Friday, June 5, 2020

Coronavirus: Working in fast-food during pandemic, in workers’ words

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drive-thru window

drive-thru window

Fast-food workers are still considered essential employees during the coronavirus outbreak.

SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images


As fast-food chains remain open across America amid the coronavirus outbreak, many workers feel as though they are putting their lives at risk by going to work.

When Business Insider put a call out for fast-food workers to share what it is like working during the coronavirus outbreak, we received more than 100 responses from people, many of whom were deeply worried about their health or the health of a family member. 

Business Insider spoke further with many of these workers via email, phone calls, and social media direct messages about what it is like working during the coronavirus pandemic. We verified these workers’ identities and employment through pay stubs or other documentation. The workers were either granted anonymity or referred to only by their first name in order to speak freely about their experience. 

“I fear catching this virus and taking it home,” one McDonald’s worker said. “I’m already poor. I live paycheck to paycheck, but I would much rather be out of work to help prevent the spread to my children or anyone else.”

“I’m currently looking for work-at-home opportunities, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to make the transition before becoming infected,” a Domino’s driver said. “I haven’t seen my son or family in a week out of fear of infecting them unknowingly.”

Read on to hear from employees at chains including McDonald’s, Starbucks, Burger King, and Taco Bell describe in their own words what it is like working during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Quotes have been edited for clarity and length. All fast-food chains mentioned in this article were given an opportunity to comment on employees’ fears of getting sick and weathering financial concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

A worker at McDonald’s

Food delivery McDonald's glovo kiev coronavirus

A McDonald’s employee wearing a face mask looks out as a Glovo food delivery courier picks up an order.

Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters


My concern is I will get the virus and take it home to my kids. Fast-food drive-thrus aren’t safe. I deal with customers that will cough, sneeze and then hand you their money. Sorry, but you also can’t trust every worker to be clean.

I do need to work, but I also have two kids that have been hospitalized due to rare disease and I myself have health issues. I fear catching this virus and taking it home. I’m already poor. I live paycheck to paycheck, but I would much rather be out of work to help prevent the spread to my children or anyone else.

I love my kids and want them to stay safe. Please help the poor who are still being forced to take risks. 

Ryan, a worker at Dunkin’

coronavirus driving roads wisconsin dunkin donuts

Dunkin’ rest stop location.

Rebecca Harrington/Business Insider


The threat is so close and near I can practically smell the illness around me. I have expressed my concerns to my franchisees about sick workers and the amount of hours I will be required to work (sick or not) to keep their store running.

Mondays are my day off… my one and only day off … I had to go into work two different times that day … one in the morning and then again in the afternoon. After going in on my day off, I now have to work who knows how many hours until next Monday to actually get some rest.

How will I spend my day off? Resting because my feet are throbbing and I have no energy after working multiple positions and a million hours. I am on salary so on top of it I have no overtime to compensate financially what I myself am going through and doing to make somebody sitting in an office money.

I do hope other fast food workers aren’t going through the same as I am. Hopefully I do not get sick from the lack of rest. [I] hope my daughter doesn’t continue to be mad at her father because I was unable to take her on the weekend.

“Our top priority is the safety and well-being of our guests, employees, franchisees, their restaurant teams and the communities we serve,” Dunkin’ said in a statement. “We have implemented temporary brand standards, guidelines and enhanced safety measures at Dunkin’ restaurants nationwide, including moving to a carry-out or drive-thru model only, suspending the use of reusable mugs, and allowing franchisees to encourage cashless transactions where permissible. Additionally, in response to national guidance on social distancing and mandates in certain jurisdictions, franchisees have  marked floors with painter’s tape in six-foot increments to help ensure the safety of restaurant workers and guests who choose to order inside the restaurant, where permissible, and restaurant workers are also maintaining distance by keeping to their own work circles.

Between the federal bill that goes into effect April 1, jurisdictions that already mandated sick pay, and franchisees who have been offering sick pay as part of a suite of benefits to their employees, the great majority of crew members at Dunkin’ restaurants should have access to sick pay benefits during this time of crisis.

We and our franchisees remain vigilant in helping to minimize exposure and we will continue to do our best to provide a safe, secure restaurant experience for our guests and restaurant workers during this challenging and uncertain time.”

A worker at McDonald’s

A person exits from a McDonald's as all the restaurant and bar are closed except fast food, following an outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Brussels, Belgium, 14 March 2020. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

McDonald’s.

Reuters


My job has been done away with. I am a janitor. I clean bathrooms and dining area and take out the trash and clean the parking lot. But now, I have no public to clean up after.

