What I learned from 3 hours in fast food

Updated: Jan 19


Good news! You can skip the expensive camp or the fancy internship for your high school student this summer!

I know it may be too late for this advice, but if you are feeling guilty that you didn’t sign your teen up for a fancy summer learning experience or didn’t arrange a cool internship for them this summer, don’t.

Your teen can learn more in the next 10 weeks right down the street than most will learn at pricey summer programs. How do I know? Last week I worked 3 hours in fast food.

A little context…my son works at the local Chick-fil-A restaurant and I recently took on an administrative role there. My job doesn’t require me to work in the kitchen, at the counter or in the drive through, but last week I dropped in when he was working and decided to “help”. Please don’t ask the other employees how much “help” I was. (I bribed them with pizza afterwards so they wouldn’t tell.)

As a nearly 50 year old woman with poor eyesight, my ability to read the order screen and quickly translate all the abbreviations into real words so that I could bag the right items was painfully slow. It was like being stuck in a tilt–a-whirl while trying to read a book and fill in little bubbles on a test sheet. But I did learn a few things, and they are valuable lessons that your teen could learn this summer by working in fast food.

Multi tasking

The kids I was working with were doing 100 things all at the same time. It was amazing. One of them was continuously taking orders on the headset, all while making drinks and milkshakes, entering the order on the register, restocking cups AND being remarkably pleasant.

My son was bagging three drive through orders at a time and getting the right items in the bag along with sauces, napkins and all the correct salad toppings. (He no longer has an excuse for not getting ready for school, packing his lunch and unloading the dishes in the morning.) These skills will come in handy when he is juggling schoolwork, friends, and a social life in college….or juggling two kids on his lap one day while working from home.

Time Management

The team members in the kitchen have to constantly be on their A-game. In addition to making all the regular menu items, they were constantly making special orders for both the drive through and the dining room customers. “Extra pickles? No problem. Hold the tomato and add cheese? OK. Add grilled nuggets to a salad? My pleasure.” Do you realize the time management skills it takes to do this quickly? Decisions have to be made about what to do first, in what order to fulfill each request, when to drop another basket of fries so they stay hot but don’t run out, and depend on the whole team to play their part.

How will this help them in college? What about deciding which exam to study for first? Which homework should take priority? Knowing how long it will take to complete certain assignments and setting aside the correct time for it. I won’t even mention group projects…

Teachability

I think it is obvious how this skill will help our teens in the future. Being teachable is undeniably one of the most important qualities in growing as a person. Those people who think they know everything are unlikely to excel in life, but those who are open to instruction will go far.

During my 3 hour shift the trainer was amazingly patient and encouraging. It was refreshing to see a young person not rolling their eyes (or silently laughing) when an adult “messes up”. I’m sure she has learned while training other employees that being kind and encouraging is more effective than being critical and snippy. And, being outside of my comfort zone I was forced to be teachable. I know a lot of things, but I DON’T know what a SCDX PJ -pickles is. It can be a humbling experience for our teens to be instructed by their peers, but in a restaurant job, there is no other choice. And, it’s good for them!

Graciousness

Everyone messes up sometimes. When you are working in tight quarters, moving fast, and carrying heavy objects, things can go wrong. But in this fast paced environment there is no time to stop for a lecture. And, since everyone has experienced some kind of mistake, everyone seems to be more gracious. “It happens, no biggie” they said as I pushed the wrong button and erased an order from the screen for the 3rd time. Wow! Wouldn’t that be refreshing in a group project during college, or a work group in the future?

Hard Work

The reality is that hard work is what sets people apart. Learning to work hard will always benefit our kids. Using the abilities we have and working diligently to improve them will pay off. I wasn’t a pro at the end of my 3 hour shift, but neither were these kids after their first shift. They have practiced, practiced and practiced these skills and now they are great at the job.

Seeing consistent effort pay off is a rewarding and important life lesson. Some teens are self-motivated to work hard, others may need a little push. Getting a paycheck at the end of the week may be just the push they need! And, it’s not mom nagging them to mow the grass or make their bed. Let someone else teach them how to work hard and save hours of arguing at home.

So, grab the newspaper (oh wait, that’s not how they do it anymore)…or pull up snagajob.com and help your teen find a life changing job for the summer. Working in fast food is something that most all of our teens could benefit from. (And, shameless plug, there is nowhere better to do it than Chick-fil-A!) Thanks Kaitlyn, Logan, MaryBeth and the rest of the team for putting up with my incompetence, I learned more than you know (but I still don’t know for sure what SCDX PJ –pickles is).