How do I go about interviewing for and working at a fast food restaurant?
August 4, 2010 4:12 PM   Subscribe

I am a 30 year old man about to go for a job interview... flipping burgers for a certain clown. I'd appreciate any hints or tips on how to approach the interview. And when I get the job, how do I handle that?

The current job I have in the new city I've moved to in the last 6 months is about to come to an end, and while I have quite a few other irons in the fire it takes time to get the kind of job I actually want- so for now it looks like I might be working at the previously-alluded-to Family Restaurant. Up until this point I've mostly worked in front line government agencies, helping people navigate the labyrinthine weirdness of governmental regulation and legislation. It's been complicated but satisfying stuff, and is the kind of thing I hope to eventually get back in to. But for now...

So: how do I best approach an interview for such a job? Any hints on how to dress, what to emphasise in my job history and skill sets, what my general tactics should be? And let's say I get the job- what then? How can I manage working in the Fast Food Industry while staying (relatively) sane, healthy and happy?

Any perspective, experience, advice very much appreciated. It might be useful to know that I'm in Australia.

Thanks for your Sage Wisdom, Oh Mighty Hive Mind!

Made anonymous because I'm not sure I want this job hunt/ experience showing up when my future employers check me out.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There's no shame in working at McDonald's. But if you treat the job as if it is beneath you, your coworkers will notice. If you went to college, if you used to get paid twice as much, if this job seems mind-numbing to you, there's no need to broadcast any of that. You and your coworkers will be in the same boat: working together to get the job done.
posted by reeddavid at 4:52 PM on August 4, 2010 [8 favorites]

Employee turnover is extremely high in fast food. If you can persuade them that you'd want to stay there for at least a year or so, that might help.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:55 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Based on my long-ago experience in US fast food restaurants:

Dress business casual for the interview... khaki slacks, button-down shirt, loafers. If you bust out the suit and tie you're going to look weird.

In your interview you want to emphasize your people skills and customer service experience.

If you can make it sound like you plan to work there for at least a few months, it will help with the "overqualified" thing. Fast food places routinely hire college kids for summer jobs, so it's not like they are averse to short-timers. What they try to avoid is someone who will come in and waste two weeks of paid training then suddenly quit when they get the call for the job they really want.

As for staying sane and happy, it's really just like any other job. Stay busy and volunteer to be trained on different positions, it will help keep you from getting bored.

Take it easy on the self-deprecating jokes about working there if you want to get along with your coworkers... a lot of people won't appreciate the implication that there is something undignified about what they do. But don't take yourself too seriously, either. You don't want to come off as the stick-in-the-ass guy who has desperate dreams of getting promoted to management.

People call off with no notice in these places all the time, so it happens pretty frequently that the managers start asking around for someone to work a few hours over their shift. If you agree to take on extra hours on short notice, your bosses will love the shit out of you.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:58 PM on August 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

And if the restaurant is part of a large group of restaurants, or corporate owned, there is a lot of opportunity for quick advancement.

If it is McDonald's, don't BS them. When I hired crew for McD, I would hire anyone who seemed to have a good attitude, regardless of their age. I won't lie, a college educated 30 year old might have raised an eyebrow for me. But I would still interview them, and the only questions I would ask would be the same questions I'd ask of anyone with previous work experience: why did you leave last job, what did you like about it, what did you hate about it. The tone of the answers was as, or more, important than what they were. Anyone who seemed full of themselves or full of shit probably wouldn't get called back. I don't think I ever didn't hire someone just because I thought they would be gone in 6 months. Experience showed that it didn't make a difference- it is a minimum wage job, and people leave all the time. You never can tell.

The job: I had a hell of a lot of fun as a burger flipper. It is great for people who are driven and like the adrenalin. There is always something to do. Being a manager was less fun, but I learned a lot.

Take it easy on the self-deprecating jokes about working there if you want to get along with your coworkers...

Seriously. Like, don't do it at all.

How can I manage working in the Fast Food Industry while staying (relatively) sane, healthy and happy?

Have a good attitude. You are going to do the best job you can for the time you are there. There really isn't anything to make you insane, unhealthy or unhappy, unless you try really hard to hate it there.
posted by gjc at 5:44 PM on August 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

Many restaurant jobs offer the opportunity to have free or discounted food. Take advantage of this perk, but don't go overboard.
posted by box at 6:59 PM on August 4, 2010

McDonald's actually has a pretty good management training program and most franchisees seem to prefer to promote from within. So ask about training and promotion opportunities.

Also, emphasize your reliability for attendance and punctuality -- back when I was a McManager, being able to depend on people to show up when scheduled was pretty much the most important quality in an employee. The process is so streamlined that everything else required is very simple to achieve.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:01 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest you look into being a restaurant server rather than working at fast food--I've gotten restaurant jobs with a college degree (the first time, at an IHOP, by stressing how badly I wanted to learn to be a server). Populations of servers tend to be more diverse in terms of age and education, you'll make more money, and you might even be able to find restaurants that offer benefits (at restaurants owned by the Outback corp., for instance).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:29 PM on August 4, 2010

Whoops, just saw you were in Australia; nevermind, my advice might not apply there.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:30 PM on August 4, 2010

But if you treat the job as if it is beneath you, your coworkers will notice.

Seconded. For some people working there, a job at McDonald's is a great job that offers prospects other minimum wage jobs will not. In London a lot of recent immigrants do it because it's a good job if your language skills aren't yet great.

I will say one thing - I worked as a cleaner during my A-levels and the manager really didn't like me because I was going off to university and not staying on. I don't think I ever gave her the impression to think this, but she seemed to believe that because I was educated and didn't really want to be a cleaner that I thought I was above everybody else. She later fired me with a great deal of shouting in front of a co-worker. Sometimes this happens and you will meet someone who doesn't see the point of a college education or projects their own insecurities on to you. Having a good attitude will help.
posted by mippy at 9:07 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

How can I manage working in the Fast Food Industry while staying (relatively) sane, healthy and happy?

I've worked more fast-food jobs than I care to enumerate, but let me assure you, stress-release comes with the territory. Nobody sane wants to be flipping burgers, so part of the job becomes making it bearable, day after day. The first thing you'll need to do is pick a fight with the biggest guy in the yard get to know your co-workers, because they're the ones who will keep you sane, healthy and happy.

Some of them will be getting high on their breaks. Some of them will be getting into water- or condiment-fights. Some will be finding new and exciting uses for pickles. Some will be serenading the customers, after hearing the same goddamned song on the in-store tape-loop, twenty times a day, for a month. There will be a variety of activities, legal and otherwise, to engage you.
posted by lekvar at 2:51 PM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

When last I worked in food service, my manager emphasized that it was a customer service job for people who are friendly and like working with people. (Assuming you're working the cash register or the drive through window), so I would emphasize any people or customer service skills that you've developed. The rest of the job is pretty easy, but dealing with irate customers during a lunch rush takes a kind of finesse.

Also, they had a lot of unreliable people, so it was important to them that I be punctual. There were a lot of questions about keeping a calendar, keeping appointments, timeliness. So make a point of emphasizing that you have a system to keep track of your shifts (the time and day of which will vary) and that being on time is important to you.

They also made sure I could handle the physical requirements of the job such as standing on my feet for eight hours.

Honestly, I would say that being friendly, being on time, and being reasonably well-groomed are what is most important to fast food managers.
posted by bananafish at 4:24 PM on August 5, 2010

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