Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Well, everyone's talking about past jobs these days. Figured I might have some pretty good stories about when I was back in Highschool working at Tom's Drive Ins. A local fast food restaurant (options of Culvers, prices of McDonald's, drive through or sit down) where my Mom had started working when she was 16 or 18. She rose through the ranks of management as the restaurant grew and multiplied. Eventually by her 30's she had become part owner, right up there with Tom and his 3 sons. So this meant it was a place where I worked growing up for some extra cash, and my brother actually still works today. I have 2 cousins who have worked at different locations, and an Aunt. So it's almost in my family as much as the Tom family.

Being a young employee and the "Boss's Son" is exactly what you think it is. Even if you think your above it, you aren't treated like every other employee. Because there isn't really an option of you being fired. (haha, actually, my brother proved that wrong. A story for another time perhaps) But before my brother proved it wrong, I felt there was no way I could do wrong, I was above the law. This didn't get to my head too much, and my parents both instilled pretty good morals and customer service skills in us. My mother specifically. She is, and still is today, in my eyes the best example of how to do customer service that I have seen. She knows exactly how to handle a angry customer, a disruptive employee, or a disgruntled husband. (ok, that last one was to make you guys laugh). She was loved by all employees and could get any pissed off customer, believe me there's tons, walking away thinking they won the argument and that they would recommend this place to friends. So I always wanted to make a good impression at least for my mom's sake. The part about being loved by all employees reminds me of how I convinced my mom to get Facebook 2-3 years ago so she could view my albums and see pictures of me in college (yeah, right next to the ones with me shotgunning beers and running the naked mile). Once her employees found her on facebook they all friended her and now she has dozens of teenagers posting on her wall about how cool Tom's was and how they are doing. I dye grass.

In the beginning, it was local, family owned, and things were simple. We were allowed to eat food as long as it wasn't in view of the customer. I always worked in the back kitchen, I was deathly afraid of customer contact, and although I was very social and professional when I had to be, I was too shy to take a job doing it. So I would just make food, take the frozen patties out of the meat drawer (teeheehee) and put them on the conveyor belt through the grill. Then take some buns off the bun rack (teeheehee) and put those on another lower conveyor belt that would toast them. Then if it wasn't busy I moved onto the next station which was making the burgers. After about 1-2 minutes of conveyor action, everything would plop out onto the trays. The buns were a bit quicker so if you were good you would look at the receipt and build the burger before the burgers were done cooking. For example: A Tom's special, consisted of Special sauce (mayo, ketchup, relish), Lettuce, Tomato, and a slice of cheese. Then hopefully whoever was "putting on" had put on 2 burgers, because that's all thats needed to complete the TS. If it was a busy day you had someone "Putting on", Someone "making" and someone "wrapping". This would be because there is a constant flow of food that need to be made into burgers and it works better to split it up. Then you slide the TS over to the wrapper, he sets it in the stack of wraps and goes one corner over the top, the 2 sides to the left and right go up on top of the first fold, and then you roll the whole thing over one last time so its neatly packaged and into the bag. You then yell at the guy who is "frying" to your right if there is any big items on this receipt. He/she will be making fries usually(Or cheese curds, breaded chicken, cod, perch, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, mushrooms etc), salt them, slide them into their respective bag, drop this into a bigger bag, staple the receipt on it, yell the number on the receipt and set it through the window for the front line to bring out to the customer or drive through.

The front line had clean aprons (mine were messed with ketchup and mustard smears) and they took care of the ice cream and beverages in the orders. We had nearly any icecream item you could imagine. So, the front line did the order taking, drinks, ice cream, the delivered the meal and took the money. I never touched that part.

So, as I was getting to in the beginning, things were simple, you could munch on some fries you made in the back kitchen as long as a customer couldn't see you. I remember old managers who were maybe a little less mature and would show me a great concoction where you take a handful of fries, roll them in a cheese slice, dip them first in the mayo bin, then in the ketchup bin (because the mayo won't leave remnants in the ketchup) and then take a huge bite, mmm mmm good. Or other employees would have contests on who could make the best concoction in the fryers. Which are very fun things when you aren't busy. Take a bun top from the rack and wad it into a ball, then throw it in the fryer for a couple minutes, throw some sugar on there and you have a makeshift donut. (I should add that working a fryer is a unique experience. You don't know much about fast food until you have the scars of the fryer to prove it. Let just say fryers like to pop, and spit, randomly without warning. You get scalded quite frequently.)

So as you can picture this was great. But with power comes great responsibility. Tom's kept growing and getting more locations, and the big wigs had to start taking positions where they weren't working at the locations, they were managing from a building off site. Then the corporate nature started to creep in. You soon HAD to wear gloves when handling food. You could never eat food unless you were on break, and then you had to pay for it. Well, I was the Boss's son, and I had been there since the beginning, no one could tell me when I couldn't dip a few frys in the mayo and eat what I earned. I got into trouble a couple times, and by a couple I mean repeatedly, until I got the point that times had changed and I was setting a bad example for the new employees who were just starting.

These changes started gradually and eventually I went off to college and Tom's changed completely from the way I had left it. They wanted to franchise the business and start selling the name to people out of the area as you would a culvers or mcdonalds (Culvers might actually still be family owned.. so scratch that). So in order to create a franchise you need to make everything streamlined, standardized, and corporate. And you need to buy out partnerships and ownerships. My mother had to sell her portion of the business and become a general manager. She had the option to buy the very first franchised building and it was a very big decision for the family, sort of like a very expensive stock. If we put the money into this and it failed we would not be sitting pretty. In the end my mom decided against the franchise and just held the position as general manager. They hired big executive types to start running the marketing strategies, and to make Tom's more appealing for possible franchisees.

Well, since this blog is long enough already I'll make a long story short, Tom's still kinda rocks, but it wasn't a big hit as they expected. No one is buying the franchise and expanding the business. The new blood hired on to bolster sales and to "corporatize" Tom's is younger and my mom's old connections don't mean as much any more. So younger employees are getting promotions and more responsibilities then my mother, who has been there since the beginning and is honostly The Best employee the have ever had. (did I mention her job for years was to simply go to a Tom's location who's sales were horrible, and manage it until it was leading all the Tom's in sales.... Then she would go on to the next crappy location and work there teaching the employees her ways, until it rose above its competition?) So thats where we are at today. Cue a declining economy and I'm pretty glad we never went into that first franchise.

So, I didn't know where I was going to go with this post, as usual, but once I start typeing I find little treasures all over and I just go for an hour. So I apologize completely if this wasted anyones time. Tom's is a pretty big part of my family, it was there for my first job, which is always a big step for an adolescent. It has matured with my family and now who knows what the future will bring.


Gregor said...

Now I understand where you get that mayo/ketchup fascination from.


MrB said...

Holy long post. It's interesting to read about it all though.

So your mom traveled a lot huh. That explains why you love video games so much.

BLaZE said...

Haha, actually it was pretty local, so by changing locations meant she either drove 15 miles north, or 15 miles east to go to work each morning. All the locations are bound between Menasha and Greenbay.

But both my parents did work A LOT. So the same point holds true about video games.

kiltrunner said...

I still don't get how you came from your mom.