Tabitha Jeub

Poet, Author, Orator

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10 Things I Learned While Working At McDonald’s

1. There’s no such thing as a “dead-end” job.

In the book, The Conservative Heart by Author Brooks, the author tells a story of a plane ride where he asked the man sitting next to him what he did for a living. After finding out that the man on the plane worked high up for the company McDonald’s, Brooks mindlessly asked, “What is it like knowing you’re creating a bunch of dead end jobs?”

To this, the man on the plane kindly explained that although McDonald’s gets a bad reputation, it is a perfect starting point and leads to thousands of people getting a leg up from poverty. To directly quote, “There are no dead-end jobs in this country. There is dead-end government, perhaps. There is dead-end culture a lot of the time. But there are no dead-end jobs.”

They call it the “best first job” and I couldn’t agree more. My short journey working at McDonald’s was a crazy adventure that cannot be contained in just this post, but I will share one important story to highlight this point.

About 6 months into working for McDonald’s, my boss asked my brother Noah and I if we would like to go to Idaho Springs for a couple days to help them with the expected Thanksgiving rush. McDonald’s paid for our gas, our meals and our hotel. We were even encouraged by our boss to take an evening off and walk around the city. He gave us of the secrets of the best pizza joints and which shops to explore after we were done working. At about 6:00 pm we got off work and took a tour of the cute little town. We went to the best pizza joint I’ve been to in my whole life. We ordered and talked.

And there we were, at 19 and 17-years-old, having a conversation whilst our meal was being paid for. It was an actual business trip, and everyone we talked to treated it like such. There aren’t many other jobs that would give two children responsibility like McDonald’s did, no matter how educated or experienced the kids were. McDonald’s has to take a lot of criticism for doing that, but there’s no other way to teach children responsibility than to give them a taste of it.

There are many positions beyond manager as well.  One gentlemen in particular was in charge of introducing the new self-serving kiosks to us. He said that he had started as a crew member on grill and now he was supporting his family while traveling the country to implement new innovative ideas. The phrase “dead-end” job should be reserved for very specific situations where there really is no way to step up the ladder. In the case of McDonald’s, however, it is a complete misrepresentation.

2. Don’t be hide your beliefs. They will come out and nobody really cares.

When a regular gave me a Bible and I had to carry it to the break room, I have to admit I was a bit embarrassed. I was scared people would asked me about something that at the time I wasn’t fully prepared to give an answer for. When someone did ask, however, I realized people don’t care at all.

“Oh, that’s the Bible?” They would say and then continue doing whatever they were doing on their phone. Others, too, would say, “That’s a good book.” or they would randomly tell me later in the day that, “I’m a Christian too,” or “I’m Mormon.” or “I grew up Catholic.”

If anyone else ever feels a moment of embarrassment, just remember that other people really don’t care if you’re Christian or not. They weren’t judging me for my faith but were either curious (which led to great conversations) or they didn’t care at all.

3. To Have Good Friends, Be a Good Friend. 

This is talking to the people who would come into McDonald’s everyday. From the sweet elderly couples from the Catholic church across the street to the obnoxious boys who would ride scooters over from the local high school, the lesson stayed consistent, that if I tried hard enough I could connect with anyone.

It started with an inside joke with the man who came in early that I always forgot to give him his discount or memorizing a nice lady’s coffee order and making sure to bring her her cream and one splenda before she asked. I even went indoor skydiving with one particular regular who I now call friend. (Like I said, there are other some stories that can’t be contained here.)

There was one regular who asked me to be in a speaking competition after I told him I had done competitive speech and debate for 6 years. So I did it, and after receiving runner up they came in with green cupcakes and a thank you note. They threw a mini party for me just out of my manager’s eyeshot. 

There was one regular who always came into work with a metal cup and would fill it with iced tea. One day he explained that the cup would keep his tea cold all day. When I asked him where he bought it, he promised to buy me a pack if I paid him. It restored my faith in humanity a little bit when he even trusted that I pay after he handed me the metal cups. I walked back to the break room with two metal traveling cups and my co-workers were as confused as the time I walked back with a green frosted cupcake.

Some co-workers would ask how I stayed positive or how I was always nice to customers. My position (a Guest Experience Lead) sometimes allowed me to sit down with customers and chat with them over coffee. My co-workers couldn’t understand why I would want to do that, but when I earned a hug from an elderly lady or a tip from a group of guys, I hoped my actions taught the people around me why I did keep my head up.

The point is, if you want to be helped, you have to be helpful. People have to have a certain level of trust in you before they believe that you’re willing to be grateful of their assistance. By remembering pet names, and regulars’ orders, and taking an interest in them, even if they don’t realize they subconsciously are building trust in you and will return the favor when you need. To have good friends, you have to be a good friend.

4. Being Smart is a choice. 

Smart people just make good decisions. You can be academic genius and be failing all your classes. How does this relate to McDonald’s? Let’s just say there were a lot of geniuses making  dumb decisions.

