Workers reveal what it's really like to work at Burger King

There are many ubiquitous fast food burger chains, but only one claims to be the king, and that's Burger King. It's where you can "Have it your way" when it comes to your food, but have you ever considered what it takes for the workers to make sure that "your way" is carried out exactly the way you requested? While every Burger King worker experience is going to be different (there are more than 7,000 locations in the United States alone, after all), employee tell-alls expose some common experiences of being on the Burger King staff.

Money and hours are a common problem, as are nightmare customers. And it turns out getting those flame grilled burgers out the door every day creates quite the mess. On the plus side, there is always the employee-created secret menu items and the free or discounted food. The next time you swing by a Burger King for a Whopper done just the way you like it — or if you're considering throwing your employment hat into the King's corner yourself — consider these employee accounts of what it's really like to work at Burger King.

Rude and sometimes threatening customers are to be expected at Burger King

People don't always go to fast food restaurants in the best state of mind, and it seems that Burger King may attract more than its fair share of unhappy customers. Former workers have posted about experiences on Reddit of customers cursing at them in the drive thru lane, and then asking for refunds when there's nothing wrong with the order. Others replied to the Reddit thread with stories of drunk people fighting and trashing the lobby while security watched. One 17-year-old cashier had a guy throw his food at him "because it was wrong" despite the cashier not even knowing how to make the food. "Rude" is a polite way to describe these types of people, but at least these instances weren't life threatening. 

Former Burger King employees have also detailed some harrowing customer experiences that go beyond rudeness on Reddit. One worker had a pocket knife pulled on him because the regular manager wasn't there (and then that same person left the building and ordered from the drive through). Burger King employees take these instances seriously. Claudette Wilson, who worked at a Burger King in Detroit, told the Guardian that when her store was robbed, the manager chased the guy into the back of a cab. And believe it or not, it gets worse. A Miami worker was shot and killed after a woman decided that it took too long to receive her order.

These situations can happen at nearly any fast food joint, but it seems like Burger King workers may be especially prone to them.

The broilers for the flame-grilled burgers at Burger King can be a nightmare

If you ask most Burger King fans what sets them apart from other burger chains, there's a good chance they'll tell you it's how the burgers are cooked. The broilers that are responsible for Burger King's famous flame-grilled burgers take an intensive amount of cleaning.

According to a former employee on Reddit, the broiler has multiple pieces that have to be detached, cleaned with soap and water, and then soaked in a tub of degreaser overnight. The broiler hood appears to be a particular point of contention. In r/BurgerKing, a worker put out a plea for help on how to best clean the broiler hood because the degreasers "aren't the best" and the "scrapers are too dull." The worker reported that sharper razors don't work because they break up in the grease, though someone reported using the bathroom cleaner on the broiler grease was the best way to clean it, because the bathroom cleaner is "pretty much straight bleach." 

Turns out Burger King's flame grilled promise equates to quite a bit of heavy duty, after hours (and sometimes questionable) cleaning for the workers who have to close the restaurant every night.

Burger King workers may be at risk for wage theft

In March of 2020, former Burger King employees filed a class action lawsuit against the Tri City Foods Inc., which is based in Illinois and is the second-largest Burger King franchisee in the country. The accusation: changing worker timesheets and taking hours off of the record books, which is a form of wage theft. According to the lawsuit, hourly workers didn't receive the minimum wage and a half required by law, and that it was done "willful, arbitrary, unreasonable and/or in bad faith."

It's far from the first time Burger King has faced wage theft accusations. Two lawsuits filed in 2015 accused Burger King of not paying overtime in violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, as well. The details of the case prompted rallies, according to Madison.com, in support of the workers who were counting on their checks to pay for basic needs and to question why the former workers aren't just paid what they're owed. 

The problem isn't restricted to Burger King, but it's clearly an ongoing issue with the chain. A whopping 92 percent of respondents in a 2014 study said that they feel they've experienced wage theft while working at Burger King, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Burger King employees may receive discounts or free food

While it's true that Burger King employees put up with a lot — the lunch, dinner, and late night rushes alone could make a person feel burnt out — there is one perk: discounted, and sometimes free, food. A former Burger King employee posted on Reddit that they got a 50 percent discount on food during the days they worked. What's more, if a person came in two hours early or stayed two hours late, a free meal was thrown in (hopefully it was thrown in along with overtime pay). The Reddit poster went so far as to say that thanks to their employment rank, management "didn't really care what I did or got."

The exact details of what workers received in the free food department appear to vary by location, however. On the employment review site Glassdoor, workers and former employees report everything from totally free meals after four hours thanks to a nice manager, to receiving only 15 percent off, to only being able to order food 30 minutes before or after their shift.

Burger King workers create their own secret menu items

Regardless of what discount on their shift meal workers are getting, there is no getting around the fact that Burger King employees know the best things to order. In some cases, that means getting something that's not listed on the menu at all, like the Quad Stacker that's made with meat on meat on meat on meat. While it seems like everyone and their third cousin is ordering off of the "secret menu" at a place like In-N-Out Burger, Burger King workers have created their own, lesser known secret menu.

Former Burger King server Donna Mackay wrote an article for Buzzfeed about what it's like working at the chain. She admitted that she and her coworkers were always thinking about their next break, which they spent coming up with "bespoke meals" like a "triple Whopper, extra bun, extra salad, extra bacon, hold the pickle." The employee order, Mackay said, is "where we play god."

Another former worker posted on Reddit even more elaborate ways they saw employees play Burger King menu god. Take, for example, the Burger King Whopper of a taco, which is made by deep frying a flour tortilla in the shape of a taco shell and then filling it with a diced up Whopper patty, lettuce, tomatoes, and Burger King's three-cheese blend. 

