A guest blog article by Rebecca Majus (student, world citizen)
Having been a drive-thru customer my entire life, I have not once thought about giving a tip to the person who handed me my order as I grab it out of their hand and set it down in the passenger seat of my 2003 Buick Century. During my work experience at Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, I’ve come in contact with many people each and every day. People of all different races, ages, genders, and attitudes. Each customer carries themselves differently, as every individual does, but some better than others.
Every person has a different way of going about getting what they want, whether it’s saying their correct order is wrong to get free food or asking to fix a mistake employees make (like getting their mild chicken replaced with the spicy chicken they originally asked for). Although each customer is there for the same thing, fried chicken, some have better attitudes than others.
Fast food is the stereotypical job for failures, because you don’t need a high school diploma, a degree, or any previous work experience.
Despite this reality, the job is extremely stressful and fast-paced.
A day at work for me includes taking orders for people who dine-in and drive through, including packing their food under heat lamps that are so hot they could spark a cigarette by just touching it to the bulb. The food has to be handed out to the customer within 180 seconds at the most, and that includes the time to take the customers order. It isn’t a surprise that employees make mistakes and it doesn’t help when they’re under added stress of an angry customer screaming at them to hurry up. I’ve had a customer throw a metal napkin container at me because it’s policy that we cannot substitute more sides to replace biscuits in a meal. The napkin container didn’t only hit me, but knocked over multiple brand new, styrofoam side cups into the hot water sitting in the steam table to keep side orders warm.
I was only doing my job.
It wasn’t my fault that he couldn’t substitute out the biscuits, after suggesting not getting the meal and just buying sides separately, there wasn’t anything I could do to help him. I did have to clean up the mess that he created anyway.
The majority of customers don’t really understand how little control an employee has over the business or what their responsibilities are. Rude customer after rude customer, I was starting to lose hope that the next car that pulled around to the drive-thru window or the next person to walk inside the restaurant would be considerate and/or polite. It seemed like the angry mob of customers would never end, until one Tuesday.
A cute over-the-hill couple pulled up to the drive-thru window while I was working. Every Tuesday, Popeye’s has a special: two pieces of chicken, one regular side order, a biscuit, and a drink for $3.99. The meal costs $6.19 on any other day. This particular couple was unaware of the weekly promotion and thought that I specifically gave them a discount. When I handed them their food, the old man told me to reach out my hand, afraid of what he might do because of previous customers actions, I was timid to the idea. The man was being very persistent, and because I only have 180 seconds, I finally reached out my hand.
I felt a crisp but crunched piece of paper in my hand. When I pulled away, and opened my fist, I saw a dollar bill in my hand. I asked the old man “What’s this for?” and told them about the weekly promotion.
The man and his wife laughed at me and told me that the money was for me to keep. They told me I seemed like a hard worker and that they find joy in finding certain people who deserve a reward for just doing their everyday work. He then thanked me for educating him about the weekly promotion and insisted they would come back every Tuesday.
The couple kept their promise and come back every Tuesday through the drive-thru. I hear them on the speaker asking for me, refusing to have anyone else take their order. By now I have their orders memorized and although they get the same order every week, they never cease to surprise me. I insist they don’t tip me, because after all, I am just doing my job.
I’m getting paid to serve them already.
However, they always look me dead in the eyes and insist I take it. Each week they give me a new amount and a new complement on my work or personality.
That couple inspired me to bring people similar to my situation the same fascination. Now, each time I go through a drive-thru I hand the worker a dollar and tell them to keep it for themselves. I know that particular smile is on their face because they’re aware that minimum wage is not enough money for the stress that their job puts them through.
Hope can exist in the little things.