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Robert Barron column: Restaurant shift a lesson in respect

I worked as a waiter in my youth so I figured I could easily do the job

The 26th annual McHappy Day fundraiser was held on May 11, and I hope many in the community got involved with this most worthwhile event.

On that day, McDonald’s franchises across Canada donate $1 from every Big Mac, Happy Meal or hot McCafe beverage sold to Ronald McDonald Houses, which provide a place for families to call home so they can stay close by their hospitalized child at little to no cost, and other local children’s charities.

To date, McHappy Day has raised more than $66 million across Canada to help children and their families.

One aspect of the day is people from the community — including police officers, doctors and even Black Press employees — take at least an hour of their day and help out the staff at local McDonald’s franchises.

A few years ago, I was asked by my editor at the Nanaimo paper if I would spend an hour working at the nearest McDonald’s to the office on McHappy Day, and I jumped at the chance.

I thought it would be fun and relaxing to get out of the office for awhile and hang out with a bunch of young people.

They put me in the drive-through window where I was to take orders for the kitchen staff and I was also responsible for dispensing the soft drinks that were part of each order.

I worked as a waiter in my youth so I figured I could easily do the job and also be an inspiration for good worker practices among my new peers at the restaurant.

But I quickly discovered that I was way out of my element in my new job.

Unlike in my day, the food dispensing process in McDonald’s, and I assume in all other fast-food outlets as well, has become completely computerized.

I was used to just jotting down orders with a pen on a piece of paper and placing it in line in the kitchen for pick up.

But now workers are required to place the orders through a computer which automatically delivers it to the kitchen.

It’s supposed to make the process simpler for everybody, but the young people who typically work at these jobs are much more computer savvy than I’ve ever been and I spent much of my “fun” hour at the restaurant just trying to figure out the basics of how to place an order.

Of course that meant that motorists at the drive through were forced to wait longer than usual as I tried to figure things out.

Added to that frustrating dilemma was that the soft drink machines were programmed to dispense proportionate amounts of soft drink and ice, and I couldn’t figure out the ratios and usually ended up with sticky fluids running down my arms as I handed them out through the window to the customers.

Just 20 minutes into my volunteer hour, the lineup of cars at the drive through was getting longer and longer but, fortunately, many of the customers realized that I was a McHappy Day volunteer when they finally got to the window and forgave my ineptitude with a laugh.

By the end of the hour, I knew that the actual staff were more than happy to see me on my way and take back control of the drive through.

I went back to my office and hid behind my desk for the rest of the day and appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to do that job to make a living.

We tend to take the fast-food restaurant workers for granted when we visit these establishments, but they work hard in their roles and should be appreciated for what they do.

It’s harder than you think, so remember to treat these people with the respect they deserve.

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Robert Barron

About the Author: Robert Barron

Since 2016, I've had had the pleasure of working with our dedicated staff and community in the Cowichan Valley.
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