Unfortunately for fans of off-menu orders, the orders aren't known across the company. That means you can't walk into any Burger King and expect the workers to know what you're asking for like you can with the secret menu at In-N-Out.

People don't typically last for long while working at Burger King

Fast food chains aren't exactly known for employee retainment. According to CNBC, the turnover rate in fast food and the restaurant industry is between 80 and 150 percent every year, which means businesses are replacing all or nearly all of their employees every time they buy a new calendar. Burger King is no different.

Former employee reviews on Indeed frequently cite the churn rate as an issue when working at Burger King. Some note that it's hard to work (let alone make a schedule) when people are quitting all the time.

One former employee posted in a Reddit thread that they had tenure in the kitchen as one of the longest lasting workers after just one month. What's more, they said that it "got to the point you could look at someone and pretty accurately say how long they would last." That's not the best environment to form a tight-knit crew of work friends, to say the least.

Understaffing is a big problem at Burger King, which means lots of extra work

Not having work friends is just one of the problems with a high employee turnover rate. The biggest issue is understaffing during busy shifts. Eater spoke with a former Burger King employee named Clari who was brought to tears and had to lock the lobby doors because the line of customers was so long and there weren't enough people working at the time. When she asked the manager to send more workers, Clari was told no one was coming and she would be fired for locking customers out while her and her couple of coworkers tried to catch up.

Multiple former Burger King employees have taken to r/BurgerKing to talk about understaffing issues as well. One mentioned that there were usually only two or three people working (four on a good day), and that the job "wasn't worth running around all day nonstop because the managers were afraid of labor going over." Multiple Glassdoor reviews of the job say the same (though one Glassdoor reviewer adds that the semi-plus side to being understaffed is there are more hours available for the people who want them).

Finding time for a work break is a major issue at Burger King

A work break is one of the cherished universal benefits of American employment. At Burger King, and any restaurant really, workers can't take a breakfast, lunch, or dinner break at normal hours, because those are busy times for the business. Finding exactly when to take a break is an issue current and former Burger King employees struggle with.

On Indeed workplace reviews, former general managers reported that management decided when crew members are on the clock and when they can clock out for a 30 minute break. Others reported a 20 minute break for every four hours of work. In another Indeed employment question and answer series, it's apparent that who gets breaks, how long those breaks are, and when they can be taken is variable by location. A former employee in Arizona reported breaks only after six hours of work, while one in Pennsylvania reported a 35 minute break every four hours for minors, and one every five hours for adults.

This can take a toll on workers. Boston.com spoke with a man in 2015 who described the break situation at Burger King as non-existent despite breaks being mandatory. When he pushed back, he said his job was threatened.

Regardless of where you're located, It sounds like the breaks are short and the hours can be long at Burger King. Remember that fact when you're on the other side of the cashier counter ordering from a seemingly frazzled Burger King employee.

Cleaning up the floor at Burger King can be a nightmare

When writing about the Burger King worker experience for Buzzfeed, Donna Mackay described the clean up process simply: "There is no job quite as awful as cleaning the restaurant floor." It's not a job for the squeamish when you consider all of the leftover and squished sauce packets, soggy buns, and dirty trays that Mackay recalls encountering. While customers can make their own gross messes, the kitchen floor can be rough as well. A health inspection in Pennsylvania found the floors in a Burger King "littered with old food, trash, and accumulated grease." The dirty floor was also a frequent complaint in health reports for a Michigan Burger King.

This isn't just a Burger King problem, of course. Restaurants across the board — fast food or not — have to deal with spills and floor messes. It's worth thinking about at Burger King, though, considering the confession on Reddit that there are some employees who will drop ingredients on the floor and then pick up it up and still serve it to a customer. And then there's the Burger King employee who was caught using the same mop to clean the table tops as they used to clean the floors in 2019.

Burger King workers are faced with an endless number of customizations

If there's one Burger King slogan you know, it's "Have It Your Way." That changed to "Be Your Way" in 2014, according to the New York Daily News, but the original saying is hard to shake. It's hard to get a motto more appealing to a picky customer than "have it your way," after all, regardless of the fact that you can customize your order by asking for extras or substitutions at pretty much any other fast food joint as well. At Burger King, those customizations can get a little out of hand, though.

A former Burger Employee named Mishalaina Coles wrote about the endless customizations for Spoon University. According to Coles, "if you can come up with a creation using their menu items, Burger King will make it for you." Even the milkshakes are included in that statement, and you can have the workers mix whatever combination of milkshake and frappe flavor you desire. Even unappetizing orders can be done, like the time Cole and her coworkers made someone a double cheeseburger with a chicken patty in the middle.

The word "endless" can feel like an exaggeration, but in the case of Burger King customized orders, it feels close to the truth to employees. Some of the many popular customizations include putting onion rings or French toast sticks on burgers, swapping the buns for egg patties, and throwing bacon in pretty much anything. This all means there's no limit to what an employee may be asked to create on a given day, and some of the swaps may be difficult to construct. 

It's easy for workers to get an order wrong at Burger King

The Big King — a burger made with two patties, two slices of American cheese, lettuce, onions, pickles, and thousand island dressing — is a hefty and filling burger. It's also easy to get wrong, according to Mackay, who wrote that the burger is "an absolute pain to make because there are so many layers that can go wrong." It's apparently not the only order that can go wrong. In a sprawling r/FastFood Reddit thread, Burger King frequently popped up as the fast food spot that gets peoples' orders wrong the most.

This is likely due in part to the increase in customized orders, but also to the complicated menu items. 

One customer on the r/BurgerKing Reddit channel had a bleak prognosis: "You have to order the menu items as is or there's at least a 50 percent chance your order will be wrong." And this, of course, means anyone working at Burger King can expect to have to deal with an angry customer or two who really didn't want those pickles on their Whopper.