Monday, October 13, 2014

Dairy Queen: Not Treating Me Right

Good day my fellow readers. Today was not such a good day and as a result I need to share a few things about my experience. I know some of my close friends who are aware of the situation are patiently waiting for this post; I just needed to relax before I wrote anything and you will see why very shortly. I apologize in advance for the length of the post...I have a lot to say. Let's get to it.

Original Posting

Back Story
At the beginning of September I moved to Truro, Nova Scotia to live my sister; she is allowing me to live with her rent free. I took a leave of absence from work and moved here to find mindless work to get my finances in order and to do a little soul searching. I applied to a dozen or so jobs on the job bank two weeks into September and was immediately contacted by Dairy Queen located in Truro at 945 Prince Street.

I wasn't looking for responsibility or authority; I was looking for something I could do to keep a low profile and earn some money. During the interview with the owner, John, and the Truro store manager, Greg, it became quickly evident that John had something more in mind. Given my extensive experience in fast food and management, John wanted me to work at his Stewiacke location to assist his current manager. As my sister works only ten minutes from Stewiacke and I could get a ride, I informed him that I would take that role on if he wanted but it would have to accommodate my sister's schedule: nine to five, Monday to Friday. I was hired the next day and started my training that very same week.

Despite taking on more than I had originally planned I thought it might be a good opportunity so I accepted the position at whatever wage they chose to pay. I requested only minimum wage and flipping burgers; they gave me above minimum wage, a supervisory role and a future bigger role to play. This was what they wanted and pushed me for; I agreed because it would assist me.

The Beginning
Having worked over fifteen years in fast food, I was looking forward to my training as I was sure much of it would come naturally; it did. As I became a little more familiar with the work I was doing, I began to do little things that were inconsequential if not done but might be helpful in the overall operation of serving customers. It became apparent rather quickly that this was not only not appreciated but not welcome.

On my second day, I was working at bagging orders for drive thru and in store. They were very clear that when bagging orders that you only dispense ONE napkin per food item. This isn't unheard of and is mostly common practise at many restaurants. I noticed that most drive thru orders had a minimum of two food items as most people would get a combo of some sorts. Taking this empirical and observed data, I began bagging small bags with two napkins ahead of the lunch rush. What happened next was the first indication that things were not going to go as smoothly as I hoped.

One of the workers saw me, inquired about what I was doing and then seemed impressed about the idea and the time it would help save over peak periods. A minute later Greg, the manager, saw what I was doing and instead of asking why, he simply looked at me and in a rude and obnoxious tone simply said, "No." Needless to say I was confused so I asked him what he meant. He just told me to stop doing it. I explained what I was doing, or tried, and he cut me off and told me to stop and take the napkins out. Again, I politely asked why to which the answer inevitable arrived at: "Because I said so." Warning bells were now sounding.

Paper Towel & Bacteria
Dairy Queen uses brown paper towels for their dispensers to dry your hands. As I was doing dishes one day, I required one of the items immediately. After washing, rinsing and then sanitizing the dish in question, I took some fresh paper towel and began to dry off the item needed. Midway through the process, Greg spots what I am doing and once more it is a snarky and rude command, "NO!". I inquire as to what he means and he tells me that I'm not allowed to dry anything with the paper towel. I asked why to which I was told, "Because you are spreading bacteria all over it." Seems legit right? Not really.

First, the dish was cleaned using proper procedure and during this process my hands also were properly cleaned. The paper towel I was using was straight out of the box, mostly free of contaminants; at least no more than an open air surface would have. But let's say that he's right, not a problem...wait, yes it is. In a restaurant that does not use gloves when handling ANYTHING, it is both illogical and incorrect to give me that as an explanation and reason not to use paper towel. Each employee, including the manager and owner, wash their hands and then use the SAME brown paper towel to wash their hands before touching food products and open surfaces. How can it be safe to dry my hands and not spread bacteria everywhere that way but unsafe to dry a dish? It can't. This is a contradiction and nature abhors a contradiction. I didn't call him out on it. I dropped it and I kept my mouth quiet and did what I was told.

