Retail vs. Fast Food

February 11, 2020

How to Decide Which One to Work For

Since my senior year of high school, I’ve worked different odd jobs to keep a little money in my constantly fluctuating bank account. From a crew member for a concessions stand at a baseball park to packaging online orders at a clothing retailer, I have a bit of experience.

Unless you’re in a management position or make close to six figures or have initial intentions of climbing the corporate ladder, I wouldn’t recommend actively seeking to work in retail or fast food for the rest of your life.

But I’m also realistic and know ish happens.

Whether you’re a teen trying to get a little bit of spending money, a retired elderly person who doesn’t want to sit at home, or a middle-aged adult who has no other option, I have accumulated a few questions to ask yourself when deciding if you want to work retail or fast food:

(Anything in red is a food question, purple is a retail question, and black is both food and retail)

Do you like the food?

When working for a fast food company, I would make sure it’s a place you’re not the biggest fan of. Like, if you prefer McDonald’s over Subway, work at Subway. You learn a lot working in fast food, like the fact that it’s called “fast” for a reason. Also, you will begin to smell like wherever you work; do you want to smell like dough or grease for a while? Fortunately, working at Little Caesar’s didn’t ruin pizza for me. However, I haven’t eaten a Little Caesar’s pizza since I quit, and every time I walk into a Papa John’s to pick up a pizza, I get a little teary-eyed from the PTPD (Post-Traumatic Pizza Disorder). Going back to the McDonald’s example, do you want to ruin the Big Mac for yourself?

Are you a people person, or can you pretend to be a people person?

Yes, it’s nice to have manners and friendly customer service when working in the fast food industry; unfortunately, tons of people get away with having attitudes in the fast food industry, and it’s not a problem. However, the biggest thing retailers look/ask for is customer service and kindness. The words “friendly service” have been a part of every mission statement for the retailers I’ve worked for. You have to have a lot of patience and self-control because there will be difficult people; that’s a promise. I have yet to determine if I am a people person, but retail has taught me I can be an award-winning actress for some of my faux kindness performances I give people.

Do you like uniforms?

Most fast food restaurants require a specific uniform: company shirt, specific kind of pants, and slip-resistant shoes. Whereas retail has a bit of a looser dress code; the most important thing you should wear is your name tag, whether it’s magnetic or an apron. Just like in fast food, in retail you can wear company merchandise as long as you purchase it. I like to think of a retail dress code as a public high school dress code: no holes in jeans, watch out for your shoulders, make sure your shorts are long enough, etc.

Do you like late nights/early mornings?

Both retail and fast food consist of late nights and early mornings. Working in both, I’ve learned the earliest most people are scheduled (who aren’t third shift/night employees) come in between 5:30 and 6 am; there are the exceptions who have to go in at 5 am, but this isn’t about them. In retail, I’ve never known a day/evening worker to stay past midnight. However, in fast food, if you decide to take the evening shift, not only do you have to wait until the drive thru closes, but you also have to stay after to help clean up. There were nights when I didn’t leave a fast food restaurant until 3:30 am (and that was after going in at 5 pm and surviving the entire night without a break).

How much physical strain do you want to put on your body?

No matter where you end up, you will experience back aches and tension in your body; it’s just a part of it. I will say, though, I experienced more aches and tension when I worked for a clothing retailer and was responsible for putting away unwanted items. For some reason, putting away clothes caused the most (intense) physical pain I have ever experienced out of all my jobs. To help with this, remember your feet are the foundation of your body and invest in shoes with good soles.


As you venture into the world of thinking you need a raise because you end up doing somebody else’s job (this is a constant occurrence), I bid you good luck.

Whether you decide to work in retail or fast food, work hard. Give it your best. No matter what you choose, they will you fire you in a heart beat, so do your best.


Featured image credit: XUNO (with editing on Canva)

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