By: Tim Murray
I might have this all wrong, but I think working in the takeaway industry as a teenager is classified as unskilled labour. It’s on the job training of learning how to fry chips, how to flip burger patties and stuff like that. Right?
With that in mind let’s consider the following: I gave in today. It was raining, somewhat cold, Friday and I just couldn’t stomach another peanut butter sandwich for lunch. So in a moment of weakness I decided on ‘Red Rooster’ for lunch. Now, these things I know whenever I go to ‘Red Rooster’:
- It’s the less popular cousin of KFC. They probably hung out as kids but somewhere along the line someone tripped Red Rooster in the playground and KFC (who saw it all) didn’t come to his cousin’s aid. In fact, he probably laughed along with the rest of the kids. The relationship has been strained ever since. They see each other from time to time, but it’s generally when they are across the street from one another, so they tend to wave.
- It’s not technically fast food. I know I can get a roast dinner without spending an hour or so roasting a bird and vegetables but it is no Mc Donald’s in terms of speed. Let’s face it. We all know Red Rooster is the guy coming last in the fast food world. But something in us sees it like the swimmer from a landlocked country, who learnt butterfly three weeks ago and is just giving it his best shot at the Olympics. Points for trying and all that.
So with that in mind I entered the restaurant, although that doesn’t really describe a take away place despite what the marketers of the corporation might think, so let’s say I entered the building where seventeen year-olds punch out processed foods to the masses. I can say this because I did my time as a KFC “cook” when I was seventeen; I apologise if you ever got some of my product. But back to the story…The main service area was sparse, a take away franchise’s attempt at being modern seen in the faux stone bench tops atop which a row of registers stood like sentries on a watchtower. There was a distinct smell in the air, best described as a mix between cooking oil and high-powered disinfectant, both of which had left a greasy film over everything. In the back I saw one of the employees, or food service operators or consultants or whatever corporate-speak they use nowadays for the kids who take your order. He glanced up from his phone, a look of annoyance darting across his face at my intrusion into his world of status updates and LOLs. He sauntered over with all the swagger that a kid in a fast food uniform could possibly muster, his pants hanging off his hips like a rock climber from a ledge, his pilled red polo shirt splattered with food scraps and flour like he had taken on the ingredients in a Fight Club inspired brawl in the cool room and come off second best. Of course, he couldn’t say as much even if I had asked because the first rule of fight club is – well, you know.
He sniffed and wiped a hand across his nose before looking down at the register with all the concentration of a pilot about to land his fighter jet on a moving carrier. I shivered involuntarily at the nose wipe and thought that this task he was about to undertake might require all the concentration and thought that he could possibly muster. He mumbled something unintelligible, perhaps something from the script like, ‘Hi can I take your order?’ although I couldn’t be certain so I just ordered the Peri Peri Baguette. This unlikely joining of two worlds, the latin peri peri with all the charisma and spice of South America and the refined French baguette should have raised a red flag of warning to me. This was a collision of worlds and flavours that neither culture would have predicted years ago. As such, left in the hands of seventeen-year-old ‘Darryl’ at the local Red Rooster it really was a disaster waiting to happen, an international incident of gastronomic proportions.
I waited patiently while Darryl went back behind the counter and started to prepare my order. Obviously management was tightening its belt – Darryl seemed to be the only person on shift, although I knew there had to be more of them around somewhere. In the minutes I waited I pictured them in the cool room taking multiple selfies and posting them on Facebook and Instagram with witty hashtags like #gettingpaidforthis and #coolkids, their legion of followers offering their praise with their own responses like, ‘LOL, crazy!’ and ‘hectic.’ Meanwhile, the TV hung on the wall and entertained the three tradesmen, who were eating in, like a dancer at a cabaret.
Darryl was still going with the baguette. I started to wonder whether he might need a hand when he returned to the counter clutching my lunch in a bag and holding it aloft like he had just returned from the hunt. He mumbled something again, this time I picked up the word ‘drink’ and asked for a Coke, which he promptly delivered into my waiting hand. And so I left. If it were possible, I think Darryl let his shoulders slump a little more as I turned to leave, seemingly exhausted from the work I had just subjected him to and anxious to get back to his friends online, all 684 of them, twenty of whom he had actually met face-to-face at some point in his life.
Back at work I settled down to enjoy the fruits of Darryl’s hard labour. The rain was still coming down and a nice warm baguette was just what I needed. And then, I opened the packaging. What greeted me was the fast food equivalent of a six-car pile up; a mess that somehow defied logic when one considered what putting the baguette together entailed. The baguette was supposed to have two fillets of crumbed chicken on the base, some lettuce on top and then a drizzle of sauce on top of that. Finally, the top of the baguette would rest neatly on top and so complete the meal. However, the baguette I was staring at now seemed to have been through some type of horrendous ordeal. One fillet was sticking three quarters out of the end of the baguette like it had attempted an escape and failed, while the other one, facing a life alone had jumped on his compatriot’s back in a vain attempt to seek a better life elsewhere. The lettuce, dry and lifeless as it was, was scattered over the bread and fillets like it had been thrown at the baguette from three feet away. Those lucky enough to land on the fillets and baguette were in, the others told their services were no longer required. Finally, the sauce lay scattered everywhere like fake blood in a Tarantino film, blobs here and there alluding to the drama that had unfolded in the food prep area.
As I put the baguette back together like the jigsaw that it now was, I had but one thought: Darryl had stuffed up. I pictured the young man back in the “kitchen” at Red Rooster and wondered what had gone wrong. All Darryl had to do was the Red Rooster version of a small Lego tower in stacking one item on top of the other. Surely this was not a hard task and yet the evidence before me suggested otherwise. Was he simply careless? Or was the reality much more frightening? Was the baguette the rubik’s cube of the take away world for seventeen year olds like Darryl? Had the significant time I had waited seen Darryl doing and re-doing the stack, only to become more and more frustrated at the conclusion each time it ended up wrong? Had he carefully lowered each fillet like a crane driver and then sworn in frustration when it came down half way off the baguette? I do not know. And if that is the case, how many Darryls are out there now with part-time jobs in the food industry? And what will they do when they need a full-time job given the task of putting together a Peri Peri Baguette seems an impossibility for them?
Fast food service is all about unskilled labour. For guys like Darryl that term takes on a completely new meaning. Here’s hoping, for their sake and ours that they find something that they are skilfull at apart from taking selfies and hashtagging their friends in random workplace photos.