One of the lowlights of my life turned into a highlight. I was teaching at the time and had signed up on the concession-stand list so that my journalism kids could make some money for the yearbook.
The lowlight was that, due to miscommunication, I didn’t know which particular day we were supposed to work until that day was actually upon us. I was in a state of panic and stress, imagining myself as the sole worker behind the counter. The highlight was twofold: (1) the way in which my students rallied to help me, dropping their plans to make popcorn and serve hot dogs to basketball fans; and (2) the fact that my own children had an opportunity to engage in this early fast-food-type experience.
My children were quite young at the time. One was in elementary school, and one was in junior high. But they both stepped up to the situation along with the high school kids, interacting with customers, answering questions about types of drinks being offered, making change and just in general busting themselves running back and forth to make customers happy.
Although I had seen initially the concession stand as a way to make money for the yearbook, I eventually recognized it as one of those important, unplanned life lessons.
Later, when my kids were in high school, they, along with their peers, worked in the concession stand at the fairgrounds, which sold food to raise money for post-prom activities. Again, they had opportunities to focus on the skills of customer service.
All of this was quite a long time ago, but I’ve been thinking about it recently because fast-food restaurants have been in the news. The industry is not dying, but it’s dying for workers: Apparently, for a variety of reasons, the industry is having a hard time attracting employees.
On top of that, because of the pandemic, the industry is rethinking its ways of doing business and heading toward more contactless ordering.
All of this means that there will be fewer kids in the future who have had the life-lesson experience of working in the fast-food industry.
I used to think that the skills needed to work in a fast-food restaurant were automatic, not skills that needed to be developed. But experiences conversing with workers at two fast-food restaurants in the past couple of months — my only two fast-food experiences in the past couple of months, so we’re batting a thousand — told me that this isn’t so.
The following is an accurate accounting of one such conversation:
“I’ll have a 6-inch veggie, please.”
“Do you want cheese with that?”
“Yes. Provolone. And toasted, please.”
“And do you want that toasted?”
I wish that I could say this was a one-off. However, the same basic conversation played out in terms of what kind of drink I wanted.
Listening skills are critical in life, and a gig at a fast-food restaurant is definitely one way to hone those skills.
Interestingly, Paul Ryan, Brad Pitt, Jeff Bezos, Queen Latifah, Jay Leno and Shania Twain — among many others — have something in common: They all once worked at a fast-food restaurant.
The list includes Barack Obama, too, if you count ice-cream chains as fast food.
My objective in telling you this is not to say that working at a fast-food restaurant early in life will guarantee fame and riches — but, hey, it couldn’t hurt.
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