The American mall food court (and now roadside) mainstay Panda Express has been slinging fast, fresh, tasty (debatably Americanized) Chinese food since 1983, when it opened its first location at the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, California. If you’ve enjoyed the stellar food and service at this popular eatery, you probably know the company prides itself on cleanliness, speed, and delicious grub.
But what about the hardworking folks serving up that Orange Chicken you love so much? Fast food work is definitely grueling no matter the job but, if the lines are any indication, the hours at Panda Express are no doubt exceptionally busy and very labor-intensive. We scoured the internet for intel on the deep nitty-gritty of working at one of the world’s most popular fast food chains (2,000 stores and counting). Read on to find out what workers say it’s really like to stand behind the counter at Panda Express.
Panda Express workers are closely monitored by video cameras
If a Panda Express worker wants to slack off in a moment of downtime at the cash register, those who’ve already worked at the chain would advise rethinking those moments of weakness. According to some employees, the boss is watching.
In a Reddit thread asking about expectations for a first day of work at Panda Express, a former employee warned, "Follow the cash handling policies you learn on the video modules they show you. Follow them strictly — they watch the cameras and audit your store when they see violations." The same member also claimed in another Panda Express-centric Reddit, "There are cameras pointed at every workstation and there are people who sit at a desk and watch every single transaction and if you have to void something because someone changed their mind or forgot their wallet, it flags you and the GM has to explain why you had to void."
And in a different Reddit discussion on working the cash register, a person associated with the company explained, "The camara [sic] shows us what you deleted and who you rung up next. When it shows you have high deletes, it gives out a red flag and we check the cameras to make sure there aren’t any incident like stealing or giving out free food." So whether it’s at the register or behind a bowl of Chow Mein, workers always have to be mindful of who’s watching their every move.
Life is easier as a Panda Express employee if you memorize the food codes
If there’s one thing Panda Express workers seem to all agree on, it’s that you better know those food codes by heart if you want to succeed behind the wok here.
One Redditor and year-long Panda Express employee advises, "Memorizing the codes before hand [sic] is good bc [sic] if you’re on the line and don’t know the codes, your coworkers are prolly gonna be a bit agitated." Then in a different Reddit conversation seeking advice for a new job at PE, a Panda Express worker emphasized, "Getting to memorize all the food and codes will be super helpful." Another Redditor responded to someone asking for tips working in front of the house at Panda Express with, "Memorize all the codes for the sides and entrees, so you can write them down whenever something is waiting or for the cashier to type it in quicker."
So sounds like the unified consensus from Panda employees is, learning the codes relieves a ton of possible at-work stress.
Disappointing vegans and vegetarians happens pretty regularly at Panda Express
While Panda Express is offering more options for vegans and vegetarians lately, there’s definitely been times when employees’ hands were tied when it came to having vegan or vegetarian offerings for clientele who asked.
In a Reddit AMA from a head cook at Panda Express, a commenter asked about what he or she could order from the menu as a legit vegetarian offer. The cook explained, "Unfortunately aside from our rice no. We get asked this dozens of times a day and I wish that we could offer real vegetarian choices," then continues, "…more comes down to could there be contamination? In our company’s eyes, there is always that risk, so we prefer to say no there is not, even if it would seem like a vegetarian option."
We assume with the increase in people opting for plant-based diets, the Panda Express workers are getting this question a lot these days so likely learning to live with frustrated customers who have to pick between just a couple of items if they want to get themselves fed.
Panda Express employees enjoy free food but with a catch
One of the most common questions fast food workers get is, "Do you get free food?!" (It’s a legit question). But do the fast food workers even want to eat the food that might or might not be free for them?
In a Quora thread that poses the question of whether employees consume the food at Panda Express, a former worker explains, "Yes. I definitely did when I worked there and will still eat there. The food is good – we would eat some on our breaks and sometimes we were able to take leftovers home." The key word there is "breaks," because, according to another used-to-be Panda Express employee on Quora, "We are offered a free meal during our shifts. Depending on your schedule, if you signed the waiver, you would only get 1 ten minute break for every 6 hour shift you worked unless you asked to take a 30 minute break. Since 10 minutes is such a short amount of time for a break, they offered free food." So the food is free, but it has to be consumed on a break, and that break does not always allow enough time to eat. This is also confirmed by a Redditor claiming, "Yes, we get free food. But you have to be working that day to get it, and you have to clock out on a break."
Yes, Panda Express employees can eat it for free … but with a few caveats.
Panda Express workers can earn bonuses
It’s not often you hear about fast food employees earning bonuses but this is apparently one of the upsides to being a Panda Express worker.
Per a Quora thread about pleasant experiences working at Panda Express, a user commented, "When I worked for Panda, we received bonuses every three months. The amount you got depended on how many hours you work per week and how well the store does quarterly." The user went on to reveal that the bonuses aren’t measly either, saying, "I have never received a bonus worth less than $100." This is in addition to other perks he received, such as free food and drinks from other dining establishments, and opportunities for salary increases and promotions based on bi-yearly reviews.
It’s clear that easy access to a lot of Orange Chicken is not the only benefit to manning the woks at Panda Express.
Panda Express employees quickly learn the secret to how those veggies are so soft
Ever wonder how Panda Express manages to get those vegetables oh so soft and easy to chew? The behind-the-scenes crew knows first-hand how it’s done, and learn the ins and outs pretty quickly once they’re up and running at their designated Panda location of employment.
