Five Things I Learned Working in a Fast Food Restaurant

Five Things I Learned Working in a Fast Food Restaurant

It isn’t the career arc most advertising professionals pursue – trading an office for the kitchen of a fast food restaurant. But, maybe it should happen more often.

My time behind the counter started when our QSR marketing team here at Lawrence & Schiller was offered an opportunity to gain hands-on industry experience with Taco John’s®, a Mexican quick service restaurant chain for whom Lawrence & Schiller is the agency of record. Several teammates and I jumped at the chance to learn more about our client’s business by working in it.

Delaney, a PR intern from USD, joined me for the first shift. We worked from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm on a Wednesday in a Taco John’s tucked inside a convenience store. Curtis, the restaurant manager, handed us uniforms and started the unenviable job of training two people with zero food service experience. I quickly realized I was learning more than the proper way to build a Meat & Potato Burrito. I was gaining insights that will make me a better marketer for Taco John’s.

1. Marketing is NOT the top concern for front line employees.
Getting the order right. Making customers happy. Keeping the restaurant clean.

They all rank higher than P.O.P. placement, window clings or ceiling danglers … and that’s okay. Without a focus on operational excellence, customers will quickly go somewhere else. It’s a good reality check for those of us in the agency who spend our days concepting and creating campaigns.

2. Business goals are clear and top of mind.
Restaurant managers like Curtis know exactly what they need to do to be successful. They need to hit clearly defined goals for volume of sales and speed of service. By knowing the goals, and staying focused on them, Curtis can quickly make decisions that help the rest of his team stay on track.

It’s a good reminder for all of us in the agency world – we need to keep our clients’ business goals top of mind and use them to guide our marketing strategies.

3. Speed matters.
I’m told the lunch crowd was smaller than usual during my shift. Doesn’t matter. My head was still spinning trying to keep up.

If you’re working in QSR, you’re always racing time. Agencies need to remember, as much as we strive to plan ahead, there will be occasions when we need to drop what we’re doing and jump on something in need of immediate attention. This is especially true for public relations, social media and digital marketing.

4. Clear communication counts.
I never realized how much conversation goes on in a restaurant until I spent some time in the kitchen. Team members talking with guests, crewmates asking for help filling orders and the manager coaching his team. No email or texting here. Everything is spoken. It’s all clear, quick and concise.

Agencies would be well-served to follow a similar model. We are the masters of message framing, context and political correctness. Sometimes direct and honest conversation is much more effective.

5. We need each other.
I couldn’t do what Curtis and his team do all day. I’m pretty sure he and his crew have no desire to work my job either. And that’s okay.

A restaurant with great food but poor marketing will struggle. An ad agency without great clients will starve. We need each other to excel in our own areas of expertise so together we can reach our goals.

Working one lunch shift does not make me an expert on the QSR industry, but it was enough to reveal some realities of the fast food industry that I never would have learned without walking out of my office and into a Taco John’s® kitchen.

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