fast-food workers and restaurant staffers secretly dislike. “McDonald’s could not be more efficient if NASA engineers had developed their protocols. Their management and team members are ready for anything,” says Ray Morrone, who worked for McDonald’s for two years. We talked to current and former McDonald’s employees to get the skinny on the polite habits they secretly dislike and what to do instead. And while you’re at it, learn the polite habits most people dislike—and that you may want to start avoiding.

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McDonalds tray can
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Throwing away your trash

Tossing your garbage on your way out of the restaurant must be helpful, right? Not so fast, says Morrone. “Guests would thoughtfully throw their trash in a garbage bin,” he recalls. “But often recyclable material would be mixed with food scraps. I would dig through half-eaten Big Macs and warm milkshakes to find anything recyclable.”

Do this instead: “I almost wish guests would leave their trash on the table and let us sort their recyclable materials, organic waste and regular garbage,” Morrone says. “In reality, by bussing their own table, the guests only saved us a few extra footsteps. But I do recognize the extremely thoughtful attempt to help.”

McDonalds garbage on a tray
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Stacking your trays

Piling everyone’s trash into a stack doesn’t count as leaving it on the table—you’ll likely just end up getting ketchup on the bottom of a tray or two. “It’s great that customers want to help keep the dining area clean, but stacking trays with leftover food and trash can make it harder for employees to clean up,” says Norah Clark, a former McDonald’s employee who worked at the fast-food joint for four years.

Do this instead: “It’s better to leave the trays and let the staff handle the cleanup, as they have a system in place for efficiently disposing of waste and sanitizing the trays,” she says. Speaking of cleaning, there are plenty of so-called polite habits house cleaners dislike too.

A young man is holding a piece of hamburger in his hands. A guy or a man eats fast food. A hungry skinny guy is eating an appetizing burger. The concept of unhealthy food, diet, overeating, gluttony, dependence on food. Fast food restaurant, snack bar.
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Eating and running

Sure, eating your meal quickly and hitting the road will free up the table for other paying customers, but according to Gregory S., who has worked at McDonald’s for 36 years, you should never dash before tidying up a little bit. (This was a point of some contention among the employees we spoke with.) In Gregory’s opinion, customers should never leave a mess at their table. “I hate when they think we are waiters or waitresses,” he says. “McDonald’s isn’t a sit-down restaurant.”

Do this instead: When you order, ask the employee taking your order if they would like you to clear your own table. If it’s not busy, they may tell you they will take care of it so they can separate the garbage from the recyclables. But if it’s busy or they are understaffed, as Gregory notes most McDonald’s locations are these days, they may prefer that you take care of your trash yourself.

Crying Asian Chinese little girl
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Informing workers about crying kids

“Often a guest would inform me of a toddler crying loudly in the play area. Without question, I appreciate the guest’s concern. A child’s safety is absolutely a priority, and a manager or team member would literally run to see if the child was injured or needed medical attention,” shares Morrone. “Luckily, such was never the case. Generally, it was a false alarm. The child was crying because they were hungry. They were crying because they dropped their happy meal toy. They were crying because they were having fun in the play area and did not want to stop when their parents said it was time to leave.”

Do this instead: That little one likely came to McDonald’s with an adult; it’s OK to let them handle it and not try to police the entire restaurant, which is a practice that flight attendants dislike too.

McDonald's menu
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Always choosing a meal deal

If you always order the same thing, such as a No. 1 with a Coke or another bestselling McDonald’s menu item, you likely have your order down pat. But if you are mixing things up, don’t feel compelled to choose a meal deal because you think it’s the polite thing to do. “A guest ordering individual menu items that were also offered as a meal deal was actually a good thing,” says Morrone. “The cashier was instructed to explain the savings to the guest. Inevitably, the guest appreciated us looking out for them, and everyone was happy.”

Do this instead: Order what you know you want. If there’s a way to turn it into a meal deal that will save you some money, the cashier will tell you.

man calling an order number at McDonalds
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Waiting at a table after ordering

You’ve just ordered your McDonald’s burger at the counter, so the polite thing to do is get out of the way and wait for your food at a table … right? “There was always some confusion as to where the guest should wait for their food after paying. Some sat at a table, expecting waitstaff to serve their meal,” Morrone says. “But most guests would simply wait patiently for their order number to be called out.”

Do this instead: Wait off to the side of the counter, making sure you aren’t impeding the line of guests waiting to order. That way, when your number is called, you can quickly grab your food.

McDonald's drive through
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Putting efficiency above all else

If you can see the line for the drive-through snaking behind you, you might think it best to skip the small talk and get straight to the ordering to help keep things moving and the food coming out. This is a change Gregory has seen in customers over the years, but it’s not one he enjoys. “People are less caring nowadays than they used to be,” he says. “They are […] less patient.”

Do this instead: Your efficiency might be coming off as impatience or even rudeness. Remember that there’s a real person taking your order, and take a moment to extend a pleasant greeting before requesting your Chicken McNuggets and Coke.

A woman employee at the counter in McDonald's.
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Telling them to “keep the change”

“Rounding up the change and giving it to you as a tip is pretty annoying,” says Dan Baker (not his real name), who worked at McDonald’s for two years. Even though customers think they’re being polite by leaving a tip, the employee still needs to ring up the total for the order before they can do anything with your change. So if you hand the cashier a $5 bill to pay for your $3.50 meal, say “keep the change” and walk away, you’re leaving them to count out the change next to the register, process the transaction, then reach across the counter to put it in the tip jar themselves, which Baker says only makes the cashier’s job harder.

Do this instead: If you want to leave a tip, do so after you have completed the transaction for your food and the cashier has handed you your change. The person behind the counter will appreciate it, and that’s a McDonald’s fact.

man ordering at McDonalds
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Suggesting uses for the tip you leave

“I had customers leave change as a tip and tell me to put it in my college fund,” shares Baker. While the customers likely had good intentions and perhaps thought they were being polite by making conversation, Baker says this was a little insulting.

Do this instead: Don’t draw attention to the tip you are leaving, if you choose to leave one. And avoid butting into the worker’s personal life, which is a so-called polite habit that hotel workers dislike as well.

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Paying with exact change at all costs

Hunting through your purse for cash when it’s time to pay can hold up the line and make the job harder for the fast-food worker behind the counter. So in a way, arriving prepared with the cash you’ll need is the polite thing to do … unless said cash is in less-than-ideal conditions. “I remember bicyclists wearing clothes without pockets and pulling sweat-soaked dollar bills from their socks to pay for meals,” shares Morrone. Be honest: You wouldn’t want to touch a stranger’s sweaty money, would you?

Do this instead: If you can’t deliver clean bills straight from your wallet, it’s best to pay with a credit card.


  • Gregory S., employee who has worked at McDonald’s for 36 years
  • Norah Clark, employee who worked at McDonald’s for four years
  • Ray Morrone, employee who worked at McDonald’s for two years
  • Dan Baker (not his real name), employee who worked at McDonald’s for two years