5. Don’t give drama your attention.

There were multiple times I had a wide open opportunity to eves drop or snitch on someone. I found that walking away from something that was none of my business gained the respect of my coworkers and the trust of my managers. I had plenty of problems of my own, I didn’t need there’s to be bothered with.

6. The best question is not, “what would God want me to do?” But rather “what would would the Devil really hate for me to do?”

Often I would say a quick prayer that went like “God, tell me what to say.” (Luke 12:12) Not that taking orders from a costumers was brain surgery, but that I wanted to say what God needed me to say to the hundreds of people I interacted with that day.  Of course they mean the same thing, but sometimes the better question, was to think to myself what the enemy would despise if I let it slip from my lips.

7. Being decent is the new rebellion. 

It used to be unique to be “edgy” Now you’re unique if you’re decent.

8. Appreciate small talk

I used to hate small talk. After being in the lobby for a 7-hour shift with only the responsibility of talking to costumers, I craved for there to be rain. Weather is a great kindle for the fire of conversation. “Can you believe this weather? I can out of nowhere!”

I would explain what I planned to do  for college to about 20 different adults every day. They were benefited by having someone to talk to while waiting for their meal, and I finally condensed an answer sufficient enough for myself.

9. Silence is underrated. 

One morning I forgot to bring my phone to work with me. So when lunch came around I was forced to sit in silence and just eat. (Tyler Joseph who?) It occurred to me that no body is ever just quiet anymore. Most of us can’t do dishes without listening to music, can’t jog without music blaring, can’t do any sitting-down project without also watching TV or Youtube. If we’re being real honest about it our phones go with us to the bathroom and we play music while we shower. I used to call it double tasking, convincing myself it was somehow more productive.

Don’t get me wrong, listening to music is fine. But, when was the last time you sat down and actually let yourself think? My best thoughts come in quiet car rides, silent classrooms, and libraries. Those rare moments are usually by coincidence though.

Because I accidentally didn’t have a phone, I noticed other people sitting next to me and we talked. (imagine that). I left my phone at home on purpose after that. I would sit, eat lunch and write down my thoughts.

10. Engage in political debates in order to strengthen your beliefs.

I competed for 6 years in team policy debate in the homeschool league, Stoa. In policy debate, you’re given one resolution and you must pick a case to run all year. For example if the overarching topic was food safety, my brother and I ran reform on Food Stamps. Or if the resolution was military, we ran a policy change on tactical nuclear weapons.

At the first tournament of the year policy debaters are faced against three teams with their case and if it works, they keep running the case throughout the rest of the year. After the first tournament we would know what the opposing team is going to run, and after the second tournament we would know their arguments better than they know their arguments. We had the articles that their quoting one sentence from printed out and ready to use against them, we had their argument writing down before they finished stating what their argument was. By the national tournament our case was bullet proof, everything we presented had already been battle tested and we had prepared responses.

At McDonald’s I learned that this is how it is with personal values. The first political discourse I engaged in was a little shaky, I didn’t know where to turn to when I was questioned on statistics I hadn’t done extensive research on like I would have done in policy debate. One coworker and I would go back and forth for hours when the flow of customers was slow.

Other people would tell us that we probably shouldn’t discuss our political opinions here, but why not? If I can’t speak about what I believe, I’ll never get another perspective and forever be in a box with all my own untested opinions. Once these debates started to happen often enough I would go home, think about what was said, research the problems and share it with my co-worker the next day to which he would sometimes refute or we came to an agreement.

The point wasn’t to convince him (even though sometimes he said mildly concerning things supporting communism), the point was to test out my beliefs on someone and see if they held up. It wasn’t to test how well my coworker could respond, but how well I could explain my own position. That’s the great things about debates, even if I lose, I benefit.

Response to “McJobs Are Bad For Kids”

McDonald’s is popularly committed to being America’s “best first job”. Recently, there has been a discussion about the impact it has on young teens to work at McDonald’s.

On one side there are people encouraging children to have jobs and on the other side there are people who believe it is damaging for minors to be in the workforce. One such person who is on the latter side of this debate is Amitai Etzioni who writes in his recent post at the Washington Post called “McJobs Are Bad For Kids” that “McDonald’s is bad for your kids.” (Read it here)

His reasoning centralizes around irresponsibility of teenagers such as time management, mismanagement of authority and foolish spending. I want to respond to his post based only on how his argument comes across. This post is not to state my own opinion or give the plenty of anecdotes that I have from working at McDonald’s. Instead, I will release a multiple part blog series on what McDonald’s taught me and the benefits of learning to work in fast food at a young age.

For now, this is focused on how Etzioni’s persuasion, using the critical parts of a debate such as ethos, pathos and logos and also to point out logical fallacies committed.

Etzioni uses some persuasive phraseology and appeals to the older generation effectively, however, his argument falls short when he fails to be consistent with the thesis that introduces his essay.

