Skills You Learned Working In Fast Food

Consumer Skills in Retail and Fast Good

If your stereotype of a fast food worker is a clumsy teen working their first job, it’s not accurate. Although around 60% of fast food workers are under 24 years of age, only 30% are teenagers. So while the industry is more diverse than you’d think, it remains true that fast food is an early-career job for many young people.

Fast food jobs are sometimes looked down on, but more than 20 million Americans earned their first paycheck at McDonald’s alone, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (he was a ‘grill man’) and TV host Jay Leno. And there is a lot you can learn working in fast food that will serve you well, no matter what you do.

Customer Service

If you’ve stood behind a counter, you learn quickly: customers can be difficult, they can occasionally be unreasonable, and in fast food, it’s your job to please them anyway.

Blogger Cameron Chardukian works at a Dairy Queen and has his own take on the saying ‘the customer is always right’: “Whether you’ve clearly made a mistake or the customer appears to be making something out of nothing doesn’t matter,” he says. “It’s your job to fix things.”

If you’ve worked in fast food, that may seem obvious. People expect you to deal with problems no matter who’s in the right. But learning that lesson puts you ahead of others without customer service experience. At least Chardukian also says that “people are quick to forgive minor mistakes if you show them a smile, offer a genuine apology, and do whatever needs to be done to make things right.”


Talking about ‘operations’ is a fancy way of saying that fast food workers learn how work gets done at a big company, and how people can help to make things run efficiently—or not.

When executive Darren Serrao was put in charge of modernizing the iconic Campbell’s soup range, he thought back to his experiences at McDonald’s as a teenager. Working in fast food, he learned the value of procedures where “you are able to move through the process time and again no matter who you are working with.”

As blogger Mary Anne Payne points out, fast food workers also “learn the value of money. And how to account for it. Because at the end of the night when their drawer doesn’t square up it’s coming out of their paycheck.”

Teamwork and Management

Working at a fast food restaurant requires you work effectively with people you didn’t choose and might not even like. If you can learn to do that, you’ll have skills that are valuable to any job you end up doing.

Fast food also offers opportunities to advance and lead others. “Within weeks I had the full complement of stars on my badge and was gradually given more managerial responsibilities—training colleagues, stock-taking, cashing-up, even leading shifts with 20-30 colleagues,” says English journalist John Hand. Demonstrated leadership experience is valuable for any future employment, and you might wait years for leadership opportunities in other jobs.

Multi-tasking and handling fast-paced environments

Ever noticed how many job postings require you to be comfortable with multi-tasking and handling fast-paced environments? And if you’ve ever been on a lunch or dinner rush at a fast food place, you’ve learned how to multi-task.

“To do the drive-thru window you had to be able to listen to one order while filling the prior order and delivering/cashiering the order prior to that one. You had to be able to multitask 2-3 different orders at the same time,” recalls Anne Toth, now a Vice President at a technology company, of her time at Roy Rogers in the 80s. And on the busy periods at any fast food restaurant, there are plenty of jobs where things have to be done fast.

Toth also learned “Do a good job and you will be rewarded — with a harder job.” Which is true of careers everywhere.

You can learn a lot of valuable skills from a fast food job. If you’re looking to strengthen your academics or learn a new skill, though, be sure to check out our schools page.

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