I wish customers would stay home and not eat fast food. … Ultimately, I understand by not having customers I won’t have a job. But I want my fellow Americans to be safe.

I don’t know what I’ll do with no education to get a better job and not being able to get any help until I can prove I need it when I only get paid for four hours a week.

A worker at Arby’s

Arby's Cheesy Chicken Slider

Arby’s.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider


I think everyone that has to work during this crisis — medical, retail, and fast food industry — should get paid more for putting their families at risk. Why is this not something that is going into effect? If we have work during this  crisis and put our families at risk why, are we not being taken care of?

I am all for feeding the hospital employees, emergency personnel, but our governor said that basically people can travel just to go get take out. How is this stopping the spread of the virus?

Also, our customers need to be more understanding in our drive-thrus.We are there to serve them during the most scary time in our lives. Be nice to us and [do] not act like we are carriers of the virus.

People actually look at me is disgust, like I am infected by the virus. I go to hand them their change and they act like they don’t want to touch. I don’t want to touch you either, but I put a smile on my face and treat you with respect. 

Arby’s did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment. 

A worker at Taco Bell

taco bell Employees

Taco Bell.

Taco Bell


We only have seven of us that work each shift, which is less than the recommended 10. We are drive-thru only, and if we don’t stay open I can’t pay my bills or send child support to my kids. I am grateful that so far I’m able to continue working, but I fear with restaurants being ordered to close, I won’t have any way to pay my bills or support my children.

I am more afraid of restaurants closing, including ours, than I am of getting sick. I would like customers to know we are taking extra precautions including all of us wearing gloves, including those who aren’t handling food, to ensure employees as well as our customers stay protected.

“We hear them and we understand their concerns,” a Taco Bell representative said. “Taco Bell and its franchisees, which consist of 350 small businesses, are working to ensure our restaurants are the safest places to work and eat.”

Taco Bell has rolled out new safety measures last two weeks, including providing gloves for all cashiers, increasing sanitizing routines, and ensuring hand sanitizer is available for workers and customers. Taco Bell is working on procedures to help workers with social distancing while working, according to a representative. 

“The drive-thru business continues to be essential, and one of the safest ways, for individuals and families to get food quickly and affordably,” a Taco Bell representative said. 

A worker at McDonald’s

mcdonald's sign

McDonald’s.

Ann Saphir/Reuters


Every time a customer asks for a sauce, napkins, etc., I always see them reaching into their bag for fries — shoving it in their mouths and reaching out for what they asked for. I can sometimes feel the salt on my hands from their fries. That’s when I start to wonder do people even care about us. Sure, I can wear gloves but I’ll be concerned in changing my gloves consistently in order to keep the next customer safe.

A lot of employees go to work worried what will happen next to their jobs. All people see and hear is what the news and social media tells them. They need to be more vocal to us, and keep us with a positive mind set.

Am I worried about getting sick at work? Yes, I have little sister at home and my mom is diabetic. Not only do I risk my health, but I risk my [family’s health]. You can’t forget about others. If I’m working without knowing I have the virus, I can infect many more.

A worker at Domino’s

dominos pizza boxes delivery

Domino’s worker.

AP Images / Sunday Alamba


We almost always have over 10 workers working at one time sometimes 20 on the weekend in a very small store. It’s very crowded.

With about seven to 12 drivers a shift coming into contact with what is estimated to be 10 people — some much more depending on the length of their shift — then each returning to the store after each delivery, it feels like I’m being exposed to the 10 to 20 co-workers plus everyone every driver delivers to that shift resulting in direct and indirect exposure to 100s of people a day.

Unfortunately I’m not able to stop going to work unless Domino’s lays me off so I can draw unemployment, I’m currently looking for work-at-home opportunities, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to make the transition before becoming infected. I haven’t seen my son or family in a week out of fear of infecting them unknowingly.

When asked for comment on worker’s concerns, a Domino’s representative said that the chain is using contactless delivery and many locations are instituting contactless carry out. All dine-in spaces are closed, and the chain has increased cleaning and sanitizing protocols. 

“For decades we have delivered to first responders, hospitals, shelters and neighbors in need,” Domino’s CEO Ritch Allison said in a statement. “It is our honor and privilege to do this for communities worldwide. While this global pandemic is a new challenge for us all, we will continue to follow advice of all health authorities and work hard to continue to feed our communities safely.”

A worker at Burger King

Burger King hamburger

Burger King.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider


Since the coronavirus has become a pandemic and New York has become quite an unstable place due to panic/the spread of the virus, there have been plenty of policies enacted or discussed. Many of these are foolish.

We are still allowing customers to come inside and use the restrooms and order food.

