Where’s the Beef?

It was the summer of 1986 (I said 1987 but meant 1986…GAH). I was 16. And I worked at Wendy’s on the main drag in my small hometown.

This was on the heels of the Where’s the Beef? era and back when Wendy’s employees still wore hideously goofy hats and striped zip front smocks and the tables where covered in that old time newspaper ad motif. I remember my navy blue polyester blend work pants smelling like a greasy blend of cooking oil, ketchup, and Frostys. You wouldn’t want to light up a cigarette near me as I might spontaneously combust in a blazing grease fire.

Oh, the free Frostys. Now that was a perk.

My friend Susan was a senior and worked at Wendy’s part time. She had been an 8th grade cheerleader and rated fairly high on my cool-o-meter so I figured it couldn’t be all that bad.

But it really was. First of all, I was terrified of working the drive thru cash register. All those cars lining up outside and all the buttons on the cash register and the handling of change made me a nervous wreck. For some reason I could handle the pressure of the dining room cash register much better. Maybe because I could face the enemy up close and personal. Of course there was the time that the entire high school boys’ soccer team came in to eat and I was completely mortified because a boy I had a crush on saw me in my zip front smock. Oh, the horrors! He even sauntered up to the cash register and asked, “Where’s the beef?,” flashing his braces. I could have crawled under the fryer and cried. Of course I would have been pelted mercilessly with hot burning grease but that would have been OK.

The fry that broke the camel’s back, though, was when I had to clean both the men’s and women’s bathrooms one weekend. That pretty much sealed my hatred for my summer job and my manager, Jeff. I think I lasted all of about 12 weeks at the job and I never worked in fast food again. The rest of my part-time summer job resume was retail all the way baby. I was always more of a mall girl any way. In college I landed a couple of cool internships: one for a local weekly newspaper and one for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, which sounded glamorous but actually translated into me assembling a lot of media kits and cutting out picture slide labels with an X-Acto knife.

So, in honor of Labor Day, what was your worst summer job?


  1. Bluegrass Mama says:

    I refused to do restaurants, fast or slow, and was an office worker at a university. They sent me to fill in wherever they needed someone at the time. The worst job was purging old files in the registrar’s office. I had to open each and every manila folder, check when the lastest entry had been, and either put it back in the files or in the purge pile. Fortunately, I’d already had a stint in the employment office, so they were watching out for me and moved me as soon as something else came up.

    Of course, I’m not even counting the summer I spent babysitting full-time for 60 cents an hour. I’ve blocked that one from my memory.

  2. Anne says:

    I never really had ‘summer jobs’. Once I worked, it was for the year or years, whatever. The worst job I had was for a telemarketing agency right after highschool. For 13 dollars an hour I made calls on behalf of the march of dimes. It was hard, dull, thankless work and pretty much scared me off telephones for life.

  3. Bridgett says:

    I cut fabric and worked stock room at a chain fabric store. Had to dote on little old ladies coming in to touch everything. Had to explain to young moms that, no, they probably couldn’t make that halloween vampire costume on the 30th of October and have it turn out right. The worst–medieval re-enactors looking for that certain special trim/ribbon/velvet but not wanting to pay full price.

  4. nap warden says:

    I hate to admit it ladies and gents, but yes…I worked at McDonald’s. It was my living hell right off the express way (lots of trucks) busy drive thru (made me nervous to). The uniform was a brown mess-o-polyester! My nightmare job, I lasted about two weeks and then graduated to the mall, yeah! Fast food is no picnic:( Happy Labor Day!

  5. deb says:

    Packing pencil erasers in a pencil factory. A gross to one box. Instead of counting them, I was instructed to weigh the box on a set of beam scales. If the box weighed too much, I removed one eraser. Too little, I added an eraser. Bored to tears but my aunt was the floor supervisor so she was good to cut me some slack when she could and I earned gas money for the summer which was enough to get around in my ’67 Buick Wildcat.

  6. Lisa says:

    The summer after my sophomore year of college I worked as an “office manager”. Doesn’t sound bad, huh? Well, it was across the street from a seedy strip-joint where I actually witnessed drunks “doing there thing” outside, and my horrible bosses (who happened to be twins) objectified me daily and ended up stealing my check card to purchase things online. My paychecks also bounced regularly! As I write this I wonder why in the HELL I stayed there for more than one day!!!

  7. Jennifer says:

    Telemarketing. Ick. But that was my only “summer” job. All others I held for years. I was working FT by 13.

