Surviving with a stammer when working at McDonald's
7th October 2022
Ordering in fast food restaurants can be challenging when you stammer, but what's it like when you're the one taking the orders? Luke Ekezie tells us all about his two years as a McDonald's crew member.
It's Bond. James Bond.
No, I'm joking, I'm Luke and my interests are music, football and listening to podcasts. The stammering gods hurled their spear into me when I was 18. When it started at that late age I felt worried, scared, confused and less confident. But I was glad that I didn't have to go through the experience of stammering in primary school or high school, where people might not have been as mature when reacting to it.
My stammer started when I was about 4 months into working on the tills as a crew member at McDonald's. As someone with a stammer working on the tills, you have two methods of surviving…
It's a quiet day. The restaurant is empty. A customer walks to the till and gives their order. It's something simple like "Two cheeseburgers and a medium Fanta with no ice to take away, please".
How to survive: You listen to their order, keep quiet, punch it into the till as they are talking and when they stop speaking, motion with your hands in a friendly way suggesting 'is that all?'. Normally they'll understand this gesture and they'll say, "Yes, that's all thanks'.
It's a busy day. The restaurant is half full. The customer wants to know what the wrap of the day is or whether the food has allergens in it.
How to survive: With the wrap, you grab a sauce packet, like a chilli sauce or a garlic mayo, and you raise it to eye level for them to see. Normally they'll go: "Chilli wrap? OK. Yes, I'll have that, please."
But, yeah, that's how you survive with a stammer in McDonald's when you don't want to speak. But that wasn't always possible. I stammered a lot in front of customers and their reactions were mostly blasé; they didn't complain and were understanding. I even built a reputation as the nice, friendly guy and I would regularly get customers telling my managers "Luke is really friendly and always asks me how I am." My managers would smile and agree with the customer, which was nice.
Also, to demonstrate how nice and sympathetic some people can be, there were a lot of times where customers could see I was struggling when reading out their order number, for example "Guest number 65", and would help me by going "65?", as I was in a block on the word sixty.
Most people are fine with stammering and don't laugh or imitate your speech; they'll wait for you to speak and then answer.
On rare occasions, unfortunately, some people find stammering funny and I do remember one evening shift when a group of three young women who looked like they were from Spain or South America came in. I tried to ask them "¿De dónde eres?", which means 'Where are you from?' in Spanish, but I had a big block on the 'D' sound in 'De'. I finally got the question out and they replied "Spain". But after giving them their order and receipt, they turned around and walked to the waiting area and I could see one or two of them laughing. It hurt a little bit, but their response is something I can't control.
Luckily, I had a lot of supportive colleagues who would help me if I had any issues and also managers who were helpful too. Funnily enough, I met three customers during my time at McDonald's who also stammered. But I left there at 20 and moved to a different job altogether.
Having a stammer is difficult when you're trying to date — the normal thing to do is approach a woman that you're attracted to. But then there's having to introduce yourself and ask her questions about herself. Doing this while trying to keep the conversation fluent is insanely difficult. All in all, I'm currently working and having no issues with my speech, so I'm optimistic about the future.
To wrap up, if you're a young person who stammers, my advice would be to just speak when you feel comfortable. Most people are fine with stammering and don't laugh or imitate your speech; they'll wait for you to speak and then answer.
Enjoy your life — finding a hobby is great for your self-esteem and mental health. I would also definitely say if you're able to find an online or in-person stammering group, it will be a real boost for your emotions because you don't feel alone in experiencing stammering month to month, year to year, and you'll be able to relate with similar people
Read more articles from people who stammer at work. Tell us how you're getting on in your job, or about job hunting — go to Share Your Story or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.