Armen Chakmakjian

Process, McDonald’s, My minimum wage job in High School

In career, McDonalds on July 15, 2009 at 1:36 am

So over the last week my tuna mac & cheese casserole video got a massive number of hits.  This was due to a mention from a much more popular, eloquent (and better looking) blogger than myself, Cheryl Phillips, on her blog The Daily Blonde who, based on an interchange that started because of my Steak Armeen recipe from long ago that I reposted on Facebook that evening.  She mentioned that it sounded better than my tuna mac & cheese recipe.  (yes its a tangled web).

During that discussion Cheryl said that the Steak Armeen recipe sounded a lot better than than my tuna mac & cheese recipe.  This led to us both mentioning our past working at McDonalds in the early 80’s.  As you can see from comments to Cheryl’s blog post,  lots of people have memories of McD’s even older than mine (like the white shirt and tie days).  Of course like all blogging, there is a certain reflective if not auto-didactic element to it.  I’ve attached my portion of the conversation here since it dealt with all the processes at McDonalds in italics:

After the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, I was volunteering at Logan Airport in the TWA hangar to help load the planes with supplies. The National Guard was there to help us out and gave us “MRE”s (Meals Ready to Eat). Ooooooooo they were nnnnnnasty. Makes Tuna Mac-n-cheese feel like Chateau Briand 🙂  And that conjures up memories about my days at McDonalds around 1980-1982…Anybody out remember what a 6-3 Turn-Lay is? It has to do with the pace of regular ham/cheeseburgers and big macs 🙂

A 6-3 turn lay means 6 burgers, when you turned them, lay down the meat for 3 big macs. There were variations of course, 12-6,6-3, 6-6. The manager on the bin had to regulate grill production almost finger in the wind. it felt so scientific at the time.

Food waste was something special because if the manager got the pace wrong, he was also putting the tin markers on the batches of food that said which 10 minutes you had to sell or waste the burgers. bad manager if he was wasting food. Before I left there I was a “Swing Shift” manager…I got to wear a tie with m’s on it
Burgers cooked in 110 seconds. 20 seconds after laying to the sear, 40 seconds later turn, lay down the meat for the run on turn-lay, salt/pepper mixture for the flipped, dehydrated onions and 50 seconds from turn to remove onto the buns which had their own timing. Grill was at 350, buns toasted at 400 degrees, meaning that when you put the heel on the burgers to send them up to the bin, they cooked that last amount in the bun.
Back then the person on Fries also made Shakes in our store. That meant that if they weren’t good at it yet they always had 3 lines on their apron…brown, pink and white…because they’d pull the cup off the spindle too fast and they’d get nailed with shake spray (chocolate, strawberry and vanilla). 🙂

This is where my discussion ended with Cheryl, but I have a few more facts that I can remember:

In our store the apple and cherry pies were cooked by the bun guy since the 3rd set of fry vats were on the bun side of the grill area.   We’d always good 8 apple pies for 4 cherry pies (the same holder was also used for hash browns at breakfast).

I used to have to calibrate all the equipment in our store…mix of carb water to syrup (3/4 oz of syrup of any flavor to 4 oz of carbonated water).  The amount of shake syrup from the pump dispenser was 1 oz (since we had only one size of shake back then).  The temperature of the grills 350 for regular burgers and big macs.  375 for Quarter Pounders.  and there was a special tool for measuring the grill temperature at 12 different points on the grill. Filet 0 Fish were cooked in their own vat at 360 degrees 5 minutes, while fries at 330 for 4.5 mins.  Chicken Nuggets were introduced in our store in early 1981,  360 for them as I remember 4 minutes.   I’d inspect the flame distributor inside of the burner for the vats and use a coat hanger to get it out every couple of seeks since the flames would wear out the fins on the distributor and you wouldn’t have  even heating of the oil in the vat.

Cooking Filet o Fish was a side effect of working in the grill.  Until Lent…on Friday’s it was NUTS!

Chopped beefsteak sandwiches had their own special spatula.  it was almost 7 inches wide and square.

We used to flaunt process by pulling 3 regular burgers at a time from the grill on the regular spatula during rushes (when we had LOTS of customers) instead of the recommended 2.  the chopped beefsteak spatula could pull off 6 at a time of you were brave and your manager didn’t catch you violating the rules.

The videos…oh my god the perfect teenagers whose teeth twinkled as they held the spatula at a 45 degree angle to the grill (and sharpened it at that angle on the special apparatus).  how to shake the salt on the fries and load them into the paper bags so that all the fries ended up orthogonal to the opening.

QSCV…Quality, Service, Value and Cleanliness.  The motto.

Oh yes I also worked breakfast.  The holdup was always the english muffins since they toasted SO SLOW.  we had the rings for the egg mcmuffins and you had the special thin spatula so that you flipped over the piece of canadian bacon…shhh we always did the flipping of canadian bacon by hand as you could flip them faster two handed.  I still crack eggs 4 in hand two at a time before I scramble them because that’s how a flaunted process in favor of speed.