Per the intel from a Quora member answering an inquiry regarding how Panda Express cooks their famous vegetables (thank you, Quora, for never judging the Internet’s endless detailed questioning), it’s all about the step just prior to sauteeing the veggies. The Panda Express shift leader explains, "They boil the vegetables. (Broccoli, Cabbage, and kale) for about a minute and they toss it into the wok" and reiterates, "I recently learned how to make the veggies."
Ahhh, it all makes sense now. You work at Panda Express, and you learn a very, VERY simple trick for bringing your stir fry to the next level at home (if you’re patient enough to wait for some water to boil, of course).
Serving spoon etiquette is a big deal at Panda Express
The serving spoons and tongs are obviously a big part of working at Panda Express. Since it’s more of an assembly line style of fast food, the workers have to brace for hungry customers watching their every move as they prepare those plates or take-out containers full of delicious Chinese fare. So it’s no surprise that learning how to properly use the big utensils that retrieve the food from bins and woks is paramount to success as a Panda Express worker.
Per a Redditor giving advice to a new addition to the Panda Express team, "I always cringe at how new employees hold the spoodle [sic] and tongs and everything, but you only improve as time goes by." Yikes! The Panda Express employee goes on to plead, "Make sure to follow SSSP (stir, serve, stir, place) with the spoon placed having the ‘bowl’ part touching the upper left side and the handle resting against the bottom part of the right dish handle. Its [sic] all about appearance at panda [sic]."
We imagine the employees get plenty of practice on this aspect of the job during those super busy lunch rushes at Panda Express.
The prep work behind Panda Express’s popular Orange Chicken is TikTok gold
Pretty much anything is fair game on TikTok so it’s fascinating to see what goes viral on the social media platform of the moment. When a woman working at Panda Express decided to make a TikTok video giving a play-by-play of how the Orange Chicken is made at everyone’s favorite Chinese food drive-thru and mall staple, the internet lost its mind.
The video, which entails the worker stirring garlic in a sizzling hot pan and ladling the special sauce before tossing in a vat of fried chicken pieces, has at the time of this writing, garnered over 3,400 shares and over 2,300 comments. What we can all learn here is, Panda Express workers not only know how to make cooking at a fast food restaurant seem fun, they also definitely don’t feel creatively stifled on the job. This woman not only handles orange sauce like a total pro, she also seems to have fun while doing it.
Panda Express employees can reward their best customers
This probably goes without saying but, be kind to the individuals preparing and serving your fast food. Not only is it the right thing to do but at Panda Express, it may pay off in the long run. We found through a Reddit thread that PE employees really do incentivize customers to be polite and nice. According to an assistant manager answering a question about Panda Express hacks: "Ask politely. Everyone that I work with agrees that if a customer come in acting nicely, we tend to give extra…" then later followed up with, "…I give discounts usually half off, depend [sic] on how polite you are 10min before we close…" so maybe swing through a half hour before closing time if you want to get lucky?
In another Reddit AMA, the Panda Express employee said they didn’t mind giving multiple samples to polite customers. The employee went on to say, "One major thing I learned by working at fast food restaurants is to always be nice to people who are serving you, if you are nice your order is less like [sic] to be screwed up, and that is just showing respect. To tell somebody who is making minimum wage that you appreciate them of [sic] helping you, it gives them a good feeling because [the] majority of the customers are demanding."
It pays to be nice, in more samples of Kung Pao Chicken and a cheaper final tally.
There will be some microwave usage while working at Panda Express
For the most part, Panda Express prides itself on really fresh food. However, a few of its employees have indicated that certain select items do regularly get nuked in the microwave.
In a Reddit exchange, two Panda Express workers confirmed in separate comments that "mandarin chicken is microwaved" and "Yes, Mandarin Chicken is microwave, Pre-made and frozen." Then in a Panda server’s Reddit AMA thread, the server confirms, "The food that is saved for the next day if there are leftovers is Mandarin Chicken(we microwave this), steamed rice, and BBQ pork. All the rest the cooks will serve fresh."
So bottom line, it seems like all the workers have to learn how to cook many of the popular menu items fresh in the pan, but they likely won’t ever have to learn or perfect the Panda Express recipe for Mandarin Chicken.
Panda Express workers can offer the best advice on what menu items go well together
There’s a lot to pick from on the menu at Panda Express. It can be hard to decide what to get, especially with the added pressure of a long line behind you. There’s also the question of what damage you’re willing to do calorie-wise. There are certainly some things on the menu that are lighter than others. It turns out, the employees serving up the goods on the assembly line might be able to offer some prime Panda pairing options. They tend to learn exactly what goes best with what.
According to a Quora member who works at Panda Express, if you’re going to get one of the three "healthier" chicken entrees (Kung Pao Chicken, Mushroom Chicken, or Black Pepper Chicken) it’s best to pair them with teriyaki and broccoli beef, and steamed brown or white rice. And apparently, the sweeter flavored chicken dishes tend to taste better alongside chow mein and fried fice.
Working at Panda Express definitely gives an insider glance into how your favorites are made
At some popular chain restaurants (even the non-fast-food ones), a lot of the food isn’t as fresh as you might think, so the employees don’t get to see a lot of what actually goes into the meals or how they’re made. However, at Panda Express, the workers get a first-hand glimpse into how most of the dishes are prepared before they hit the assembly line.
A Quora user who served as a cashier at Panda Express, explains that he, "…got to see how some of the entrees are made…" and goes on to reveal that there’s a reason why once you go Panda, you want to keep going Panda, over and over again, saying, "…there’s a lot and I mean a lot of sugar involved so be careful. Your brain may crave orange chicken more and more, the more you eat it." So when a Panda Express worker sees a row of bins and woks full of steaming Chinese food, they likely also see all the sugar that went into making the delish grub.