14 Practical Business Lessons from an ex-McDonalds Employee

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I wasn’t always a freelancer ?. Back when I was studying at uni, I worked part-time at one of the world’s largest corporations… none other than McDonalds, or as we Aussies prefer to call it, Maccas.

To be honest, I was a bit horrified at the time that my life had sunk to that point. I applied for hundreds of other positions before I finally got desperate enough to send my resume to the local Maccas. And as life would have it, I ended up getting hired there within a few weeks.

But in hindsight, it wasn’t such a bad thing. Sure, you didn’t smell great at the end of a shift, but I gained SO much incredible experience that I am still benefiting from now as a solopreneur. I thought it might be worth peeling back the curtains a little for those of you in business who were not privileged to work for such a large, well-run entity.

benefit of working at mcdonalds

Here are some of the things that I learnt at Maccas which I try to apply in my business today:

  1. Make it a System or It Won’t Happen

Maccas have folders for systems. They have online programs for systems. Everything is written down and systemised or it doesn’t happen. As a result, you have hundreds of stores and thousands of employees all over the country doing much the same things at the same time, even if these people have never met/spoken before.

  1. Hire the Smile

When it comes to employees, you can train people in skills, but you will find it hard to change their attitudes. Hire people who are happy and positive, and they will bring that into your workplace. It’s worth hiring a positive inexperienced person over a negative experienced one.

Oh how I wish I still had this promo shirt…
  1. Train Quickly

People crave knowledge and want to be competent at their jobs. It makes total sense to kick off training as quickly as possible, in all the relevant areas. This comes down to having a great system and sticking to it. At McDonalds, new staff members are on the floor straight away and spend a lot of time early on learning on tablets/websites, then putting it into practice.

  1. Train Ongoing

There’s always more to learn and opportunities to improve. At McDonalds, even the staff who have been working for years have to complete regular training in new products/equipment/procedures, and get refreshers on existing procedures to ensure they meet standards.

  1. Do Your Projections

The manager on duty at McDonalds should have an idea of how busy it’s going to get during their shift. They will have projections based on past activity, time of day, local events, etc. This enables them to direct team members on appropriate levels of product, best times for breaks, and even how many staff to put on the floor for maximum productivity.

  1. Rewards and Recognition Go a Long Way

At the end of every year, the managers would go to a staff party, which would be the talk of the restaurant for at least a week. But the most interesting part was seeing what eccentric gift the store owner would buy for each manager for Christmas. And us everyday staff members all had the chance to get recognised for our hard work through team member of the month awards and badges (I may or may not have a decent collection of these badges because I am so cool).

  1. Fast and Accurate

McDonalds everywhere aim for fast and accurate service. Sure, they won’t get it right every time (hellloooooo where is my sweet and sour sauce, guys?) but generally, they’ll do it better than their competitors. Our goal drive-thru time from the moment a customer starts ordering to them driving away was 2:45. That’s pretty fast! It’s this sort of convenience that keeps customers coming back.

  1. Build to List

Our stock cupboards would all have lists of what we should aim to “build to”. For example, 4 sleeves of small cups, 3 sleeves of large cups, and 5 sleeves of medium cups. At the end of a shift, we’d have to restock to these levels. It helped to keep things running smoothly when there was a massive rush and we couldn’t get away to the stock rooms for an hour or so. The equivalent of this might be batching your content marketing/blogging and other back-end business tasks so that when you have a rush of clients/customers, you can focus on serving them, knowing that everything else is taken care of.

  1. Consistency

You should, in theory, be able to get an almost identical cheeseburger from any store in the country at any time of day. This helps build customer’s confidence in the product, knowing that they’ll get what they’re expecting. The same thing goes for small businesses – delivering products/services with the same high standard and frequency goes a long way to building confidence in your brand.

  1. Two-Part Greetings

McDonalds employees are taught to always use two-part greetings when speaking to customers. For example, you should not say “Can I help you?”. Rather, say, “Hi, can I help you?” Other good examples of this are, “Good morning, what can I do for you?”. Two-part greetings sound much friendlier – bonus points if you can say them in a chirpy/cheerful/singsong voice. Your business might not have a drive-thru or even a front counter, but I’m sure you can use this principle when speaking on the phone or replying to a message.

  1. Speak with a Smile

As a drive-thru chick, I was always conscious of smiling while speaking through the headset. Even though my customers couldn’t see me, they could hear my smile coming through. I like to do the same thing now on the phone. If nothing else, smiling makes me feel good!

  1. Multiple Price Points

At McDonalds, you have the “value” or loose-change items, the usual basic meals, and the fancier items. This tiered pricing strategy works just as well in other businesses, ensuring that you have something to offer nearly every customer who is willing to hand over their money.

  1. Upsell (Value Add)

If someone is already saying “yes” to buying something from you, it’s surprisingly easy to get them to say “yes” to a little something extra on the side. Yes, upselling! Except at McDonalds, they wanted us to call it “value adding”, which is pretty clever, as it makes it sound less sleazy ?. But in a lot of cases, customers appreciate you anticipating a need which they might not have thought of, and instead of being annoyed at you suggesting they pay a little extra, they appreciate that you thought of dessert or drink options. It can actually add value to their experience.

  1. Competition

A little competition can be healthy! At my Maccas, we had a leader board that connected us to other stores all over the country. We could see how we were performing with our service times compared to the rest of the state (QLD) and country (Australia). There was something a little thrilling about creeping closer to that coveted #1 position and I think it genuinely worked to make us try harder, be more efficient, and work as a team. You could look at competition the same way in your business… let it spur you on to new heights!

maccas business lessons

So now that I’m at the other end of the scale, going from massive corporation to small one-woman band, I have to admit that I don’t always stick to these lessons. Usually because I don’t have the time to systemise everything, and there’s not always a need to because I am the only team member! But when I get a breather between client work and other day-to-day essentials, I like to come back to these ideas and use my Maccas experience as inspiration for how I can make things run more smoothly when “drive-thru’s to the road”* again.

*In Maccas speak, this means ALL HANDS ON DECK we have a LOT OF CUSTOMERS but NOBODY PANIC because WE DID ALL THE PREP

I just found this selfie I took while waiting in the break room to start my shift. Probably taken at about 4:45am because most of my shifts started at 5am. I swear I normally looked a lot happier than this though 😉

So yeah, I hope this experience helped you! Or made you smile. Or perhaps made you appreciate all the behind-the-scenes stuff that happens at your local McDonalds when you go buy your next cheeseburger.

Cheers,

Angela

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6 thoughts on “14 Practical Business Lessons from an ex-McDonalds Employee

  1. Great tips!! Despite the crap food, you’ve got to admire Maccas for their business know how and systems!!!Years ago I read ‘Beyond the Arches’ which told the story of Maccas and how really it’s a front for a real estate empire. Fascinating reading!

    • Thank you, Karenna! They are extremely good at what they do, yes, despite the fact that the food is not-so-great for us all haha. Lots to learn from their success. So fascinating though… I feel like I read a similar thing about Bunnings and IKEA?! Either way, they’re run by very smart people who are good at making money, so it’s worth paying attention to what they’re doing. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  2. Loved reading this peek into the world of Maccas. I have worked in hospitality and must sit down to think what I learned and how I’ve been applying it to my business. Great post Angela. Look forward to reading more of your posts.

    • Thank you, Rashida! It’s amazing how all our past jobs and experiences can help us run our businesses better. But especially as copywriters. I’m sure that your work in hospitality has helped you write some incredible copy for that industry (or a similar one). Thank you again for your lovely words! 🙂

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