How many of us have gone to McDonalds or another fast food restaurant and tried to order food only to be misunderstood by the person taking the order or have to repeat yourself numerous times and sometimes actually having to get a manager to place your order because the employee does not speak and understand English. This can be very frustrating to the consumer, but also to the worker. We the consumer get frustrated because our time is wasted and customer service level is decreased by having to repeat ourselves or getting an incorrect order fixed, but the worker is also frustrated because he/she can feel incompetent for getting the order wrong and lose the confidence they may have in doing their job. This can lead to lazy, unmotivated workers but in some cases may transcend from just lack of motivation at work, all the way to social retardation. Being able to speak and understand English while working here in America isn’t just an important job skill that many workers in the fast food industry lack; but necessary knowledge to fully function in their everyday life.
Eric Schlosser writes in his book, “Fast Food Nation” chapter 3, pages. 70-71, “English is now the second language of at least one-sixth of the nation’s restaurant workers and about one-third of that group speaks no English at all. The proportion of fast food workers who cannot speak English is even higher.” The fast food industry’s main sources of workers are teenagers and immigrants. They know that since they hire so many immigrants, most of them will not have a full grasp of the English language, if they have any at all. That is why most of their training is not built around learning a skill but based more on just how to use a machine. They create machines that don’t rely on an employee’s knowledge but just on when to push this or pull that. Words have even been replaced with pictures on registers and kitchen equipment, as if to take the thinking aspect completely out of the equation. Most of the times a fast food restaurant is that person’s first job, so not being taught any work skills can be very detrimental to the employee’s growth and ability to gain future employment. With every job you are supposed to learn something you take with you throughout your work career and your life. Working someplace and not learning anything valuable from it could be considered just a waste of time. The fast food industry needs to stop “de-skilling” its workforce and start trying to give them something they can take with them, maybe even something as valuable as learning how to speak English.
“When Esmeralda Armijo arrived in Dallas from Mexico in 1995, she didn’t speak a word of English and took the first job she could find, as a kitchen worker at a McDonald’s restaurant. Shortly afterward, the restaurant owner created an English class for Spanish-speaking employees who were interested in advancing their careers. Armijo was in the second class, and in 1998, she became a store manager. The number of Hispanics in the restaurant industry is rising dramatically, and restaurant owners say language training is crucial to developing the next generation of industry leaders. Don Cucovatz, director of training for Bailbrook Partnership, the franchise company that owns the restaurant where Armijo got her start, said that language training is a good recruitment and retention tool. Pizza hut also has English as a Second language program for its Hispanic workers. Campos credits the program with helping several Spanish-speaking employees advance to management positions.” Although the restaurant benefits from more confident employees and the workers see their career ambitions fulfilled, there are also personal payoffs. It’s a life changing experience which helps them not only at work but in their personal life too. Giving them the ability to communicate with doctors, teachers, police, and make friends they may not have been able to before they learned to speak English. It takes their world from being only Spanish speaking restaurants and neighborhood shops, and opens it up to unlimited opportunities not bound by the language barrier. It is good to see some franchise owners of these big corporations trying to teach their employees valuable skills and tools they can use in the real world. It actually makes good business sense for them to also, because not only will it improve customer service and order accuracy, but it builds some company loyalty. Once promoted the turnover rate is only like 8 percent when the industry standard is 35-40 percent. I hope that corporate headquarters sees that there may be profit in that and introduces the practice company wide. It always seems that money is the only thing that ever gets corporate attention but in this case the oft-forgotten employee will see some profit too.
Godinez, Victor. “Restaurants serving staff language lessons.”
Dallas Morning News. August 6, 2003.