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33 Things Your Fast Food Worker Isn’t Telling You

These surprising secrets about your favorite fast food restaurants might make you think twice next time you're in line or at the drive-through.

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Close-up of burgerPhoto: Shutterstock / KARIN HILDEBRAND LAU

After we cook something, we put it in a holding cabinet and set a timer

When the timer goes off, we’re supposed to throw it out. But often, we just reheat the food. So for the freshest meal, come between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. or between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. More people are in the restaurant then, so we’re cooking and serving new food constantly. (These are the worst meals you could order at a restaurant, by the way.)

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Chicken sandwichPhoto: Shutterstock / RAKRATCHADA

That plain chicken breast may have been a healthy choice out of the package…

But sometimes we have to slather it with butter just to make sure it doesn’t stick to the grill.

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Fast food counterPhoto: Shutterstock / ICATNEWS

There’s usually a way to get expensive menu items for less

If you’re craving a Big Mac, for example, order a $1 McDouble with no mustard or ketchup and then add shredded lettuce and Mac sauce for a small charge. It’s basically a mini Big Mac, and you can get two for less than the cost of one Big Mac.

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Person pouring water at a drink fountainPhoto: Shutterstock / Kiattisak Lamchan

Most fast-food joints clean everything with super-concentrated chemicals at the end of the day

That includes the grills and the drink machine nozzles. If you’re one of the first customers in the morning, you may be getting some of that chemical residue on the food or in the drink you order—or, worse. You won’t believe what was found on the ice in some fast food restaurants. 

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Close-up of burger with grill marksPhoto: Shutterstock / JOE BELANGER

Those grill marks on your burger?

Not real. They were put there by the factory. If you want REAL grill marks, it’s probably best to make your own at home with a burger recipes.

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French friesPhoto: Shutterstock / TULPAHN

Most of us will cook something fresh for you if you ask

But if you want to make sure your french fries come right out of the fryer, order them without salt; that forces us to cook you a new batch. Then you can add your own salt, and they’ll still taste the same.

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Person putting cheese on a burgerPhoto: Shutterstock / GOSPHOTODESIGN

Avoid asking for “extra” of something, like cheese or sauce

As soon as you say “extra,” we have to enter it at the register and charge you for it. Instead, just tell us you want us to “put a good amount on there” or “not to be skimpy with it,” and we’ll load you up.

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ChiliPhoto: Shutterstock / OFC PICTURES

Yes, our chili is made from what you think:

Meat from old burgers.

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Salad with crispy chickenPhoto: Shutterstock / JOSHUA RESNICK

It makes me laugh when someone comes in and says she’s trying to be healthy—and then orders a salad with crispy chicken

At McDonald’s, some of those salads have about as many calories as a Big Mac. In fact, a small order of french fries contains four fewer grams of fat than a packet of our ranch dressing.

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Person at a drive-thruPhoto: Shutterstock / YAOINLOVE

We’re timed on how fast we get customers through the drive-through…

…so we always prioritize those in line outside over anyone at the front counter.

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Fast food worker behind the registerPhoto: Shutterstock / SORBIS

One of my coworkers once got so mad that he spit in someone’s food

He was suspended for three days. Most of us would never do something like that.

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Soda fountainPhoto: Shutterstock / KITTIPONG33

Here’s a good way to know how clean a fast-food establishment really is:

When you get your drink, bend down and look up into the ice chute. If you see mold and other stuff growing in there—which is more common than you might expect—they’re not cleaning the machine as often as they’re supposed to.

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Pile of burgers and friesPhoto: Shutterstock / ANDI BERGER

Those gorgeous pictures of our food in our advertisements?

They’re airbrushed and touched up with fiberglass and paint. It probably takes two hours to make that picture. Obviously, we’re not going to be able to replicate that.

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Woman on her phone in the carPhoto: Shutterstock / JOSHUA

Please, please, get off your cell phone

I’ve had people pull up to the window, pay, and drive away without their food because they’re talking on the phone and not paying attention. Then they’re mad at me.

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Burgers and friesBRENT HOFACKER/Shutterstock

At most fast-food restaurants, it’s tough to give away free food

Especially things like burgers, because they’re inventoried. We can sometimes give away French fries, ice cream or drinks because we get those ourselves, but it depends on which manager is on duty.

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Vanilla ice cream conePhoto: Shutterstock / BUS STOCKER

We hate it when you order an ice cream

Most of the time, we’ve got to make it, and it’s already melting by the time we hand it to you. If you order four or five cones at a time, it’s almost impossible to get them to you before they melt everywhere, and then you want new ones.