The hotcakes and sausage were actually great.  The mix we had for the hotcakes and the perfect dispenser made it so easy to make 7 inch wide pancakes, that all looked identical and we used the chopped beefsteak huge spatula to flip them.

On Saturday mornings I also help the full time managers doing inventory.  I’d count everything in the store, although they relented on the butter pats even though i could count them faster than anyone in sight (and more accurately) it just wasn’t worth it.

On days where we ran out of buns or meat or containers, I’d get the special privilege of going driving to another store and getting stock that we were lacking.

Warning, to the squeamish…skip this paragraph: Now the unfortunate side to all this mirth was that this was a dangerous job.  3 incidents in 2 years that sent me to the hospital.  Once I got oil spattered on my wrist from the fry vat.  Another time I fell hand first on the grill because someone had just mopped the floor and it was slippery as I was running the grill by myself.  Another time, I was screening the grill down and someone poked me in the side as a joke and my hand slipped and I got 350 oil all over my thumb.  When I got to the emergency room, they took a pair of scissors and cut off all the dead skin from my thumb.  I can’t handle horror movies, I get too into the willing suspension of disbelief, but I can handle an emergency doctor cutting the dead skin from my thumb while I watch.  The guy who drove to the hospital fainted when he saw what they were doing of course.  Coincident with this, my manager, who was born in South Carolina, called my very accented Armenian mother to tell her that:  “Missus Cha-ma-chin, We sent Armen to the hospital…he burned his hahd”  She of course heard “He burned his HEAD, OH MY GOD ARMEN BURNED HIS HEAD?  Carl repeated “NO NO NO Missus Cha-ma-chin…his hahd his HAHND”   She completely freaked of course.

There were other fun things, not so dangerous. I’d go up top (yes on top of the store) and change the filters on all the air conditioners.  On Tuesday’s we’d get our deliveries from the freezer truck.  You knew how to throw to a person who would barely catch but direct a 30lbs box of meat into a stack after rotating out the older stock,  If you had that job you noticed that not unlike winter cleaning the lot, that the grease from the grill was a perfect insulator.  you were never cold…and you wouldn’t wash up until after going outside.  In the summer it was the opposite…wash down before you go outside as you feel terrible.

Then there was the mornings on the weekends.  People lining up at 6:30 am for breakfast.  I had the keys to the store.  I’d go in at 6, load everything up, check if we were ready and I’d unlock the doors.   One morning, the guy who’d show up to clean the lot, Elliot, was standing out there with a hose and the brushes to clean the lot.  There was a car in the small lane parking lot to one side of the store (no drive through then…you essentially had parking lots on both sides of the store).  Anyway I saw Elliot stop and stare at a car.  Maria, who was working the register and just happened to be going out with him says, “Why did he stop?”  I looked over from the grill to that front lot and saw the rear passenger door open up on a late 70’s Ford sedan.  a head sticks out the side and the guy loses it all over the parking lot.  Elliot slumped his shoulders.  Maria laughed.  Elliot cleaned it up later and I asked him “what happened?”.   He told me that he was cleaning the outdoor tables on the side of the store and he heard someone yelling “Sam SAMM SAMMMM!!!”  and so he walked to the front lot.  that’s when he could see and hear the  guy in the back seat of the ford yelling “SAMMMMM…SAMMMM…”  His friends told him to open the door, which he did.  And he lost it all over the parking lot. In front of Elliot.  Amazingly, according to Elliot, he was able to continue to yell “SAMMMMM” throughout his regurgitation…

Both as a manager and a crew member I worked the registers.  I added very fast, and I always smiled so I was McDonalds perfect.  In our store, we didn’t have the newfangled registers with the picture of the burgers on the buttons.  We had the paper order forms and knew that 3 cheeseburgers were $1.83, 3 big macs were $2.73, a cheeseburger small soda and fries was $1.93 and if you ordered all of that you mentally broke up the order into those combinations to do the math.  Then you plugged result of the addition into the mechanical register and hit the drawer release.  I added faster that most of the guys there and probably 3/4 of the girls, so having me up front  on an infrequent basis was not a detriment to burger delivery…Some of the girls were extremely fast up front. Made most of the guys look like real idiots (sorry guys, it was the truth). I was always in awe at how fast they were.

On the other hand, only the taller girls could effectively work in the grill.  Most high school girls were 5-5’3″.   The grill was about 4 feet across and deep.  That meant that if you were on the shorter side (guy or girl), your effective reach across the grill limited your ability to move fast.  You really couldn’t reach the back of the grill.   And the in our store the toasters were on a single cart and the mac crown toaster platter was about eye height on me (I was about 5’8″ at the time.  That meant that for anyone short , the top of the toaster was above your head…and the handle to close it even higher.