Amitai Etzioni’s first argument is a comparison to the newspaper route and the lemonade stand.

This is very persuasive because he’s not talking to children, but the parents, who most likely remember the good-ol’ days of early newspaper deliveries and young lemonade entrepreneurs. The facts are aligned nicely when he mentions that McDonald’s had done a lot of research to make sure everything is perfectly accurate. His assertion is that because everything is narrowed down to a specific time that there is no room for creativity.

The argument doesn’t quite follow through with the initial logos it began with when he mentions that McDonald’s is constantly improving. The real heart of this contention is that there are few skills involved. His example provided is that learning how to use a cash register is next to pointless. Unlike the previous claim which used persuasive illustrations of papers and lemons, this claim throws out any logical elements and instead inserts a rant.

Learning how to use a cash register may be part of the job, but it is not so much the ability to push patterned buttons that matter, but that one is learning to better communicate with customers. Communicating with someone who is likely starving and didn’t properly think their order through before approaching the counter is one of the most useful skills. For the author to bypass this information and slam the skill of working a register makes him sound more domineering than persuasive.

Meeting his claim with a fact, Etzioni states that people who had jobs throughout high school have a lesser chance at being employed in the future. This is a proven fact and stating it upfront proves his understanding of ethos. Unfortunately, he doesn’t impact this claim very eloquently by saying that many employed high school students drop out and are “gobbled up in the world of low-skill jobs.” If he had contrasted a certain level of pathos and understanding with his ethos, it would come across as persuasive, but the way he concludes comes across as condescending instead.

Following this statement, he injects the idea that there are little opportunities, almost no valuable skills and that children sacrifice their learning for earning money. This is again where the author could use more pathos, because he states this so bluntly it comes across as if he’s talking down to anyone who has or is working at McDonalds.

If the goal is for children to be responsible, they must be given a taste of responsibility.

The author cites that 58% of seniors believe that their job is interfering with their school work. This may be true, but it lacks credibility because it’s not McDonald’s specific or even fast food specific but rather it is speaking in general terms. If the author wishes to stick to his claim that McDonald’s is bad as a job, this statistic is irrelevant.

Sticking with the theme of irresponsibility: another claim Etzioni makes is that there is mismanagement at McDonald’s because there is often no adult present. There’s no logical fallacy being committed here, but blatant untruth. 17-year-olds can’t manage alone even if they have passed all their tests. The General Manager, the “adult” that the author overlooks will communicate with both the shift manager and the grill manager and then return to big-picture work like asking customers how their food is, making phone calls to fix plumbing or broken machinery (usually the ice-cream machine).

The General Manager can do this while still allowing the younger managers learn responsibility. The picture that there are several teenagers smoking pot, running around doing whatever they want is falsely painted. This claim is not only met with lack of provided evidence, but it also commits the part-to-whole fallacy which states that because some restaurants are mismanaged then it is therefore bad to allow your child to work at any fast food places.

Again, Etzioni deserves some credit because he brings that newspaper route and lemonade stand back into the picture. He compares it side by side with a bunch of teenagers stealing ice-cream from Baskin Robbins while on the job. This is met with the part-to-whole fallacy as well as a false analogy. Putting those two things side by side and saying that we should take a step back to lemonade stands, is not a fair comparison. Although it may be a compelling statement, it’s comparing the worst of the worst to the best of the best.

Etzioni then answers the question if young adults are even spending their money correctly in the first place. This is an interesting point to bring up, and it is once again effective due to the mental images. He uses words like, “punk clothes”, “trinkets” and “whatever else” making the people who oppose this point be associated with materialism. This is obviously a straw-man, but it also isn’t associated with his thesis. The best way to teach someone how to be responsible is to test them with responsibility and only take it away from them when they fail. Blaming materialism in America on increased employment rates among teens is a clear representation of the lack of research Etzioni did before publishing this.

The final sentence in this essay is, “Go back to school”.  This is a surprising way to conclude. One of the best qualities of this essay, (of which I have complemented this author plenty) is appealing to imagery that would get older people’s attention. Unfortunately, he seems to forget this and instead directs his last words at the younger generation.

Etzioni would have won the audience over if we would have been consistent in his original thesis. For example, if his thesis from the beginning had been something like, “Children should value their education over making money”, “Time management in teens is on the decline” or even, “Go back to school” there would have been much less to critique and almost all of his claims would have been much more persuasive.

Giving children power is the ultimate test, Abraham Lincoln put it this way, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Only when young adults are given responsibility and power is when they can be fully tested on their skills.

In simpler terms, responsibility reaps responsibility.

If he had given teenagers who are working to make money some credit, he would have won over both the younger audience reading his essay as well as parents who want to feel proud of their children. Etzioni’s essay may have been successful in his persuasive wording and imagery, but it falls flat when he fails to be consistent and begins to talk down to teens.

absolutes

Money doesn’t grow on trees,
Except for dollar bills
Man is inherently good,
Unless he hits, lies or kills.
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