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Be lazy and create a job

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Here's a dirty little secret. It’s the secret to how you, a lowly McDonald’s customer, can actually be a “job creator” – just like rich people! Are you ready? Here it is: Don’t clear your tray.

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"Huh?" you say? "Don’t do what?"

That’s right – when you eat out at McDonald’s or Taco Bell or your local food court, don’t clear your tray. Do not throw out your burger wrappers, french fry bags or soda cups. Leave your ripped ketchup packets on the tray. And leave the tray just where it sits, on the table. Just get up and leave it there. Then leave.

Yes, I know – I’m telling you to do the exact opposite of what you’ve always been programmed to believe is polite and socially demanded behavior. You thought it was lazy and insensitive to not clear your own tray. But I'm here to tell you that just the opposite is true!

"Why would a nice person like me do something as rude as that?" you ask? "Why would I leave my mess for that poor Latina Wendy's employee with the wash rag to clean up after me?"

Because that is her job. A job she actually wants, needs and gets paid for. And if more people left more trays on more tables, more fast food eateries would have to hire more people like her to keep the place spotless for their next customer.

So by leaving your tray on the table, you are actually saving her job. And probably creating more.

By now you think I’m nuts, right? A year ago I would’ve thought so, too. I was always the decent, polite customer who wouldn’t dream of leaving my trash for another person to clean up.

But that was before the national debate over raising the minimum wage kicked up this fall, when conservatives and corporate tycoons began threatening that if us bleeding-heart liberals raise the minimum wage, McDonald’s will be forced to cut back on their staffs.

The kicker was when Republican Ohio Senator Rob Portman defended the current minimum wage on ABC’s “This Week” by sharing his stunning discovery that fast food restaurants don’t employ waiters or bartenders.

“I went to a burger place this past week and there was a digital display to be able to buy a hamburger. And there was nobody behind the counter except the cashier,” lectured Portman. “And you go to these fast food places now and often there’s a drink dispenser, so you have one fewer person. So that’s the concern.”

Let’s deconstruct that patently ridiculous statement:

  1. “There was nobody behind the counter except the cashier.” That’s who has always been behind the counter. What, does Portman think McDonald's used to have separate order takers who wrote down your order before it went to the cashier? By making that statement, Portman is arguing to maintain a job that hasn’t existed since rollerskating carhops.
  2. “And you go to these fast food places now and often there’s a drink dispenser, so you have one fewer person.” Now?... Often?!... Senator, all fast food places have drink dispensers, and have since the 1970s, when the minimum wage was $2.30. Again, Portman is arguing to save a job that doesn’t exist and hasn’t since the Ford Administration.

But let’s humor his flawed logic and acknowledge that yes, raising the minimum wage might motivate fast food companies to replace some employee tasks with an automated solution. (Which, believe me, they’d do even at the current minimum wage if they could figure out how. See the self-checkout registers at Walmart.)

The one job they can’t automate is clearing tables. Nope, even if Burger King could perfect a robot that would zip from table to table clearing debris and wiping down table tops, having big metal robots zipping through their dining areas would freak customers out. So the burger and taco joints of the world are consigned to use actual human beings to do the clearing and cleaning for at least for the next few decades or more.

So why not protect those jobs by refusing to do the restaurant's work for it? Whoever said that it’s your job to bus your own table? After all, you’re the customer. You paid for the food, the wrappers, the ovens, and the service. If you aren’t expected to cook your own meal and wrap your own burger, why should you have to clean it up when you’re done?

Could it raise the price of your Big Mac? Yeah, it might go up a nickel – though I doubt it. The fast food industry is already trying to cut back on employees to maximize profits. This will just force them to shift workers from behind the counter to in front of it. Because who wants to eat in an empty restaurant manned only by disembodied voices taking your order from Guam? That would truly be dehumanizing.

I say, leave your wrappers there and let Jack from Jack in the Box bus his own tables. Let Mayor McCheese hire more employees to do human tasks. And let Col. Sanders pay a living wage for the privilege of your patronage.

So in 2014, be lazy and leave it. You aren’t being rude. You’re being a job creator.

And in America, isn’t being a job creator the most noble thing a person can be?

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