Touch Screens & A Stylus Pen
Dairy Queen uses touch screen monitors at their point of sale which is rather helpful when it comes to quickly entering in an order; at least when it works properly. After being trained on the cash register, I was having difficulties with the touch screen. I would press on something and it would not acknowledge my touch or it would select an item around it causing me to oftentimes enter an entire combo order before I can delete it and start over. The drive thru was particular bad for this perhaps because it was used more.

One day during a rush such an incident occurred on the front counter with a very kind and understanding woman. When I explained what had happened she reached into her purse and gave to me a brand new stylus pen; a stylus pen that is specifically designed for ALL touch screen devices. I opened it up immediately and used it very efficiently to finish taking her orders. It was like using the cash register for the first time. Every button I touched responded as it was supposed to and my efficiency at cash immediately doubled; possibly tripled.

As I continued taking orders, Greg stepped away from the drive thru he was running over our peak lunch hour and came over to me at the front counter and once again I was told nothing more than, "No." I asked why once again and again was met with little to no explanation. I explained, as I had before about the difficulties I was having with the touch screen and how much better the stylus was making me to which I was told, "Listen, I can't have you using that. First it breaks up the aesthetics because you're different then the others on cash and secondly because another staff might see you using it and use a real pen and break the screen. Those are $55,000 machines." He then turned and walked away. Wow.

First, if you paid fifty five thousand dollars for each of your touch screens you need to re-visit your vendor, demand your money back and go down to The Source and pick some up for a couple thousand that would do all the same things and save you a bundle. Second, and this one here is particularly disturbing, what kind of faith do you have in your staff that you think one of them would use a real pen on a touch screen? What kind of idiots are working there and better yet, what does it say about the manager who hired the employees he considers so stupid and incapable that they'd use a real pen on a touch screen? This moment proved without a doubt that Greg has no respect for his staff whatsoever. I fully understood that the lack of morale among the staff was most likely a direct result of Greg and his poor leadership skills. He's definitely a boss, not a leader.

During me second week, I came in on my day off to drop off banking information. This one minute drop off turned into a twenty minute critique of everything I learned up until then. Greg stopped me from leaving to tell me how poorly I was doing in certain areas; that I needed to get better faster; and lastly, to tell me that I was confrontational because, and I quote, "When I told you to stop bagging napkins you questioned me." I was confused and asked for an explanation turned me into 'confrontational'.

Every day for the three weeks that I worked at Dairy Queen I was met by Greg telling me about something I did wrong or criticizing the work I was doing or the method in which I was doing it. Over that three week period I never once received positive encouragement, compliments or constructive criticism about my work. Every word that came from my manager was to tear me down. When I shared this with a few co-workers I was told a few disturbing things but mostly that 'that is the way he is with everyone.' Really? That is possibly the worst style of management to undertake: rule by force.

An example of the sheer pettiness of the determination to degrade me and make me feel even more useless, I will share this complaint. He called on his day off and had not one but two staff tell me that I was writing down my cash wrong. What was wrong about it? I'll show you. When I count cash, I write out the denominations I'm counting in a column, then a multiplication symbol column, then an empty column for the number of each denomination I have, then an equal sign column and finally a column for the sum. Like this:

5   x ____ =
10 x ____ =
20 x ____ =

That's intuitive to me, organized and easy to understand. Apparently it's all completely wrong. He took time out of his day to have two employees do his beration for him and instruct me in the proper method that is REQUIRED:

____ x 5  =
____ x 10 =
____ x 20 =

Can you imagine how petty and insecure you have to be for something like this? Banks do it via method one; every restaurant I have ever work at does it via method one; every bank deposit slip I've ever filled out does it via method one; but no, I was doing it all completely wrong. How stupid I was!

Burgers, Buns & Microwaves
I understand the pressure and stress of the fast food industry, the high demand for fast, accurate service. I have lived it for half of my life and I am aware that there are times where corners are cut in order to meet those demands but some of the practices at Dairy Queen left me not wanting to eat there anymore.

