Fast Food Pyramid

Like many on the crust of this great celestial meatball, I like to indulge in fast food now and again. I tend to avoid it at all costs if I can, but sometimes there are those moments when your brain is just hankering for the soft, warm meat of a chicken burger, with slim, salty fries and an ice-cold soft drink to wash it down. Ahhh, yep, nobody does it like brightly-lit-fast-food-brand-x.

However, fast food restaurants themselves have always given off a sense of hidden disquiet to me. Maintained by poorly trained youngsters will little love for their jobs, thanks to the manner and lack of respect they’re treated with by their employers. Reading Fast Food Nation opened my eyes to some startling accounts by former fast food restaurant workers. But it also added new context for views and theories I’ve already encountered about equality. More than any other industry, the fast food industry operates with a pyramid system at exists right at the base level.

Recently, I stopped off at a service station to settle the rumbling in my stomach with a filling meal from KFC. The procedure is well drilled by now, an accepted part of modern life: wait in line, request your order, pay, receive your order, then escape the impatience looks from the queue behind you. Unless, of course, there’s a problem with your order, in which case you have to return to the counter and communicate – often in an apologetic or enraged tone – with the ‘people’ behind the counter.

Only, thanks to the fast food giants, they’re not so much people anymore as automatons with hands, mouths and polyester t-shirts that bear a name tag and the company logo. It hit me when I arrived at this KFC out in the middle of the M3. All the staff were oriental, from the sales assistants to the kitchen re-heaters. There wasn’t a black, white or East Asian face among them. And the manager? Nowhere to be seen as usual.

“Can I take your order?” says the first oriental girl, whose name tag reads: Sonam. I placed my order, declining the offer to ‘go large’ or add ‘extra cheese’, then I quietly observed their faces as they served the other customers. Where have I seen those dull, tried expressions before? Ah, now I remember. At the KFC outside Victoria Centre in Nottingham, which just happens to be run by a staff of all black workers, more than a hundred miles away from the M3 service station. Still waiting for my order, I watch as two more oriental sales assistants flank the first and the three of them huddle tightly towards one of the few active tills. Three sets of eyes all fixed on a greasy screen, their faces in perfect alignment like porcelain dolls, all sharing the same monotonous resolve – it’s a pitying image.

It’s quite plain that none of them want to be there, but more likely than not they have to be. Perhaps they have family to support or they’re trying to fund their education. Though, even if their reason for working at a fast food chain aren’t that noble, it still disgusts me to see people being herded in to a marginal group and subconsciously taught to accept certain workplace values. In others words, targeting minority groups and recruiting people of similar class and race to develop branch uniformity, so that workers feel relaxed with their colleagues and don’t question their employers.

This system keeps the minority groups away from the managerial and decision-making positions, ensuring that the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. Of course, in a conformist environment such as a fast food restaurant, when a worker of ethnic background does make manager what’s to stop them repeating the patterns that they had been forced to believe for years? Fast food giants are quick to present shining examples of equality in ads and carefully selected case studies, but treat views that they exploit and disrespect their workers as false claims. Yet when I see social inequality of this kind, that has been going on for years and continues to replicate itself, there’s no coincidence about it.

5 thoughts on “Fast Food Pyramid”

  1. madtyger says:

    It's funny you bring this up because I actually had this conversation with a few college friends of mine yet we came to the opposite conclusion – the system keeps the majority groups away from the managerial and decision0making positions. With big chains like McDonald's and Burger King giving minorities franchise discounts, special college training, managerial workshops, and corporate support – anyone who is male or white is left out of the loop.

    While I agree in general that minorities get the short end of the stick – many forget that racism goes both ways. If you cater to one side, you have to discriminate against the other. Jobs should be given to who is best qualified not who has the right skin color or gender.

  2. DK33 says:

    That’s an additional affect of this practice that I’d not thought of. It must go on too as some branches that are run by minor workers may be inclined to accept a minor applicant over a majority one. By offering better incentives to minor groups, the fast food giants have helped to cultivate a continued stream of workers. For some, perhaps this really does improve their lives, but in the long-time I think this is just another excuse for them to continue their bad treatment of the majority of workers. The fast food giants need to sort out their whole employee model. It would be better if they just went fully automated, but until then, I pity anyone to has to endure the routine and demands of a fast food outlet.

    Regardless of race, if someone is working in a fast food restaurant to support themselves then I respect them. On the opposite end of the scale are unemployed people who make next to no effort to find work, go on dole and then complain to the government.

  3. madtyger says:

    Fully automated? Do you know how many jobs that would destroy? Especially for those high school students that need to gain some work experience, the fast food industry is one of the best places to learn some of the skills needed to move up the ladder in any business. Actually because the economy is so bad, California has been having problems with teens because they can't find work. Instead they cause trouble because of boredom. In one city it got so out of hand that a mob of high schoolers caused $1 million in damage by breaking windows, looting businesses, and setting cars on fire. All of it was caused by a couple of teens sending a tweet saying they were going to have a block party. Plus, if we fully automated everything, I would be afraid that the hamburger flipper might try and take over the world.

    Also, is the term "oriental" politically correct in the UK when referring to people of Asian ethnicity? Here it is actually considered quite derogatory and offensive. I find that a lot of the appropriate terminology tends to vary a bit, even countries as close as Canada refer to ethic groups differently.

  4. DK33 says:

    That's quite true. I hadn't considered that. But I do still believe the fast food industry as a whole need to sort out their employee relationships for the millions that do rely on them at the local level for work.

    As to referring to the East Asian workers as 'oriental' I wasn't aware that it was considered derogatory to do so in the US. Apologises for my ignorance. Wikipedia mentions the word as having pejorative connotations in America. However, here in the UK it is used more politely to differentiate people from Western or Southern Asia and the Far East.

    Some people here incorrectly refer to all Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Taiwanese people as ‘Chinese’. I think it's wrong to make such a disrespectful generalisation, so that's my reasoning for referring to East Asian people as 'oriental' – in the same way I refer to myself as 'black' and some friends as 'white'.

    However, if this term is considered impolite or offensive, then I shall not make use of it in future. Instead, I hope East Asian or Asian will be more to you taste.

  5. madtyger says:

    Yes, it's common for people to group all Asians under one banner, after all it is a common stereotype that all Asians look the same. Take James Kyson Lee for example who is a Korean yet plays a Japanese character on Heroes. Even the term "Asian" isn't widely used in California (though it might be used more across the rest of the country) because of the shear size of the ethnic communities. In San Jose they have a Japan Town, China Town, and even a Vietnamese Town so it's rare to hear them grouped together by using the term Asian.

    As I said before though, terminology changes from country to country. After all, most "blacks" are called African-Americans yet I couldn't refer to you as such since you aren't an American. So, before you go changing your vocabulary, it would probably be best to find someone who could be more adept in helping you find a suitable term for those of Asian decent in the UK.