Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Alex // Fast Food Worker

In Summer 2012, just after graduating and in need of something to keep me from returning to my hometown, I worked at a popular Mexican fast food chain in Central London. In a touching display of faux-democracy, potential ‘crewmembers’ had to do a day’s trial shift, after which existing staff voted on whether or not to have them stay on. If you were kept on, the trial shift was paid; if not, nothing except maybe a free burrito halfway through the shift.

A lot was made of how quickly ‘the right people’ could ascend the ranks, which instilled in many staff - mostly recent arrivals to the UK - a loyalty to the chain that management ruthlessly exploited. Kris had been in London two months, working at the restaurant six weeks, and was a few days from being promoted to kitchen manager, which meant more money and more benefits. He was also working 15 hour days, starting at 9am and not leaving until gone midnight, at least five days a week.

The work ranged from grim (cashier; easy enough as long as the till wasn’t over/under at the end of the shift, at which point all hell broke loose), through really grim (making the damn burritos, asking guacamole? One pound extra over and over), to fucking horrendous (the dreaded food prep; impossible quantities of guacamole and salsa to be prepared from scratch before you could leave at the end of a shift, the tiniest delay pushing you into unpaid, unavoidable overtime). Unsurprisingly, with English as my first language I was usually on the till; those with weakest English in the kitchen preparing food and invariably working for free.

The scope for goofing off in such a frantic workplace seemed limited, but near the end of my first shift, with the restaurant closed and the manager downstairs cashing up, my colleagues beckoned me over to a spot near the fridge. Just out of view of the kitchen's security cameras stood five small plastic cups. Each was filled with frozen margaritas, diverted en route to the sink, where that day’s unused cocktails should have ended up. A bowl of tortilla chips and guacamole sat next to them, also rescued on their way to the bin. A quick cheers and we'd get on with cleaning, scuttling over to the fridge every now and then for a sip and a snack. Given how much of this stuff was usually thrown away, we could get through three or four margaritas this way, leaving at midnight with a nice buzz.

I hated that job and didn't stay long. Today, I can’t look back on that period in my life without breaking into a cold sweat at the thought that it could easily have on longer. But I still remember fondly the collective feeling of getting our own back that these illicit after-work drinks instilled in us, even as we mopped the floor and cleaned the grill for £7 an hour.