I have to admit, it was quite an experience and had a great effect on me.  A lot of people have worked for McDonalds (or BK or W) over the years.  I’m sure if you combined them it was close to 10% of the current adult workforce in the US once worked at a fast food joint and has similar if not even more amazing stories than this.

Anyway I want to thank Cheryl again for the mention on her blog.

  1. I remember you told us some of those horror stories about McDonalds back when we were kids. Didn’t you once tell us that someone dropped their watch in the fryer, grabbed for it without thinking, and ended up french-frying their hand? I’ve been telling people that story for decades! 😀

    But don’t get me started on my Burger King stories…

  2. that story wasn’t told by me, but it sounds plausible 🙂

  3. I worked at McDonald’s in Corvallis Oregon in the early 80’s while attending Oregon State University. Most of the crew were college age kids. I enjoyed working there for 4 school years. Summers were dead in Corvallis so most of us left to work out other jobs, otherwise we would all have to share about 10 hours of work. Saturday’s were the busiest day of the week both for breakfast and lunch. Saturday lunch we did about $600 per hour for 2 hours. That’s $600 in 1980-1984. We banged out 12-6 turn lay for about 90 minutes, while Quarter Pounders would be on 4 or 5 turn lay. Not to mention McChicken, Fillet-O-Fish, and Chicken McNuggets. The 12-6 turn lay would require 3 people. One to toast the buns, one to dress the toasted buns, and 1 to work the grill. The one dressing the buns also took care of the Filet-O-Fish because it was directly behind where they were standing. Also this person was usually the most senior grill person as they could oversee and direct the entire kitchen operation. Sometimes, this person would have to move to the left a few feet and help dress the Quarters. A real cocky grill person would try to work the grill and dress, but 12-6 was pretty demanding and hard to keep up after 90 minutes. What else? We were told to say the manager’s name first before asking for the cheese count like “Eric! Cheese on 12?”. This would get the manager’s attention first. Good times.

  4. Great memories. So you must have been there for the brief introduction of the chopped beefsteak sandwich, rib sandwich, and the longer lasting mcnuggets. All happened between 1980/82

  5. I don’t remember the chopped beefsteak sandwich. Perhaps it was being tested in a local market and never made it big time. The rib sandwich seems to been around forever, but it must have came out after 1985 because we never had when I worked there. Chicken McNuggets were introduced when I was there. They also changed the basic chicken sandwich a few times I think. The big flop was the McDLT. That was the sandwich that where the customer had to finish the assembly by putting the bottom half and top half together.

  6. Aw man, the turn-lay system. You know, I ate at a McDonald’s today, and there was a placemat that said that each patty is hand seasoned. And for the life of me, I can’t see anyone do anything but pull out patties from a tray. It’s a total mystery how/where it’s actually cooked. (Though, I can’t say I spent a lot of time researching…)

    Anyway, I remember the turn lay system well. When I started, it was preparing buns and milkshakes at our store. (Where we actually mixed the shakes in their individual cups.) Watching the veterans on the grill, it was like I was just out of bootcamp and worshipping the sergeants that had been in battle. When I finally got my chance to be on the grill, it was on Monday or Tuesday nights- the slow ones. Eventually I worked up to a Friday dinner rush, 12×12 turn lays- it was mad, but it was very exhilarating.

    But, we also had a very wild crew, as the store was not well managed. Those of us in high school took care of the early weekend shifts- showing up at 5 for the maintenance shift, and at 5:30 the setup guy. No manager til about 7:30 or 8, and it was hijinks like no ones business. Getting on the roof of the store and throwing eggs at passing cars. Blasting the phone booth in our parking lot with a chemical fire extinguisher in the dark- a huge yellow cloud, right as a cop drives by… and didn’t notice. Frozen patty fights in the store basement- winging them like a flat rock at each other. Massive egg fights with one another in the parking lot- we could go through 2 cases of eggs in 15 minutes. In those days, guys wore the paper hats, like they do at In-n-Out. I actually did this: Lit the front of one of those hats on fire, and casually walked in front of customers behind the register during a breakfast rush, pretending not to notice. (Ducked back into the kitchen and doused the hat in a bucket before it burned me at all.)

    That’s not even half the stories, I barely scratched the surface. One of my buddies from those days and I still reminisce when we get together. I spent about 9 months at that job and moved on to something else. I was a junior in high school then. 1979-80.

    So yeah, the turn lay. YES I GOOGLED IT AND FOUND THIS ARTICLE. 🙂

  7. I had the keys to the store even before I was a swing shift mgr so I could open the store on weekends. It was a huge responsibility and as you point out a possible opening for mischief 🙂

  8. Oh yeah, absolutely. It was great fun at the time, and still tickles me to think of how we got away with it, but after I grew up, I felt really bad for the manager. She was in over her head, and we really took advantage of the situation. I think she was let go not too long after I left. With the amount of set up that needed doing (putting together the sundae machine, getting the grills ready, the fry vats, etc.), I’m surprised we had any time at all for that.

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