Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Billions served

The summer after I turned 16 I got my first hourly job working at McDonald's on University Ave. in Riverside, CA. It was summer of 1968. I needed the money to buy a car and a stereo. I bought a blue 1961(?) Pontiac Tempest for $200, but that could be another post. I earned $1.25 per hour. Minimum wage was $1.45, but they docked $.20 for the food we were permitted to eat.

If I remember correctly, fries were $.18, burgers .20, and milk shakes .25. They had double burgers and fish fillet, as well. The Big Mac was introduced while I worked there, starting at .49 or .55. There was a counter on the sign showing how many millions of burgers McDonald's had served--in the hundreds of millions, I believe.

Our store looked a lot like this one:

When I started there we cooked french fries from scratch, meaning we hauled up 100 pound sacks of potatoes from the basement, peeled them in a large peeler machine, sliced them into long shapes in another machine, then thoroughly washed them by hand in a large sink. We had to get excess starch out of them, or they would be sticky and gooey fries. Then we would blanch them in a pot of cooking oil and have them staged in metal baskets ready for the final frying. I'm sure all these manual steps led to inconsistencies in product. While I worked there we started using frozen fries. Much simpler and more consistent.

New hires started out working in the grill area, and worked their way up to the counter, which was generally thought of as more desirable work. After a time, though, I decided I preferred the grill, and soon became a top notch hamburger cooker. We would cook in 12 patty batches, and could get as many as 60 down at once during lunch or dinner rush. I loved the rushes and the satisfaction of putting out the burgers quickly and efficiently. The lead would call out how many to put cheese on, or if a special was needed like no onions. "Cheese on 6" might be the shout. If we heard "peanut butter on three" it meant a cute girl was at the counter at register #3. Sometimes someone would call out peanut butter, everyone would look, and there would be a weird looking old lady there, and we'd all laugh. Needless to say, we had an all male workforce for the most part.

By my second summer in 1969 I had significant seniority, and was working full time or longer. I had the responsibility to open the store, so I'd arrive a few hours before opening, clean and set everything up, and be part of a skeleton crew until more workers arrived for the lunch rush. If they were in a pinch I might stay through the dinner rush for extra hours. I don't recall that we got time and a half, and it might even have been illegal since I was under 18. By then I was earning $1.45/hour. Other times I had the responsibility to close the store. The newer workers would typically get short shifts for just lunch or just dinner.

I feel like I learned some valuable life skills working at McDonald's. Being a responsible employee and showing up reliably and on time, an hour's pay for an hour's work, customer satisfaction, feeling satisfaction in hard work and seeing the fruits of labor, how to work more quickly and efficiently, how to cook (burgers, at least), how to mop floors and clean, etc.

In the fall of 1969 I finally quit my job. I think I was a little burned out and felt like the pay was too low. But mostly I was starting my senior year and didn't want to miss out on so many experiences by working nights and weekends. I wonder, though, how many thousands of burgers I contributed to the billions McDonald's has racked up now.

1 comment:

  1. I skipped this rite of passage (working at McDonalds). They didn't hire females if I remember right. But Taco Siesta on Lyons Ave. did, and that was my fast food experience. Am pretty sure Taco Siesta's sign would have said, "hundreds, and maybe a thousand served."