Course work in family and consumer science and other classes that develop cooking skills can provide good preparation for the job of a fast food worker. In addition, general business or management courses provide a solid basis for entry-level workers. Students should also look into opportunities for working in the school cafeteria or other food service area. Neighborhood restaurants and local hot dog or hamburger stands may also hire summer help.
Certain high schools offer cooperative work-study programs to students to assist them in gaining job experience. Such programs may offer concentrations in the food service industry or host lectures from community members already involved in the field.
Fast food workers may have a variety of duties. Some fast food establishments require employees to be familiar with all aspects of the restaurant: greeting and serving customers, cleanup and maintenance, and preparation of some of the simpler food items. Larger chain restaurants may institute this practice as a way of familiarizing the fast food worker with the restaurant's needs as a whole, with the possibility of specialization later. Smaller restaurants, not having enough staff to allow specialization, may follow this pattern out of necessity.
Fast food workers who are part of the kitchen staff may begin as assistants to the trained cooks. These assistants may help set up supplies, refill condiment containers, or do prep work such as slicing meats or vegetables. For the sake of sanitation as well as safety, these assistants also may be responsible for general cleanup duties in the kitchen area.
Kitchen staff employees who cook prepare all food to meet the company's standards. In this regard, the food must be made consistently and neatly. Cooks must be agile and quick in their handling of food.
The cashier in a fast food restaurant may be responsible for taking the customer's order, entering the order into the computer or cash register, taking payment, and returning proper change. In some fast food establishments the cashier may act as counter worker and have additional tasks. These added duties can include filling the customer's order; selecting the various sandwiches, side orders, or beverages from those stations; and serving it to the customer on a tray or in a carryout container. It is often the cashier's duty to greet customers, welcoming them to the restaurant in a friendly and courteous way. Since these employees are responsible for interacting with customers, they are required to keep their immediate workstations clean and neat.
In addition to interacting with the customers, the counter worker must also be able to communicate effectively with the kitchen and managerial staff. The counter worker may have to tell the kitchen staff about a special order for a sandwich or shortages of certain food items. The counter worker may need to notify the manager about a problem with the register or a disgruntled customer. Since delays can take away from customer satisfaction and hurt the restaurant's business, the counter worker must be able to identify, communicate, and solve problems quickly.
Good fast food employees develop professional attitudes and marketable work skills. They learn to work under pressure and to meet the work standards that their managers expect. A fast food worker also learns tangible skills, such as working a cash register, cooking, and communication. In the different areas of fast food work, employees must be able to keep up the pace, show personal motivation, and be willing to work as part of a team.
Unlike some other types of work, however, the fast food business is a no-nonsense job. A cashier or counter worker may handle hundreds of dollars a day. Cooks work over fryers and grills and handle knives and meat slicers. The work requires concentration and a professional attitude.