Fresh is important. We've all been through a drive thru and asked for fresh fries. Why? Because we know that they sit there for long periods of time some days and they get served even if they should have been tossed out. Dairy Queen practises this to the fullest extent. I never once saw fries being thrown out from sitting too long and there were times where they sat and started becoming soggy. But I'm used to this sort of practice, I don't agree with it but it's not my business. However, their hamburger practice is a little more disturbing.

When you buy a burger from DQ you are taking a risk. Oftentimes a dozen or more patties are cooked through the 'grill' regardless of being needed or not and then are kept in a 'warming' tray. Yes, all burger restaurants use warmers but I have worked at others, including Wendy's and they throw out (or use for other purposes) their patties after they have sat too long; not so with DQ. Your patty may have just been cooked or it may have just been cooked a few hours ago; you have no way to tell. Those toasted buns (yes, the buns are toasted in case you missed it) are all toasted prior to store opening for the entire day; the entire day. The bacon you enjoy on your burgers? Microwaved to perfection in bulk and left to sit in the open air all day long. To make sure you always have a nice hot burger, once it is all put together they stuff it into a microwave and nuke it. Yup, every burger and poutine is microwaved prior to being served. Hot food is not an indication of fresh food; quite the opposite.

Food Prep & Hand-washing Protocol
During what would be my third and final week, I was trained to work the grill which included prep work. I enjoy prep work and making burgers because I am good at it, exceptionally so and because I enjoy using my hands. There is a certain satisfaction to be found in it. However, I was somewhat taken aback that all the prep work is done on the same cutting board, attached to the burger making unit, and was rarely wiped down while switching between foods. I am SUPER particular about cross contamination. I hospitalized a woman as a teenager by mistakenly serving her green peppers and that incident has stayed with me since. I take food safety very seriously.

On the front counter is where all the candy and toppings are kept for blizzards and all their ice cream products; this includes at least two varieties of nuts: peanuts with skins (loose and attached) and pecans. While they are kept at the end of the line, they are added using a spoon like all the others. This causes them to spill out onto the counter and into other products. Given the gravity and severity of allergies to nuts common in our society today I find their practice of nut storage a dangerous gamble with the lives of the consumer. Even if a customer identifies an allergy, there is no certainty that it will be nut free even if nuts are not part of the actual item.

Outwardly, the management promoted but hardly enforced proper hand-washing. On my LAST day of grill training I was told that the grill person sets a 30 minute timer to be reminded to inform all staff to change their sanitizer cleaning water for fresh stuff and to wash their hands. I was spoken to by my manager because I forgot to do it once that day. In my three weeks at Dairy Queen I was never once, not once asked to wash my hands or change my sanitizer water. Clearly the practice is good in theory but without action it does not nothing to prevent cross contamination and the spreading of dangerous germs and bacteria. Those same hands are being used to touch your patties, your buns, your cheese, your veggies, your fries and almost every other food in the store. Yum!

At least twice a day I was shown how to perform a task by my trainer or the manager and twice a day I would be told by one of the two, the opposite one who trained me, that I was doing it wrong. I attempted numerous times to convey my concerns in a professional manner and was ignored, berated or critiqued at every turn.

While I have spent a lot of time complaining, and there is still a bit more to come, I have to say that it was not all bad. Many of the staff members were wonderful and fantastic people that I am happy to have met. It should also be noted that many of the staff expressed the same frustration with the manager and his inability to lead and the constant negative criticisms of their work. Many clearly did not respect him and rightfully so given his lack of respect for them. John, the owner, seems like a your average business owner: happy as long as things are running smooth and the store is making money. He reminded me a lot of my first employer and while our interactions were limited, I developed an immediate sense of respect of him. He was honest and straight-forward but never ignorant; the opposite of his manager. I was told by one of the staff that 'Greg does it John's way and acts one way while he's here and as soon as he leaves it's back to Greg's way.'

Something I found extremely odd and would be concerned about as an owner: no inventory process. Well, that's not entirely true. Once a year they do an annual inventory count. Once a year. I don't understand this. Every restaurant I worked at before did it at the very minimum monthly; many did bi-weekly; and others, every week. This is essential to keep food and product costs down to maximize profits. That's business 101. While the lack of inventory management is irrelevant to me, I found that to be particularly strange.

The Firing
Today I was sitting at home, wondering what would be awaiting me at work today. What new critique of my work would it be today? Despite the anxiety of knowing that every day you go to work you are going to be put down and criticized, I was feeling somewhat relaxed as it's a holiday and the manager would not be in; just a skeleton crew of high school aged employees and myself. I was listening to music when my sister came in with the phone; work. My stomach went into knots. I already knew what was coming despite having conceded every argument, adjusted my work to every critique, refrained from standing up for myself and adhered to what, in my opinion, are some absurd rules and regulations. It was Greg.

Greg called me to tell me that they 'would no longer be continuing with my employment.' As the nerves crashed, my hands began to shake and I forced a out a very polite and calm why. I was told flat out, "I don't have to tell you. It's within the three month trial period." I told him I understood that he did not need a reason to fire me on paper but asked for an explanation as that was the professional thing to do. He told me "No." I told him that I felt he was being disrespectful towards me, that I didn't understand and asked for something, anything to help understand the decision. "No." And with yet another ignorant conversation, I was no longer employed. No reason, no explanation.

I have worked, as mentioned, in fast food for over fifteen years. I have been just a lowly staffer; I have been a supervisor more times at more places then I care to share; I have also managed one. I know about the 90 day trial; I know how to bend the rules; I know all the things that Greg tried to make himself feel superior with by treating me like I was incompetent and ignorant despite knowing I had the same knowledge. It is precisely that he knows I know that the professional courtesy should have been shown and an explanation provided. I can take being fired but I should be entitled to at least an explanation. It is not much to ask given there was no warning or indication and I had committed myself to helping them out by taking on a larger role then I wanted. In fact, I was made to feel, by the manager once more, that they were somehow doing me some great favor by allowing me to work for them in that capacity. I didn't ask for it, they pushed and urged me to do it. I honestly did it for John because I could see he really had high hopes and John, if you get the chance to read this, all your hopes and expectations would have been met and surpassed if it wasn't for the arrogance, ignorance and audacity of your narrow-minded, bullying and rude manager.

The End
There is more I could tell, little things I could share that would further help paint a picture of the environment I worked in and the absurdity of my firing in relation to the actions and behavior of some of the other staff that work there but this post has already gone on longer than expected. I think enough has been said about my experience without needing to add anymore.

Needless to say, my time at Dairy Queen was by far one of the worst job experiences I have ever had and the absolute worse in the fast food industry. The sad irony is that it had nothing to do with the work, the job or the stress. It was about respect, rather a lack thereof, and a complete inability to treat employees as human beings. I cannot not consciously end this without advising that you avoid the Dairy Queen in Truro. Spending your money there helps a manager on a power trip further destroy the morality and self-worth of almost every employee that works there. You also take some health risks especially if you have allergies (absolutely no glove usage whatsoever; in three weeks I was the only person who used gloves for anything).

While I do not hold the company directly responsible for any of this, there is a disconnect between corporate and franchise level. Corporate, as I've come to learn, only becomes concerned when the money isn't rolling in or if marketing isn't up to par. Outside of that they show little interest in how operations are run.

I want to thank you for reading if you've made it this far into my post. I was beginning to feel more confident about my situation and that I was finally starting to move forward in a positive direction only to be torn down and cast aside by a petty and spiteful individual. I was angry, very angry but I took the day to calm down before writing anything about my experience. I find it best to write with a clear mind over a clouded one. I am still upset and mad about the situation. Once again I find myself having to start anew once more and it is extremely frustrating and demoralizing.

And with that, I thank you all once more and wish only positive and amazing things for you all. Today was a write off but tomorrow brings with it the promise of a new day and with every new day comes new opportunity. Perhaps the Universe had to get me out of there because I was ignoring the detrimental effect it was having on me simply because I need to work.