Former McDonald’s worker shares secrets from behind-the-scenes and answers most common questions

Ever wondered what really goes on behind-the-scenes at one of the UK’s biggest fast-food restaurants? From why the milkshake machine is never on to the secret ingredients that are added to the burgers, one ex-employee has spilled the beans on what really goes on.

Hull Live reporter Emily Johnson worked at two different McDonald’s branches in Salford and Grimsby over two years while studying at university, and now she has gone public to clear up some of the most common misconceptions about what takes place behind the drive-thru window.

Although McDonald’s eateries in the UK are normally divided into franchises, with their own set of rules and goals, Emily’s inside knowledge is likely common to most – having worked at two different ones – but she says may not apply to all.

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Take a look below at the most common questions Emily gets asked as a former McDonald’s worker.

Is there a secret request menu?

Emily says: “There isn’t a secret menu per se but two unusual requests stick out that aren’t on the menu. Every so often a customer would come in and ask for a pot of pickles on their own – usually a pregnant woman with cravings!

“Depending on which employees are serving, some will give it out for free, others may charge 99p or say a flat-out no. There is also a hack in which customers ask for a double cheeseburger dressed as a Big Mac. All the additions of lettuce and Big Mac sauce are free, you get the same amount of meat, and it is also half the price.”

Emily worked at two different McDonald’s franchises over two years

Why is the milkshake machine often not working?

According to Emily, this question does not have one straight answer, but in her experience, it’s usually been due to the following reasons:

  • The cleaning cycle of the milkshake machine takes hours and quite often people forget to put it on it’s cleaning cycle at the right time, meaning it goes on automatically in the middle of the day.
  • During Covid, no milkshake or McFlurry mix was delivered to stores in the UK.
  • Someone accidentally put McFlurry mix into the milkshake section of the machine and vice versa – which often happens because they look the same. Everyone is too busy to stop and do the time-consuming job of sorting it out.
  • In a peak busy time when customers are queuing down the street and everyone is ordering five milkshakes and five ice creams each, it’s incredibly slow and you can only make one at a time. You also have to run to the other side of the store to make them if you are working on drive-thru so it’s easier to say it’s not on. Managers don’t encourage this behaviour, however.
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What happens to all the breakfast stuff after 11am?

“It goes in the bin, unfortunately,” Emily revealed. “But we would try to be as accurate as possible when cooking what we thought we would need. Hack: At Grimsby, if you turn up between 11am and 11.05am they will often offer you the leftover hash browns and McMuffins for free if there are some leftovers.”

Why is service inside much slower than drive-thru?

Emily says the drive-thru is monitored by a timer that measures the length of time from when a car pulls up to the intercom to drive away with the food.

“We had a leader board inside with the fastest times compared to the rest of the UK’s McDonald’s restaurants. We would make this an extreme sport to try and get the number one spot. In-store don’t have a leader board so people tend to care more about the drive-thru targets.” She said.

Walkden's Manchester Road McDonald's is rated 1.5 stars
Walkden’s Manchester Road McDonald’s

How quickly should an order be ready?

The approximate time should be about 120 seconds, Emily says, although she warns: “But I wouldn’t expect this.” She also says that “The most likely time to get this is morning but by night time everyone is too busy cleaning so they can go home on time. The wait time then can be about 10 minutes.”

What’s the worst order to get?

For Emily, it was the Filet-o-Fish burger. She added: “In Grimsby especially, nobody would ever order them so it wasn’t constantly being cooked like burgers and nuggets. You can’t store food in the heating system for longer than 15 minutes so they would never be ready.”

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She continued: “It would be a huge inconvenience to put them in the fryer from frozen, steam the bun and wait five minutes for it to cook. This would always ruin the drive-thru times and cause a massive queue as well.”

Is there a ‘three-second rule’?

“No! From my experience, it’s a lot cleaner than people think and any food dropped or touched accidentally will get thrown out. The fry station can get pretty greasy but it doesn’t affect the fries.” Emily says.

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Who are the best and worst customers?

Emily says some of the best customers are ones who know what they want to order and are polite and quick. But some of the ones she disliked the most include “people that speak into the drive-thru intercom with their phones out recording themselves speaking in a silly voice or saying stupid things. I don’t think people know there is a camera that we would watch you on.”

She then went on to add a couple more alternative, such as: “People who will order something and then complain when they don’t receive the thing they thought they were ordering in their head – the employees are not mind-readers! Also, anyone rude, drunk, or who insults your intelligence by saying things like, ‘Why don’t you get a real job?'”

Do staff get free burgers – which ones?

Free food would be given on lunch breaks Emily says. “Salford would give you four points (main, side, drink, and dessert) for free and also give you free dips galore.” She revealed.

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“Grimsby would give you points depending on how much food waste there was. If there was a lot of food waste that week, employees would get three points (main, side, and drink) or increase it to four if there was little waste. They were definitely more stingy and wouldn’t let employees use paper straws with our drinks to save money.”

Are there any weird ingredients in the food?

“No, we would season burgers with standard salt and pepper and all the meat, fries, desserts, etc arrive frozen,” She said. “With no weird mystery ingredients to add. The veg arrives fresh and chilled apart from the onions that we would have to hydrate.”

Is it a good place to work?

Emily says that in general she did enjoy her time as a McDonald’s employee, but adds that she isn’t sure it was just mostly down to the fact she was a student at the time so “wasn’t obligated to work Christmas and the dreaded New Year’s Eve.”

She added: “I think the staff members really made the job enjoyable and it could be a laugh. People have the idea that it is a really toxic place to work because of rude customers. If I’m honest, managers would always stick up for you and tell customers to go away if they were being abusive.

“I don’t think many people took the abuse to heart and would just laugh about it with their colleagues. The only pain was working every single weekend and waking up at 4am all the time because it does kill your social life.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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