- Insider spoke to 11 workers at major fast food chains who said they’re being harassed because of rising menu prices.
- As inflation pushes menu prices up, they said many customers are taking their anger out on workers.
- Sales are up across the industry despite higher prices.
Fast food workers have long borne the brunt of misplaced anger from customers. Now, as inflation causes food prices to skyrocket, restaurant workers say the job has become harder than ever.
Rising prices for ingredients and transportation within a beleaguered supply chain have translated to menu price increases at several popular fast food chains, leaving workers to field mounting questions and frustration from customers.
And while some companies have made changes like raising salaries and improving benefits in the last year to account for the labor shortages and demands for better working conditions, 11 fast food workers told Insider that it hasn’t been enough to offset the recent onslaught of customer harassment.
The employees — who work at major chains including McDonald’s, Chipotle, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ — spoke to Insider anonymously to protect their jobs and their employment status has been confirmed.
‘Customer harassment is a major problem’
Workers who spoke to Insider all agreed that as prices go up, customers feel that they’re entitled to changes in service, whether that means extra food, perks, or attention and energy from employees.
“I’ve dealt with customers yelling at me as if I was the one who changed it,” one East Coast Chipotle worker said in reference to rising prices, adding that in several instances customers “act as if I’m scamming them.”
“It’s tiring,” the employee added.
Usually aggression from customers is triggered by long waits, issues with an online order, or a location being out of an ingredient, a Chipotle kitchen manager in the Midwest told Insider.
It’s a common theme across companies, according to the employees. A Michigan Dunkin’ worker said that she’s had more than one customer try to jump over the counter upon finding out their desired ingredient wasn’t available.
In a more extreme case, a Chipotle cashier in New York City said that a person threatened them with a gun when confronted with the $11.43 price of their chicken bowl. Another, in California, said his manager was tackled by a customer over guacamole.
“Customer harassment is a major problem,” a McDonald’s cashier in North Carolina told Insider, even over something as seemingly minor as a 10 cent increase for a senior cup of coffee — the company’s discounted beverage offering for customers over age 55.
He added that customers seem to increasingly feel that “it’s okay to emotionally abuse workers and leave messes.”
Price hikes prompt breaking points
Despite taking out their ire on workers, customers aren’t letting higher prices stop them from getting their orders.
Chipotle just reported sales were up 16% over the same period last year, and McDonald’s sales were up 3.5%, despite price increases at both. Instead, it seems workers are left alone on the frontlines to tackle frustration from customers, who will still begrudgingly pay higher prices after taking their anger out on the workers who deliver the bad news.
All the workers interviewed by Insider agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic played a part in worse behavior from customers, with recent price hikes becoming a breaking point.
Angry customers will “always be a threat to your safety and sanity,” in food service, the New York Chipotle worker said.
A Starbucks spokesperson told Insider that the safety of employees is a priority, and all customers are expected to treat them with respect. Representatives for McDonald’s, Chipotle, and Dunkin’ did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment.
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