NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It used to be a right of passage to work at a fast food restaurant as a teenager but times have changed and many teenagers try their hardest to avoid having to sling burgers and fries. The jobs instead are held by adults who try to support their families on minimum wage while working 40 hours or more.
Employment at so-called fast-food restaurants were intended to be a low paying, entry level position aimed at teenagers in need of that first job. Most viewed the work as temporary, a means to an end.
These days those same jobs are held by workers who remain in fast-food for years. Not surprisingly, these workers want more money, a wage level that will allow them to their support families above the poverty line.
The multinational fast-food restaurant corporations argue that these jobs don't warrant wages higher than current levels. Here at TheStreet many of us worked those low paying jobs. These are the stories of those who have been on both sides of the counter.
My first job was at McDonald's (MCD) in Beaumont, Texas. It was 1977 and I got paid a whopping $2.30 an hour. It was probably the most physically demanding job I ever held. Eight-hour shifts with a 20 minute break. I wore a lime green polyester pant suit that was hideous and retained the smell of grease. The work itself wasn't difficult, but the long hours and low pay was enough to make me look for something else. The worst memory was burning my hand badly at the fry station and having to finish my shift as the heat lamp continued to burn my hand. The best memory was working the drive through and talking in funny voices over the intercom to people when they were ordering. No, it doesn't take much to entertain a sixteen year old.
I only looked at this job as a stepping stone. It was purely a resume builder, not the end all be all. My husband also worked at McDonald's during high school and had the same opinion. Do I think this job should pay $15 an hour? No. The lesson anyone should learn from holding this job is only view it as temporary. Use it to move higher. I only stayed in this job for three months and moved on to becoming a door hostess at a restaurant that led to waiting tables.
I was 17 years old when I got my first summer job at the only Burger King (BKW) in a small town. I worked the fries and onion rings station in the back. It was in the late 1980s, so I think I made about $5 an hour.
I knew a couple of cashiers who would overcharge customers and pocket the change. Each penny in the registers had to match the receipts, so some cashiers would rob the customers instead. I chastised the thieves, but was warned not to tell the manager, because snitches get stiches - even in the suburban hood.
I forgot the manager's name, so let's call him He-Who-Never-Smiles.
Feeling sorry for customers, I became the Robin Hood of grease. I would add an extra nugget or overstuff the fries. Although the cashiers' and my intentions were very different, the results were the same - someone was getting jipped. I felt noble in my greasedom, as I thought I was correcting a wrong. Until one day, I realized I was no different than the cashiers.
I'm munching on some fries at my station, as Never Smiles is heading my way. I know anyone caught eating food while working will be terminated. But it is too late. I cannot swallow the fry, nor can I chew it - so I choke...in near silence. I snuff out my cough with tight lips. As HWNS approaches, I nod hello. He keeps walking. When the coast is clear, I swallow the partially chewed fries; a hard overcooked edge scratches my throat. That was the day I realized I was no better than ol' sticky-fingers in the front. Cashiers robbed customers, and by eating those fries and "supersizing" customers' food for free, I robbed the King.
Each fry and nugget affects the bottom line. As a teen, I thought Burger King was a Robber Baron -- paying minimum wage and asking employees to pay for food, though at a discount. Years later, with a clear understanding of the economics of business, I see why. Restaurant employees will eat up your profits, which may result in higher costs for us all.
I started at Burger King when I was 14 and made $5.15 an hour. However, I moved up the chain and by age 16, I made $6.25 and then by 17 I was pulling down $9.50. This was from 2005-2007 and minimum wage was $5.15. There was a labor shortage and we would often have to close early because it was too hard to find employees 18-and-older to work the later shifts (child labor laws). This is pre-2008.
It was mostly a summer job for kids under 18; there were a handful of employees who made it their full-time job, but at the time they were paid above minimum wage (around $10/hr) w/ no benefits. Managers started at $15/hour. I did not consider it a career, but I think managers should make at least $15 an hour and get benefits.
Keris Alison Lahiff
I'm from Australia and you can work in fast food when you turn 14 and 9 months. So I applied at McDonalds right away. I didn't get hired. Hard to believe, right? However, during the interview they asked me if a child dropped her ice cream cone on the floor, what would I do? I said I'd give the child another for free. Wrong answer. These cones cost money. I moved on to pizza delivery.
Written by Debra Borchardt in New York.