The Difference Between McDonald’s Customers in Australia & Germany

Photo by Thabang on Unsplash

In 2014, during my gap year, I happened to work in two different McDonald’s stores. One was in a regional town in Australia, while the other was in Berlin, the capital of Germany.

There are a few obvious differences between the fast food outlets in Australia, compared to Germany. For example, the menus, prices and promotions were slightly different. At my German store, they also charged customers 50 cents to use the bathrooms and didn’t accept credit cards — something that would never fly in Australia.

My interactions with colleagues at both stores were also quite different, due to the different work cultures that exist in both countries and the greater power distance between managers and their subordinates in Germany. In Australia, you could talk to your colleagues and managers casually, like talking to a friend, and idle chit-chat was generally fine. In Germany, on the other hand, colleagues would call me “Mr Graham” and interactions with managers were more formal in nature.

In both countries, there was a very clear expectation to work hard and turn up on time to every shift. In both countries, McDonald’s workers were also paid the minimum wage (or close to it). Interestingly though, the approaches to hiring were very different.

In Australia, my store employed mostly school kids to work during after-school hours and weekends because they could be paid less. As a result, my store in Australia often had dozens of staff working at any one time — but most were children aged 14–17 years old who lacked experience and weren’t terribly efficient at their jobs. On the other hand, the German restaurant would only employ adults aged 18 or over. Many of the staff were mature adults. There would be far fewer staff rostered at a time, however, and most workers were efficient and experienced.

But the thing that really surprised me was how differently I was treated by the customers in both countries.

Australians treat retail workers awfully

It sadly isn’t uncommon for Australian customers to treat retail workers like absolute dirt. There are of course plenty of nice customers as well, but there’s more than just a small minority of Australians that think it’s acceptable to be rude, talk down to you, boss you around and yell at you if they have a complaint, even if it’s about something that isn’t your fault. It’s like they forget they’re speaking to another human being with feelings.

Working at McDonald’s in Australia, I had the added “delight” of serving customers who assumed people working in a fast food restaurant were somehow inferior, uneducated and had no future. (And can I just take this opportunity to say that this absolutely is not true! I worked with lots of people who were motivated, kind and intelligent. This ridiculous mentality says a lot more about the customer than anything else…)

At both stores, I worked on the front counter as well as in McCafé, serving coffee, sandwiches and cakes.

In Australia, customers were very specific about how they wanted their coffee served and they weren’t afraid to complain if it wasn’t exactly right. For example, Aussies would order their coffee extra hot, less hot, extra strong, triple shot, weak, decaf, with one-and-a-half sugars, with double caramel syrup, with activated almond milk, and so on… you get the idea.

I worked at McDonald’s in Australia in 2014. Photo by Author.

Every shift, multiple customers would complain about something. That’s fine if it’s warranted and done politely, but it often wasn’t and many customers were extremely rude and belittling in the way they complained. I’ve never seen human beings get so angry about a single pickle missing from a cheeseburger.

I was even once told off by a customer for adding the caramel syrup to their caramel latte before the coffee shot. “You will make it again, and this time you won’t f*** it up, you idiot”, she berated. This particular customer was later banned from our store for making racist insults towards an Asian employee.

Of course, there were also friendly regular customers and I liked my colleagues at the Australian store. But the customers were the polar opposite of those in Germany.

German customers were much more polite

At my particular store, I was usually asked to work in McCafé as this was separate to the rest of the restaurant and they needed someone there who was bilingual in German and English.

Working at a McDonald’s store in Germany in 2014. Photo by Author.

Throughout the six months or so that I worked there, I don’t recall receiving a single complaint about my coffee! Perhaps this is because the customers in Germany had lower expectations, but I think it’s mainly a cultural difference.

On the whole, the customers in Germany were polite and respectful. If there was a long queue, as sometimes there was during busy periods, people would just wait patiently until they got to the front of the orderly queue. Honestly, it was such a breath of fresh air!

As German is my second language, I did sometimes find myself in embarrassing situations where I couldn’t understand a customer or they couldn’t understand me. But we always got there in the end and, with the exception of one guy who mocked my accent, people were kind and understanding. A few people would ask me where I was from and we’d have a friendly chat about Australia.

I do recall getting one complaint at the Berlin store from a grown adult who wasn’t happy with the quality of the toy he received in his Happy Meal (and no, he wasn’t with his children). But that was really just a one-off.

It would be great if Australians could be as respectful with retail staff as the Germans!

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Matt Graham

Matt Graham

Australian travel writer and frequent flyer points fanatic. Connect: mattjgraham.com