A collection of stories from CBD 24/7 McDonalds as told by the workers on the battlefields of its busiest nights.
*The names used in the piece are not the names of the persons interviewed.
11:00pm on a Friday night, the crowd grows inside Melbourne’s CBD. It yearns for a feed of saturated and trans fats and McDonald’s on a night like this is the perfect feeding ground.
You stand there taking in the peace before the chaos begins. Bins are freshly replaced, tables wiped down and the stations are stocked up. McDonald’s is ready for its beating but what about it’s staff?
Ancient Japanese warriors were recorded to have prepared for battle through specially prepared meals that they would consume leading to a rallying of the troops. The same principle applies here. The special meal is the 50% discounted crew meal or a cigarette behind the store to awaken the brain.
Change room banter is a must. Shooting the shit with the rest of the crew, hearing horror stories from the past to the soundtrack of your co-workers selected playlists echoing the small room.
“I think the worst I’ve seen was this monster of a woman who started a fight with this guy in the store,” Shannon* said, a seasoned kitchen crew veteran.
“She thought this other customer had bumped into her on purpose so she just flew a punch at him.”
“It turned into a full brawl with at least five different people trying to hold her back,” they said. “It ended up with the police being called to break the whole thing up”.
Welcome to ‘The Graveyard Shift’, hope you survive the experience. Drunk and disorderly fights are just one of the many things to witness when working between 11pm to 6am. This is no shift for the weak.
In one hour the store can go from empty to being packed wall to wall. Competing with all other voices in the room to get the order out just to be met with the ever-original catchphrase “BINGO!”.
With anything, however, the question forms: “How much worse could this get?” and the answer in any scenario is: “A whole lot worse”.
“This is nothing,”, James** said, the front counter co-worker.
He explains the events of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend which resembles something out of a horror movie for all hospitality, fast food and retail workers. He said that store was so understaffed, people jumping from front counter to kitchen, taking orders from the never-ending line.
“We were so backlogged with orders that we had someone from kitchen jumping up to front counter to help git of the backed up product while more orders were still coming in,” he said.
“It would get so bad that I would have to stop taking orders because it would only make it worse. But what resulted was disgruntled drunks now mad about not only not getting their orders quickly but now they weren’t getting served. It was a lose-lose situation for a while”.
There’s a moment in the night where the waves upon waves of customers have subsided and it’s time to venture into the dining room to confront the terrors that were awaiting.
The dining room in a McDonald’s is an excellent insight into the human condition. How wasteful our species has become. Paper bags, boxes, half eaten food, sauce spills, drink stains, melted ice cream, lost wallets and phones all strewn across the tables, floors and seats.
A quick glimpse into the toilets reveals a myriad of monstrosities ranging from faeces on the floor and walls, a flood of urine creating a ‘stank’ air as a replacement for breathable oxygen, dried up vomit containing half-digested cheeseburgers and used tampons littered about.
Only you and the co-workers around you can turn this dumpsite into a restaurant that families inhabit during the day. The rubbish bags fill up one by one, ready to be compacted. Where is this waste going to end up? Another landfill? You’re not paid to think about this. You’re being paid to hide it from today’s future customers.
“You’re being paid to hide it from today’s future customers”
All this in the span of seven hours. Drained of all energy and enthusiasm but still able to provide service with a smile. The 30-minute break of scrolling through Facebook and demolishing the discounted fast food on offer does give a small glimmer of a chance to recharge. Weariness and tiredness bite down on the brain while caffeine comes in to save the day.
Particularly in this industry working back to back overnights is a common occurrence, wearing employers down.
Matthew**, one of the kitchen staff, said that one week, the “sleep deprivation would build up so much that by the time I got to a day off I would sleep around 16 hours literally wasting it, making it become a cycle of sleep and work”.
Sleeping until 4pm just to eat dinner and then go back to sleep. It is enough to make anyone feel like they’ve wasted a day.
To Mathew** who had to do this over and over again it made him feel like they were in a “void,” where they “would be back and forth between the same two places, doing the same things” entering into what felt like, to him, “like I was in a dream and granted how little sleep I got maybe parts of it was”.
“People need money and this is lengths you and the co-workers around you will go to get it.”
This is what you agreed to and there’s no shame in it. People need money and this is lengths you and the co-workers around you will go to get it. A dollar extra per hour makes all the difference.
Businesses need troops to man this move to 24/7 operating hours and there exists a young working force of 18-20 year old’s desperate enough to do it. People need money, especially young university students and here lies an avenue to achieve that.
But you just keep thinking of the money.
This is what you signed up for.