Five Things I Learned Working at a Fast Food Restaurant

Everyone remembers their first job, right? If you are like me, you look back on that first job at different stages in your career and, while laughing about some of the funny stories, you start to think about the lessons you learned. In my case, those lessons still hold true today.

My first job (other than mowing lawns) was at a fast food restaurant in my hometown of Athens, Georgia. I was 16 years old, finishing up my sophomore year of high school, and I was in search of a way to earn some spending money. Accounting internships did not exist back then, and I was determined to find a “real” job. I applied to 15 places, and a particular fast food restaurant with a Mexican theme was the first to hire me. Full disclosure – I don’t think I had ever even had a taco before I was hired!

At the time, I thought it would just be a summer job. But looking back 30 years later, I realize it helped me build the foundation for my career in professional services. Without further ado, here are the top five things I learned working at a fast food restaurant. 

  1. Learn to get along with your teammates – Working as a team is important in any job, whether it is your team at a restaurant or your team here at DHG. One of the advantages of working in a fast food restaurant was working with people from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives. The same is true in professional services today, which is one of the benefits of this career. Respecting each other, building off each other’s strengths and weaknesses and working toward a common goal translates into success. You do not have to become best friends with all your team members, but you do need to learn to work well with your team to serve your clients.

  2. Know the goals and expectations of your manager – Knowing what your manager expects of you and what “getting the job done” means is key. During a team meeting in my first month on the job, I was shell-shocked to learn that my manager (who I was trying to impress with my capabilities and resourcefulness) had driven by on her day off to find me slouched on the counter. When I later explained to her I had nothing to do at the time, she said, “I expect you to always have something to do.” I did not know that was her expectation, and at the time, my 16-year-old self was not savvy enough to ask, or to know you should never slouch on a counter.  At all stages of your career, you should invest the time with your team leader to gain a clear understanding of your goals and what is expected of you. Which leads me to number 3…

  3. Always stay busy – There is no down time when you are working. When you are there it is important to be fully engaged in your work (you may remember this from a previous blog post – The Secret to High Performance). The words of my manager ring true today. There is always something to do, and our responsibility as professionals is to keep a backlog and to prioritize our time accordingly.

  4. Listen and follow instructions (and if you are a leader, make sure your people are listening and following instructions) – Attention to detail and follow-through is important in any role, but this becomes even more important when you are a team leader. As a supervisor or a manager, you also need to make sure that the people working with you are listening and following instructions and that they clearly understand what is expected of them. While training an employee to clean the taco fryer, I told him to be sure to close the main valve before refilling the fryer with fresh oil. However, I did not actually show him how to close the valve, nor did I check to make sure he understood my instructions. He proceeded to pour the entire barrel of fresh coconut oil into the fryer, valve wide open, and the oil came rushing back out to the floor. What a mess! Instead of making sure he knew exactly what he was doing, I assumed that he knew. A classic example of a (major) miscommunication. 

  5. The customer is always watching – Client service is a key component of our DHG strategy. In order to deliver excellent client service, we need to work as if the client is watching our every move. Take it from me, more often than not, the client is watching. During my fast food tenure, I was preparing food for a customer and some cheese fell to the side right before I was going to wrap it up. So I just grabbed the cheese, put it in my hungry, 16-year-old mouth and turned around to finish rolling the burrito. I looked across the counter and the customer said, “I’m going to need you to go wash your hands and start all over again.” Little did I know, the customer was watching the whole time! In that instant, I was reminded that the customer is always watching, and it is their perception that matters.

    I still love tacos and I still love that restaurant, but the bottom line is that what I learned there remains true in any work environment. I share these humorous stories from my past as a part of my ongoing mission to build valuable careers with our people.