We have to continually deal with close proximity with customers (and clean restrooms that they use).

In both drive-thru and in the dining room, we are to use these plastic containers to hand and accept credit cards and money. What foolish corporate idea is this? We are still touching the money — this protects nobody. And close contact is still necessary because the containers are not nearly six feet long.

Furthermore, the corporate decision was to have us bag up the food for drive thru, set it on a food tray, and hand it out to the customers in their cars. Try balancing a tray with a bunch of drinks on it and the incapable hands of a consumer strapped into their seat by a seat belt.

The drinks almost fall over every time and the customers continue to look at us with wild eyes like we are crazy for doing this. I explain to everyone that it’s stupid, but I must follow through because it’s what the company has mandated. 

“Burger King has over 65 years of experience serving affordable, convenient, and delicious food that is a critical part of the routine of millions of Americans every day,” a representative said in a statement. “We can help take the pressure off of overwhelmed grocery stores and families by offering dependable, clean and contact-less service via drive-thru and delivery and takeout options.”

The statement continued: “In places where required, we will be moving to drive-thru and delivery/takeout only operations and complying with public health guidelines and recommendations. The health and safety of our guests and team members is our top priority.  We have enhanced our already strict food safety and sanitation practices in our restaurants and are well positioned to operate safely during this challenging time for our nation and do our part to flatten the curve.”

A worker at Taco Bell

Taco Bell soft taco

Taco Bell.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider


Because our lobbies are closed, our drive thru goes non-stop, one car after the other. It is exhausting us and it is making us weaker.

We are working ten times harder for no reason. We are human too. Yes, it’s nice to have a job when so many are losing theirs but it isn’t worth the risk.

A worker at Jack in the Box

jack in the box

Jack in the Box.

David McNew/Getty


Here in Alabama, the stores are out of a lot of products and it’s hard for us to get the items we need because we are at work in the restaurant. Single moms and dads cannot be at work daily and take care of their children at home because school is out. You cannot get a babysitter for them because you don’t know who has it.

This thing is an airborne disease that is basically a silent killer that we don’t know we have. I personally believe that [at] this time it would be better if everyone if they shutdown everything for a few weeks and try to protect everyone involved. 

I would rather lose a paycheck or two then keep going out to the job and possibly bringing it home to my daughter.  

It seems like people don’t think it will happen to them. Unfortunately we all are at risk.  It’s not worth losing your life over to be an employee to the public. It’s time for everyone to be home and trying to protect everyone else.  

A Jack in the Box representative said in a statement: “We appreciate our employees who continue to serve the public during these challenging times. Out of concern for their safety and the communities that we serve, we are continuing to follow national and state guidelines by implementing a contact-less system with our drive-thru, delivery and carryout services. We’ve always mandated heightened sanitization requirements as an ongoing practice. During this time, we are further protecting our employees and customers by implementing additional strict procedures to deeply clean and disinfect all surfaces every hour, such as sanitizing our cash registers more frequently and enacting mandatory hand-washing and glove wearing procedures.

For our company-owned restaurants, we have implemented a temporary sick pay and special quarantine program, and have encouraged our franchisees to follow suit. We’ve instructed anyone who is not feeling well to stay home. As most of our restaurants are franchise-owned and operated, we are closely monitoring and checking in regularly with all franchisees to ensure that our employee and guests’ well-being are the number one priority.”

A worker at McDonald’s

mcdonalds worker

McDonald’s.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


I am fearful every time I go into work about bringing something home. I would say that my concerns for my children are higher than what I feel it would be a concern for myself. The fact that I have children who are high-risk makes the stress of being there even worse.

I see employees that are not using proper hand-washing. I have seen employees that will pick their nose and rub their faces and cough into their hands. Nobody is doing anything to correct it. When I see these things, I immediately wash my hands and protect myself the best way that I can. 

I know that we are helping out nurses with their coffees and truckers. They also need to understand that our situation — I feel at least — is that we are serving people with very high risk. It has been shown through the media that travelling is one of the biggest reasons how people catch the coronavirus. We are dealing with these people who are travelling through province to province.

Brent, a worker at Taco Bell

taco bell

Taco Bell.

Crystal Cox/Business Insider


We see Doctors, EMTs, and other “Essential Employees” making “hazard pay” and other differentials. It’s disgusting that we aren’t even recognized financially by the state, let alone the federal government.

We aren’t asking for $15/hr or anything permanent. We just want to be financially sound during this time of being considered “essential.”

Just this week I began taking time off, USING my vacation, just to give my own shifts to my Shift Managers and Team Members and give them hours. It’s the least I can do, as well as assist them with UC claims.

