What Does a Fast Food Worker Do?

Image by Theresa Chiechi. © The Balance 2019 

Working in a fast food restaurant isn't glamorous, but it offers flexibility in scheduling work time. This can make it a perfect job for a high school student or others who are juggling multiple commitments.

Fast food workers take and fill customers' orders for food and drinks. They assemble some items, such as sandwiches and salads. They also collect payment. They include crew members, team members, store associates, cashiers and customer service associates.

There were more than five million fast food jobs available in the U.S. in 2016. A disproportionately large number of these workers are teenagers.

Fast Food Worker Duties & Responsibilities

Fast food workers can be charged with a wide range of duties, including:

  • Preparing and cooking food
  • Taking food and drink orders
  • Serving customers
  • Meeting and greeting customers
  • Operating cash registers and receive payment from customer in cash or by credit card
  • Maintaining dining areas and kitchen areas, including clearing and cleaning tables, emptying trash cans, and washing or vacuuming floors
  • Promoting positive guest relations

This job isn't just about slapping beef patties on the grill. Fast food workers are involved in all aspects of customer service, and they often perform maintenance as well.

Fast Food Worker Salary

Many fast food restaurants pay their workers minimum wage and don't offer benefits to their part-time workers.

  • Median Annual Salary: $21,736 ($10.45/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $29,661 ($14.26/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $17,347 ($8.34/hour)

In addition to monetary compensation, some fast food establishments offer other benefits, such as health insurance. Unfortunately, these establishments are in the minority. 

Education, Training & Certification

Preparation for this occupation typically involves only short-term, on-the-job training.

  • Education: This position has no formal education requirements and, in fact, the industry employs many students still in the process of earning their high school diplomas or college degrees.
  • Experience: While some restaurants prefer to hire workers with experience, many are willing to provide on-the-job training.
  • Certification: There are no certifications available or required for this position.

Fast Food Worker Skills & Competencies

The diverse nature of a fast food worker's responsibilities leads to a variety of necessary traits and skills.

  • Interpersonal skills: Fast food workers must always be polite and respectful. You must be able to keep your cool when customers aren't as nice as you'd like...and it will happen. Remember, many people are in your establishment because they're rushed, under pressure, and don't have time for a "real" meal.
  • Physical fitness: Be prepared to stand on your feet throughout your shift. You'll also probably be required to lift heavy items and clean work areas.
  • A knack for teamwork: It's more than just being able to get along with your customers, sometimes under adverse conditions. You must also be able to work well with others so your establishment functions efficiently.

    Job Outlook

    The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job growth for fast food workers will be about 14% through 2026, which is faster than average.

    Due to a high rate of turnover, there will be more job openings in this field than in others, and more restaurants are expected to open thanks to Americans' tendency to resort to on-the-go meals.

    Work Environment

    Jobs in this area come with some inherent safety risks. In fact, fast food workers suffer a significantly high rate of work-related illnesses and injury due to exposure to hot ovens and stoves, sharp utensils and equipment, and wet flooring. These injuries and illnesses are not often serious, however.

    Work Schedule

    Fast food restaurants are usually open every day of the week and for many hours each day, so employees can have flexible schedules. The downside is that these schedules often include working on weekends and holidays. Child labor laws prohibit typically minors from working late at night or early in the morning, however, and there are restrictions as to the number of hours a teenager can work during the school week.

    Approximately half of all fast-food workers are employed part-time in 2016.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    Other service jobs that require minimal education and often offer on-the-job training include: