The other day, I stopped at a Subway sandwich shop to grab a bite to eat. There were two young girls working there, and, as they prepared my sandwich, somehow I got to talking about my first real job at one of the original McDonald’s restaurants in Northern New Jersey. (Those of you who know me will, no doubt, find it hard to believe that I just started reminiscing right out of the blue, but I did.)
The year was 1962, and the minimum wages was $1.15 per hour, which, when adjusted for inflation, would be about $8.89 in today’s dollars. In very short order, I was promoted to assistant manager, and my hourly pay skyrocketed to the astronomical figure of $1.45 per hour. Back then, we used old-fashioned, NCR cash registers, which were mechanical, and not at all like the ones in use today, which all but put the money in the till themselves. We actually had to enter numbers manually, which required knowing the price of each item on the menu (no pushing 1 for hamburger, 2 for cheeseburger, etc.). Luckily, the menu was quite limited: hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries, soda, coffee, milk shakes. No frappés, sundaes, or any of that other crap offered today.
There were no credit cards in use then, either. It was cash only. Making change was done without the aid of a computer—using a process I called reverse addition. If the customer’s total was $3.18, and the amount tendered was $10.00, we would simply make change as follows: Add two pennies to the $2.18, making it $2.20; then a nickel to make it $2.25; then three quarters, making it $3.00; add two, one-dollar bills, bringing the total to five dollars; and finally a five-dollar bill to total the original amount tendered. Simple, right? It was all done in a matter of seconds—honest!
Several times a week, we received shipments of supplies: frozen hamburger patties, rolls, pickles, cheese, onions, ketchup, etc. The potatoes for those fantastic McDonald French fries came in 50-pound bags—and they were fresh, not frozen. It was our responsibility to peel them. How did we do that? Simple. We dumped them into a device that resembled a washing machine, whose tub had a rough, metal, sandpaper-like surface that scoured the skin from the spuds as they tumbled around inside it. Then they were washed, blanched, and finally fried—in lard.
The hamburgers were fried on a large, stainless steel grill, along with the chopped onions. We had a carousel set-up, on which we placed about a dozen open hamburger rolls at a time that we garnished with pickle chips and ketchup, before adding the hot-off-the-grill hamburgers. A dozen plain, a dozen with cheese, each one wrapped in paper and tossed into a stainless steel bin to be sold.
I can’t remember the specifics, but I do know that the milkshake mix came in big cardboard cartons, lined with plastic. Three flavors: vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate. We also sold the usual array of soft drinks: Coke, root beer, and orange. When it was my turn to eat, I added some orange syrup to my vanilla milkshake, creating the equivalent of a Creamcicle™ in a cup. Yum!
Service was through open glass windows, with customers queued up in two lines outside the restaurant. One hears the expression “fast food” today, but in those days, that’s exactly what it was. I doubt that anyone waited longer than two minutes (probably less) to receive their food. We had a crew of about five people, who worked furiously to keep up with demand. It wasn’t like today, where your average McDonald’s has a staff that numbers a dozen or more. No drive-through either. You parked your car in the lot, walked up to the window, and got your food. We began serving lunch around eleven o’clock in the morning, and were mobbed continuously until around two. Then, there was a lull in business until the dinner rush began at around four thirty. Evenings were more subdued.
The one thing that always makes me smile when I recall it is the method by which we cleaned the grill. We used steel wool to scrub it with a mixture made up of the acidic juice from the Heinz pickles and Ajax cleanser. No lie. Then we’d rinse the grill down with water. I imagine today that process would be prohibited by the EPA, NRA, ASPCA, or whichever federal agency is in charge of such matters.
Anyway, the job lasted about six months, which was long as anyone with a brain could stand it. It was a great job with terrific fringe benefits—all the food you could eat on your shift—and I can remember it like it was yesterday, which it definitely was not!
What was your first job? We’d love to hear about it.