  8. Liz says:

    Like Bluegrass Mama, no restaurants for me. I worked as a clerk for my high school’s social services department, which I loved. But, that meant my being privy to some pretty sensitive stuff and I found myself crying into my typewriter (yes, it was electric!) an awful lot.

  9. malia says:

    Bluegrass Mama reminded me of my first ever summer job, babysitting. Three children (one was a baby) all day (7:30-5:30) for $50/week! I had to feed them breakfast and lunch. Change diapers. And keep the older two from “killing” each other. I was 12 years old!!!!! I think that’s illegal now, if it’s not, it should be.

    I remember one evening, the mom called me to see if I could babysit on a Saturday night, too and my mom looked at me and whispered, “it’s okay to say no!” to which I promptly replied, “um, no I don’t think I can that night!” Whew!

    But they were pretty good kids and we went to church with the family. So it was all good. I bought my first pair of contacts with the money I made! And I got hooked on Days of Our Lives that summer (an obsession that lasted at least 15 years but thankfully ended some time ago!)

  10. Blonde Mom says:

    I think the bottom line is fast food work stinks (literally.) One of my cooler retail gigs was working for a record store chain called the Record Barn during Christmas break in the late 1980s.

    Any way, my mom sent me her memories on first jobs and I thought I’d share part of her e-mail…thanks mama! 🙂

    I really liked mine…gave me a chance to make spending money. I lived in a 50 family apartment building when I was 12 or 13 years old and did baby sitting for several people. I was always afraid when I started home late at night going down the stairways and halls to our apartment. 40 cents an hour. When I was 15 I started public work at the dimestore. Oh I felt rich. 50 cents an hour. From there at 16 through school was hired as receptionist and helped the bookkeeper at 7-Up Bottling Company. Oh that was a first rate job at 75 cents an hours. I got out of school about 1:00 and worked 3 hours every day. You can tell how into saving I was because when I graduated from high school at 17 I had saved enough to fly to Miami to visit my Aunt Ruby; I rented a convertible and had an awful bus ride back. Started working at Hudson Motor Company doing office work when I came back to Detroit. Your grandfather worked there.

    Hudson closed down in a year and I went on to Ford Motor Company where I worked in the employment office.

    Do not remember what I made but I felt rich. Would eat lunch out on payday every two weeks. Watched every penny and when your father and I married and I was 21 – he was so impressed because I had $1,000 saved and almost $1,000 in savings bonds. At that early age I had something taken out paycheck to go towards the bonds. This was the down payment on our first little home.

  11. Holly Schwendiman says:

    I so have to take up this challenge this week! Didn’t you just love the 15 second rule? My friend joked “Yeah, after it’s been on the floor for 15 seconds you can pick it up and put it on the tray.” LOL


  12. Mrs. Schmitty says:

    The worst summer job I had was being a receptionist for this disgusting, vulgar man. He owned some sort of import business for rocks and minerals or something else like that. Anyway I think I was 18, fresh out of high school. He had a lot business men in for meetings from other countries. He would always call me in his office when they were there…like he was “showing me off”. It was gross. He also wanted me to mix him drinks in the afternoon and the room always smelled like fart! I think I quite after 3 weeks.

  13. Erin says:

    working in a movie theater concession stand is pretty bad. I’ve never looked at popcorn in the same way (or popcorn butter or jalapenos). But the worst job I had in high school was actually at Foot Locker, during the year. I was the only girl and it was pretty bad. Plus the referee uniform…

    ah, memories of the old wendy’s uniform…

  14. Renee says:

    Long John Silvers. Oh yes…polyester smocks with HORIZONTAL stripes in red, white and blue.
    A red “kerchief” and scarf. Gag.
    Could never get the chicken plank smell out of my uniform.
    During Lent, Friday nights brought a huge amount of good Catholics in for fish.
    The topper? Our manager was always taking employees into the shed to get stoned. What a crazy experience!

  15. Mary Tsao says:

    My worst job was also my first: Jack in the Box. Or, as we say in the business, Jack in the Crack. I think 12 weeks must be a magic number because that’s probably about how long I worked there, too!

    Although I do think all high schoolers should work in fast food at least one summer so that they realize that they DON’T want to be working there the rest of their lives!

  16. Blonde Mom says:


    You are right on about the fast food work sister!

    I think it would also be a great idea if high schoolers worked at a preschool for a week. 😉

  17. a happier girl says:

    Taco Bell drive thru girl. Right here, baby. Although those of us in the know called it Taco Hell.

Leave a Reply