I wish no harm on Taco Bell, or even the franchise I work for, I simply want our country to acknowledge us for the HUGE job we do, just like our Doctor and EMT counterparts who are paid way more than us.

I don’t want my team to hate their job, due to a change in customer base. We love Taco Bell. The franchise and company in itself have always been amazing. I just think this disease is bringing out the worst in everyone and everything.

Niki, a worker at McDonald’s

McDonald's worker

McDonald’s drive-thru.

Yaoinlove/Shutterstock


I work at a McDonald’s, in the cash collecting window most of the day. There are so many things being talked about and done in response to this crisis. 

And yet nothing is being done or even discussed about the collection of money. Every car that uses cash causes me to dip back into what is very likely a contaminated drawer. I am practically bathing in hand sanitizer.

I fear that I’m a soldier on the front line, bound to be the first to fall. Over cheeseburgers. 

McDonald’s has been continually internally updating its approach to the coronavirus, as the virus spreads and states update their local regulations. While franchisees — not McDonald’s corporate headquarters — control operations in 95% of restaurants, the fast-food giant has been constantly revising and updating guidelines to share with franchisees. 

Last week, locations shut seating areas, moving to carry-out, drive-thru, and delivery. All stores are now rolling out contactless service, which includes updating how employees are configured while working and creating ways to get food made and handed off to customers without any contact. 

“While we continue to serve our communities, the safety, wellness and economic security of our customers and employees is our top priority as it has been throughout our 65-year history and especially today,” US President Joe Erlinger said in a statement shared with Business Insider when asked for comment.

A worker at Starbucks

starbucks coronavirus

Chairs are stacked in a Starbucks coffee shop that remained open for customers purchasing for take-away, Monday, March 16.

AP Photo/John Minchillo


I hate to generalize, but so many Starbucks customers are extremely entitled. They will cough all over us without covering their mouths, they will berate is, all in the midst of a pandemic.

Corporate has made it clear that they don’t care about us, as those of us who are sick with a fever or chest pain, are told to come in if we can’t find coverage. This isn’t only hazardous to fellow employees, but to any customers as well. I have asthma, and going into work where i come in contact with people who are absolutely careless terrifies me.

With the curve not being flattened, more and more cases are being announced every day. As medical professionals have stated, COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease. Starbucks can afford to close its stores and still pay its employees, but they are choosing to side with the profit.

Since Business Insider spoke to this Starbucks employee, the chain has rolled out some of the boldest corporate responses to the pandemic. Last Friday, Starbucks announced it was closing all cafés, moving to a drive-thru and delivery-only model. All workers would be paid for 30 days, whether they went to work or not, with employees who did attend work getting a $3 raise. 

JP, a worker at McDonald’s

mcdonalds employee customer soda

McDonald’s.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


I think fast food chains should close down completely until this situation blows over. Fast food chains, such as McDonalds, have the money to pay staff for time off and close restaurants for a couple weeks or months.

We’re talking about multi billion dollar corporations. With that said, I understand grocery stores can not close but maybe have a rotating schedule until things claim down. Such as four days open three closed, then three open four closed. This would limit staff even more than they are now. 

I like many others are still going to work and putting my health at risk. It’s scary right now and we have try not to think about it because we need our jobs. I’m prepared to leave my job though if things get too serious and I feel like the company isn’t taking appropriate action to keep us safe. The health and safety of myself and family come first.

At the end of the day it’s just a job; it will still be there tomorrow and the day after that. There is no guarantee that I or my family will be. 

A worker at Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box.


Jack in the Box



I’m terrified of going to work everyday because I see on the news that we’re told that we need to stay inside and quarantine ourselves in our homes for two weeks, maybe more. And then I see so many people ignoring the quarantine and ordering fast food, as if there wasn’t a coronavirus pandemic going on.

I’ve seen bars, restaurants, casinos, the whole strip mall that’s across the street from my work all shut down, including GameStop — which took employees, and the police to finally get it to close temporarily for two weeks. But my work? Nope.

Because other places closed for fear of coronavirus, fast-food restaurants get MORE people in the drive-thru. That’s not practicing social distancing. That’s completely opposite.

If we really want to beat this pandemic we need to actually do what we’ve been saying we’re going to do and ACTUALLY quarantine ourselves. We can’t keep shopping, eating out at fast food, going to the beach like nothing is wrong and there’s no coronavirus. I honestly believe if we close fast-food restaurants too then more people will quarantine themselves.

Then we can beat the coronavirus pandemic.

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Do you have a personal experience with the coronavirus you’d like to share? Or a tip on how your town or community is handling the pandemic? Please email covidtips@businessinsider.com and tell us your story.

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