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Burgers on a grillPhoto: Shutterstock / HURRICANEHANK

Here’s something that surprised me when I started working at McDonald’s:

Our clam grills are set at 750 degrees, and they can fully cook a regular beef hamburger in just 38 seconds, a quarter pounder in 70 seconds. The first time I ever saw that, I was like, ‘Ewww.’

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Mc Donald's take-out bagPhoto: Shutterstock / AZRISURATMIN

We’re happy to replace something if we mess up, but…

We can usually tell when you’re making up a story to get free food. There was one guy who found a pebble in our parking lot, put it in his food after he ate most of it, and then asked for a replacement. Another lady took 10 tacos home. The next day, she brought just a few of them back, showing us that their lettuce was brown. She wanted another 10 tacos. But of course, if you leave tacos out for 24 hours, the lettuce will turn.

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Black and white photo of person grilling burgersPhoto: Shutterstock / SMIRART

Some fast-food workers definitely follow the 10-second rule

I have seen people drop food and then pick it back up and put it on the grill.

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Plastic trashPhoto: Shutterstock / THAMKC

No, most of us do not donate our leftovers

I can’t believe how much food we throw out every day, especially at the end of the night. You, however, can do your part.

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Fast food worker handing a tray of food to a customerPhoto: Shutterstock / BLUESKYIMAGE

All fast-food restaurants are not created equal

Even restaurants within the same chain can vary widely depending on the owner and manager and what kind of standards they set.

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Mc Donald's ketchup packetsPhoto: Shutterstock / TONI GENES

When you take three handfuls of napkins or fill your purse with ketchup packets…

I don’t know what you call it, but I call it stealing. You’re just making things more expensive for everyone.

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Crispy chicken in a bucketPhoto: Shutterstock / RICHARD PETERSON

Please don’t ask what ingredients are in our fried chicken coating or in our special sauce

All of our recipes are proprietary, so they don’t even tell us what’s in them.

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Fast food kitchenPhoto: Shutterstock / SORBIS

At some restaurants, managers get a bonus if they hold onto their employees and keep their turnover rate down

That gives us an incentive to keep people who aren’t very good, even if they don’t know the difference between a French fry and a screwdriver. And I’m not exaggerating; I’ve had employees who were that bad.

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Fast food workers in the kitchen cookingPhoto: Shutterstock / MARCIN KADZIOLKA

Most of us, even the managers, aren’t making much more than minimum wage

You wouldn’t believe the stuff we put up with for that kind of money. People constantly talk to me like I’m a two-year-old. I’ve had customers throw drinks at me and cuss at me. I’ve been held up at gunpoint.

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Exterior of Taco Bell fast-food restaurant with sign and logoShutterstock/George Sheldon

At Taco Bell, most of our food does carry over, so we reheat it and serve it the next day

That’s why I never take my lunch break early.

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Fast food worker behind the registerPhoto: Shutterstock / SORBIS

For the best deal at McDonald’s, order off the dollar menu

You can get a lot of food for the same price as a meal and it will fill you up more. Learn how to reheat McDonald’s fries.

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Person wearing clear glovesPhoto: Shutterstock / HIME

We were supposed to wear gloves when we made food

But a lot of times my co-workers didn’t do it, and that really skeeved me out.

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"Employees must wash hands" signPhoto: Shutterstock / MICHAEL D BROWN

Most of us don’t wash our hands as much as we should

Even though there are signs everywhere reminding us it’s the law.

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Pile of trash bagsPhoto: Shutterstock / 1000 WORDS

Look around to see how much trash is in the parking lot

And whether the bathrooms are dirty and if the dining room is picked up. When things that are so publicly visible are neglected, you can bet that even more is being neglected in the back and in the kitchen where no one can see them.

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Fast food worker handing a drive-thru customer their bag of foodPhoto: Shutterstock / JUNPINZON

Once your order is in at the drive-through…

We have two minutes to get your food before the screen turns red, and the manager asks what’s going on.

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Fast food bag being handed out of a drive-thru windowMINISTR-84/Shutterstock

We do laugh at you behind your back

Like when you mispronounce our menu items or when you think we can’t hear you through the drive-through speaker, yelling at your husband or kids.

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Outside of a Mc DonaldsPhoto: Shutterstock / SHEILA FITZGERALD

When it was slow, sometimes we would all take the garbage out…

And smoke marijuana in the back. Really, it’s true.