by Michael Comeau
My first job was a Greeter at Friendly’s. My dad was working as a dishwasher on the weekends for some extra spending money. They loved him there, so naturally all he had to do was put in a good word and I was hired. He insisted that I fill out an application and go through the regular hiring process so that I could learn from it, but the GM stressed that it was all just a formality.
I worked there for a while and eventually began cross-training into the Fountain and Dishwasher positions. I was eager to learn and be valued, but most of all I wanted more hours and more money. Just before the whole Bankruptcy of Friendly’s happened, our restaurant started noticing reduced sales. My hours as a Greeter and Fountain person were cut almost entirely and I had to work as a Dishwasher if I wanted any hours at all. Eventually, I was down to one shift a week. I decided to leave and find another job with more hours. The last paycheck I brought home was only $25 after taxes. To me at the time that seemed like a win still because I had barely any financial responsibility. Spending Money!
I looked for a job for a long time. My parents eventually noticed a for hire sign for restaurant server at Sunrise Senior Living and suggested I apply. I went for the interview and mentioned to the Dining Services Coordinator that I went to the Culinary Arts program at Leominster High School and was taught by Chef Sweeney. It turns out that he had also graduated from the same program and learned from the same Chef-Instructor. That gave me a good leg up and I eventually got the job.
I began working as a Server, but quickly began to run into problems. I had trouble focusing on my after-meal cleaning tasks and that meant it took longer to close the Dining Room. My boss didn’t like that. Over time, I began to manage my time better and was better able to focus and keep out distractions.
I also struggled with learning all of the Residents that ate in the Dining Room and interacting with them. This was a key aspect of the job. It took me longer than most people, but over time I began to remember the Residents and improve my inter-personal communications with them.
Another challenge I faced was interaction with co-workers. I worked fairly well with everyone in my department, but dealing with the Care Managers that worked with me in the Dining Room was difficult. I later realized that it was because I misunderstood my role. I interpreted my role as one that had authority over the Dining Room and the Care Managers that worked with me. As I became comfortable in my job, I began noticing actions of the Care Managers that were not within the correct procedures and took it upon myself to correct them. That didn’t go over so well with all of the Care Managers.
I came to know many of the employees I worked with often, and I even made some of my first work friends. One of the strongest connections I made was with one of the Dishwashers. His name was Jon. We became very good friends and I even spent some time at his home with him. We connected through mutual interests. We both liked gaming and the same kind of music. We got along very well at work and outside of work.
I even befriended some of the Came Managers, one of whom invited me to my first adult party. It was an amazing experience. Not only did I get to feel like I belonged with a group of people and have fun, but I was exposed to a new culture. The Care Manager I became friends with was Puerto Rican, so his party involved music in Spanish with dances I had never seen before. It was also a completely different atmosphere. Everyone was so welcoming and so nice.
Eventually, at one staff meeting, the Executive Director of our location announced that he would be cutting the hours of Dining Services and putting more money into other departments. My hours were cut as a result of less hours for the overall department. It wasn’t long before I began to look for other job opportunities that had more hours.
After I left Sunrise, I lost contact with most of the people I had worked with. I began to understand the difference between co-worker friends and full friends that stay with you when you aren’t working with them anymore. It was difficult for me to not have those connections anymore. I felt like I had lost something.
I found a job at Burger King. This would be my first introduction to QSR, or Quick Service Restaurants. It was a big change from my previous job. At Sunrise, I was paid $2 more than the minimum wage, had benefits including Paid Time Off, and so many other things I took for granted.
I started as a kitchen Crew Member. I remember my first challenge was learning the different sandwich builds, food safety procedures, and other company procedures. I learned at a slower pace than everyone else. This caused my managers to grow impatient with me.
Eventually I learned enough to get the ball rolling and from there my training excelled. I built on previous knowledge and made it a priority to learn as much of everything as I could. I impressed my managers with my attendance and work ethic. If I was asked to do something, I would at least attempt it, and ask for help when I needed it. I was always on time or early. When called, I almost always agreed to cover other shifts, come in early, or stay late.
I found myself cross-training in the front as well. My training moved quicker than my initial training in the kitchen, because I already had knowledge of the operations to build upon.
