Bun burning at McDonald’s

Published 1:52 pm Saturday, March 21, 2015

by James Harrell

I have a reliable schedule with several days off between trips. One of my fellow newly hired pilots informs me that a local McDonald’s is hiring and we can fit right in. My $350/month salary doesn’t go far, and it’s an opportunity to make a little extra cash to help out financially. The bank savings and salary can provide basic food, clothing and rent; anything else has to be funded additionally. The McDonald’s opportunity seems like a good idea.

I locate the business in Huntington Beach and fill out the application. I, along with two of my cohorts, are hired. The manager is somewhat surprised to have hired three pilots. He’s a good guy and we have a strong work ethic. Our schedules fit right in with students and other part-timers. We do a short one-day school, don the blue shirt with the McDonald’s logo, place the strange-looking McDonald’s hat on our heads and set up a weekly schedule that will match our flight schedule.

The menu must be committed to memory, but that’s not much of a stretch for us. We’re used to extensive rote memory work in our routine jobs. A complete meal can be had for one dollar: a burger, fries, drink and desert. Burgers and fries are what’s advertised the heaviest, but I learn that the largest profit margin item is Coca-Cola. McDonald’s is the world’s largest purveyor of Coca-Cola. Somewhere on the periphery are milk shakes, fried pies and whatever promotion is current. There are banners to raise and outside eating areas to keep clean.

All shift crewmembers share in the cleanup of the entire property. Each night at closing, each grill and toaster is carefully cleaned and the entire food inventory is counted. Mistakenly prepared food items are placed in a special container and inventoried. Each cash register and cash drawer is balanced and accounted for. I’m surprised at the thoroughness of the closedown. That means each new day will have a clean, properly stored, properly prepared workplace to begin. It’s a valuable lesson that I will carry for many years.

On holiday weekends, extra toasters are wheeled out and the full grill surface is used. For normal business, one half the grill cooks hamburgers and the other half toasts the buns. I learn to lay a dozen buns in a single handful across the grill; the grill master flips the burgers, tops it with the bottom half of the bun and flops the finished product onto a table for the mustard/ketchup, pickle topping. Other toppings can be added at this point. Usually the griller is directed by the shift manager to cook a dozen burgers at a time, with a portion made into cheeseburgers. The assembly method changes little and has been adapted over time into a fast, functional process.

My new part-time employment is on Beach Boulevard, in the city of Huntington Beach. Traffic comes in waves; store volume is measured by the amount of sales in the peak one-hour period of a normal day. There seems to be a little competition between stores in the local area. It’s all a friendly, well-intentioned, talking point only kind of thing, and we enjoy it when our small storefront sales match larger facilities.

Schools are back in session now and, every school day, my store puts together between 1,200 and 1,400 hamburgers, packs them in Styrofoam lined boxes and delivers them to local high schools. The schools sell the burgers in their canteens or lunchrooms. We learn that the schools actually make more money than us. We sell and deliver to the schools for 20 cents for each burger. The schools resell them for 25 cents each. The schools’ profit margin is higher than ours.

We are happy for the business, and I learn very quickly how to cook the meat, toast the buns and put together whatever the customer calls for. I learn to listen with a third ear to order calls across a busy, crowded, noisy service area. I learn to rapidly punch the order into the cash register and make change if required. It’s all about speed and accuracy, just like my other job. I enjoy the banter with the other workers, mostly students on their first job.

It’s late one night, almost closing time at 10 p.m. My manager rounds the corner from the drive-thru window area with a huge grin on his face.

“I told you this place has class,” he said. “A person driving a Rolls Royce just ordered from the drive-thru service window.”

A round of laughter among the workers ended the night on an upbeat. I remember the positive McDonald’ss experience long after I move on to other things.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at archiepix@kingwoodcable.com.