Does a hierarchy exist among fast food/chain restaurant workers?
November 1, 2008 5:53 AM   Subscribe

Does a hierarchy exist among fast food/chain restaurant workers, but on a inter-restaurant level?

In the industry I'm in, advertising, there's a pretty visible hierarchy in 'coolness' between people who work for perceived 'awesome' clients (Nike, MTV) boring clients (IBM, Century 21), and local clients (Billy Joe's Aluminum Siding) as well as those that work for small boutique agencies, large network agencies and local agencies. But that's the only industry I've ever worked in for any amount of time.

I noticed this kind of hierarchy exists in other industries and have had friends confirm my suspicions. All that said, I don't have any friends in the food service industry, so I don't have anyone to ask this question.

So do employees at Applebees consider themselves to be better off than someone flipping burgers at BK? Do waiters at the Olive Garden think they're getting a better deal than those at TGIF? How about two drive through attendants, one at McDonald's, the other at Taco Bell? Will the staff at Subway go out for a smoke and say, 'well, at least we don't have to work at Arby's...'?
posted by jedrek to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Generally yes, but you have to accept that we also rate ourselves against other service workers too. I felt vastly superior at a furniture chain store, to the counter workers at a burger joint next door, and they in turn, felt friendly superiority to the janitorial staff of the mall. It's also city dependant, with the perception of the commoness of your chain or franchise mattering.
posted by Phalene at 6:15 AM on November 1, 2008

Not that I'm aware of. But within the restaurant, yes. Burger toppings people at BK, for instance, aka "burger boards" usually have more coolness factor than french fry people who have more than salad bar people, who are cooler than floor sweepers, etc. etc. Note that I haven't worked at such a place in 25 years but when I was there that's the way it was. No one wanted to mop floors or do salad prep because, on the floor, you have to deal with the plebes. No one wants to do fries because it's hot as fuck leaning over those oil vats, etc.

Non-food-wise, when I was younger I worked in the record store business. The larger the chain the less cool a person you probably were. So, those working at single location indie record store were WAY cooler than those who worked at Sam the Record Man or HMV. Further, those who worked at the main Sam the Record Man (which was huge and downtown) were way cooler than those who worked at the smaller satellite stores who were way cooler than the franchise workers.
posted by Manhasset at 6:29 AM on November 1, 2008

Between restaurants, yes. I had a friend who worked in a food court in a mall, and there was a clear hierarchy there between the places where you just had to wear a hat with the name of the business and the places where you had to wear a head-to-toe outfit in loud colors. (Wasn't this the basis of some humor in one of those Slackers/Clerks/etc movies, and someone had to dress up as a hotdog or something like that?)

People who have worked at a couple of those places are intensely aware of which pays better, and which requires you to take on more demeaning roles.
posted by Forktine at 6:59 AM on November 1, 2008

I worked for a while at 24hr diner styled fast food chain. We night shift workers were in it for the money, at least $2.00 more an hour for an over night shift. We really didn't care about workers in other restaurants, but we were constantly angry at the day shifters who couldn't do anything right. At that time the major chains weren't open 24hrs nor even to 1 or 2 AM as many are now. Why compare ourselves to other chains' workers? Those squares got up when the society said it was morning and went to bed when the news anchors said, "Goodnight." We were our own class.

That said, if a truck stop chef came in, we probably would have bowed.
posted by Science! at 7:05 AM on November 1, 2008

I know In-N-Out Burger is more selective and pays more than comparable nationwide chains so I would imagine there's some feeling of superiority among their employees.
posted by mattholomew at 7:07 AM on November 1, 2008

Half a lifetime ago, when I worked fast food, I remember some of the long time managers would do a few year stint at mcdonalds, then Burger king, and just sort of cycle through the various ones on the boulevard. There wasn't any sort of hierarchy at that level, but I have to believe if any of them could've upgraded to something like Denny's or applebees, they'd be there in a second.

Inside the restaurant, front counter and drive through were regarded as considerably better, I think both because of a sense that the managers would put the presentable people out front (the managers, of course, not being a wholly presentable bunch themselves) and that the hot dungeon of the kitchen was where you were definitely going to get grease burns and the like for minimum wage. To this day, I think everyone should work at the pit that is mcdonalds just for the education: As a sixteen year old who worked there for a year, I got a good and close look at how capitalism chews up humans and those memories still impact me today. But that's off subject.
posted by history is a weapon at 8:19 AM on November 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

You should watch the show Chuck. It touches on the dynamics between retail and fast food workers at your typical strip mall, and it's really cute and clever.

I've never worked fast food, but I can tell you that people who work at JC Penney feel superior to Dillards and WalMart employees, even though WalMart has a better starting wage. It only ever rarely comes up though. The in-store drama is way too high to worry about the outside world.
posted by jschu at 8:33 AM on November 1, 2008

From my POV, as a customer, those In n Out kids are tops. Cheerful, capable, committed to the job.

Give me 10,000 of them and I'll rule the world.
posted by notyou at 11:02 AM on November 1, 2008

I have a friend who works at a big Olive Garden, and another friend who works in fine dining. Both are servers, but trust me, the second friend barely considers himself in the same industry.
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:37 PM on November 1, 2008

Growing up I know there was among workers in my home town. Folks from Wendy's got fired and went to McDonald's. And then Burger King. And then Taco John's. Definately a food chain of sorts. It seemed to have to do mostly with the levels of food quality and price at the various chain operations. There was an inverse order of the places getting shut down for health violations.
posted by jeribus at 4:14 PM on November 1, 2008

It might depend on where the restaurant is located. In a mall, yes, I could see a chain of sorts happening.
In the place I work (something like TGIF), half the people work second (or third jobs), many of which are at other fast-food places or restaurants. I've never heard those people talk about their other jobs in any detail or compare their jobs.
Our attitude is more or less this: a job's a job. None of us non-management people are particularly invested in the restaurant. We work there, we like each other, our jobs kind of suck. No point in getting all superior about what place we work at.
posted by Baethan at 4:31 PM on November 1, 2008

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