As I became more comfortable with the job and the people I worked with, I began to make some new co-worker friends. Some of them would eventually end up staying with me well after I left.
One night, a closer called out or was otherwise unavailable to work. I was asked if I would be willing to learn closing. I agreed and began working some closing shifts. I would later begin to primarily work as a closer. First I was trained as a kitchen closer, and then I cross-trained as a front closer.
The more I learned, the more I wanted to move up. I became interested in the Crew Trainer position. I talked with my GM and he was reluctant at first. I had some areas he wanted me to work on. I focused intensely on those areas and I was determined to do better. As I learned and improved, I began to attempt to correct other Crew Members on mistakes I saw. I thought it would show my managers that I had the potential to be in a training role. Unfortunately, I went about it the wrong way and made some of the Crew Members upset with me.
After that, the GM didn’t want to promote me at all because of the social problems I had with the other Crew Members. I was devastated.
My best friend reached out to me one day and suggested I move down to Rhode Island with him. I was eager to do so as I wanted to move away from my parents and live on my own for a while. I was also ready for a change from Burger King. I secured a job before I moved through a mutual friend who was GM at a Johnny Rockets. It was my first time working as an actual Server that made tips.
I began to notice the unique challenges that come with a job that relies on tips for income. Even though it was required by law that my employer pay me the difference if my tips did not equal the equivalent of the minimum wage, it was difficult to prove what I had actually made in tips versus what I reported into the system. I eventually concluded that it was less work for me to not fight with the company over wages and tips, but to merely take on more tables, bigger sections, and busier nights to make my money. For a while I was doing good financially living off my tips with cheap housing that I shared with my best friend.
One night, I had some customers slip away without paying their bill. I asked the manager to take care of the check because I didn’t have the appropriate access level. They told me it would have to come out of my tips! I knew this wasn’t right so I went home and did some research. Turns out that it is in fact illegal to take an employee’s tips to pay for a guest’s check that had walked out on the bill. The next time it happened to me, I told my manager this. They weren’t happy. At the end of the night, I still ended up paying for it out of my tips! I knew it wasn’t fair and that they were taking advantage of me, but there was really nothing I could do about it.
I began looking for other jobs. I found a posting for a manager’s position at a Burger King down in Rhode Island. I figured that with a different franchise owner, it might be a little better. I interviewed with the company and was hired. I began training and left Johnny Rockets for what I thought was a better opportunity. About a month into my training, the GM sat me down and said that my performance wasn’t meeting expectations for a manager. I didn’t understand. I had been doing great. She informed me she would be demoting me to Crew Member, cutting my pay, and reducing my hours.
I later learned that the HR person who hired me had been let go and all of the people she had hired were in similar situations. I wasn’t making enough money to support myself and ended up taking on a lot of debt. I was forced to move back up with my parents and take a position at my old Burger King.
It hadn’t changed much and I was still miserable. So I decided to look for new work and found a nice small business. A restaurant owned by a Leominster resident. My Uncle found a posting for open positions there. I applied and was hired almost immediately.
I trained as a Server for a while and settled into my new role. I began to notice the same problems with relying on tips as my last Server job, but the owner was a little more willing to work with me than my previous boss. I got along great with most of the employees there and built a reputation with the owner.
When his Lead Server quit, I immediately asked for the position, seeing an opportunity to move up from entry-level positions. Slowly I was transitioned into the position and given more responsibility. I helped with inventory, marketing, operational systems, and personal projects for the owner.
Unfortunately, being a small business, the owner couldn’t offer me the pay I wanted to be in such a position. So I began looking for a job that could. I applied for a management job at McDonalds on a whim, and figured nothing would come of it. A few months later, I got a call from a Regional Supervisor with the franchise that owned the McDonalds in my area. She wanted an interview with me and the GM of the store I applied to.
I was so excited at the possibility of finally being in a management position after all this time of being stuck in entry level positions. I aced the interview and was hired on the spot. Thus began my career at McDonalds.
I have faced a lot of barriers, complications, and challenges throughout my years of work. I have overcome so much and come so far. It feels strange to now recall my previous jobs and all the mistakes I have made along the way. But I am stronger now because of them. It has been an interesting experience and I look forward to better jobs and better skills in the future.