Mickey D’s had some very humble beginnings. It was founded as McDonald’s Bar-B-Q in 1940 by Richard and Maurice McDonald but struggled in its infancy. It wasn’t until Ray Kroc came along that business really got going. Kroc purchased the chain in 1961 for $2.7 million (via McDonald’s), which would be well over $20 million in today’s money.

These days, McDonald’s is a cultural institution around the world, as there is at least one Golden Arches in more than 100 countries globally, per the restaurant. We all know McDonald’s, whether indulging in its greasy food or complaining about how unhealthy it is. However, there is one group of unsung heroes who hardly get the praise they deserve: the employees. They keep things running behind the scenes so we can get our Macca’s fix whenever we want. They also hold onto some pretty wild secrets. Here’s what they really want you to know.

Always be ready before approaching the counter

If you don’t know what you want to eat before approaching the counter, you are holding up the line. This can quickly create a hostile situation from impatient customers behind you. According to a former employee, this only gets worse when working the drive-thru, especially during a rush. Guests will order something like a Happy Meal, which can come with several different sides, toys, and drink options. However, they won’t know which customizations they want to make and will pause for significant amounts of time when asked. This holds up the entire line and can cause guests in later cars to be aggressive toward employees because they had to wait.

Another thing to have ready when you order is your preferred form of payment. Others who used to work at McDonald’s cite guests needing to leave and come back with money as a large annoyance. The employee cannot help the next guest without canceling the person’s order, so it’s always awkward trying to decide how long they should wait before moving on. So to avoid causing frustration all around, always be ready.

They know the ice cream machine is always broken, and they’re sorry

Yes, it’s common fast food lore to know that the McDonald’s ice cream machine is always broken. According to The Wall Street Journal, there are plenty of conspiracy theories as to why you can never seem to get a McFlurry when you want to. Some people think that the machine is simply poorly made and breaks easily, and the staff at the fast food restaurant just don’t have the skills or authority to fix it. Others are certain that something bigger is going on. They think the employees are just lazy and don’t want to do their jobs. Some fans of McDonald’s have even taken it as far as installing hacking devices on the machines to get answers, per Wired.

However, one thing is for certain: The ice cream machine being broken typically isn’t the employee’s fault. If you want to order a frozen treat only to complain when it’s not available, there isn’t much they can do. Due to most customers’ reactions over the downtime, we can only assume employees wish it was working, too, so they don’t have to deal with the abuse.

If you want freshly made fries, just ask for them

McDonald’s customers often order unsalted fries when what they really want is fresh-made fries. However, asking for the fries unsalted when you don’t need them that way creates extra work for the staff. According to former employees, the best practice on what to do when a guest asks for unsalted fries varies by location. At some stores, the employee must get rid of an entire batch of fries, clean the preparation area and serving utensils, and then cook a fresh batch of the unsalted option. At other locations, half of the tray is kept unsalted anyway.

Asking for unsalted fries if you want them fresh has been a popular tip on Reddit for years. So, regardless of their actual dietary needs, most people ask for unsalted fries because they think the first scenario above will happen. They don’t really need unsalted fries; they just don’t want fries that have been sitting out for a while. If you want piping hot french fries, just ask for them and make sure the employees know you are happy to wait to complete your meal until the next batch is ready.

They can’t give you free food

Sometimes, fast food employees, especially the managers, can give out free food as a gesture of goodwill. This could be refunding a customer who didn’t enjoy their meal or even handing out food to members of the community who are in need. However, there are documented incidents of McDonald’s firing employees for anything involving free food. To avoid losing their job, you might notice that employees are hesitant to offer any sort of compensation.

One such incident occurred in the Netherlands. As BBC reported, a woman was fired for giving her colleague a free slice of cheese. The person also worked at the location but was on their break at the time and ordered a hamburger. After the meal was paid for, they asked for some cheese because they wanted a cheeseburger instead. Training dictates that a cheeseburger is an upcharge, so the woman was fired for not collecting it. However, in employment court, it was found that the retaliation was too severe, so the woman received five months’ wages as compensation.

Don’t walk or bike through the drive-thru because they can’t serve you

If the McDonald’s dining room is closed, it can be tempting to just walk through the drive-thru instead to get your Big Mac fix. Unfortunately, if you are on foot, on a bicycle, or even holding a cardboard cutout of a car, the majority of McDonald’s locations will not serve you. According to the fast food giant, this policy is in place for safety reasons. Pedestrians and vehicles cannot be served through the same window due to the potential risk for injuries. However, McDonald’s does have pedestrian-only walkup windows at some locations, per the restaurant.

The Saratoga Falcon adds that if you attempt service while not in a vehicle, you won’t even get an opportunity to be served. Instead, the employees will just tell you that you need to go away before someone gets hurt. It’s not worth it to try it out because you are putting yourself in danger, and their jobs are on the line.

Stop ordering off the secret menu

When you walk into a McDonald’s and attempt to order off the so-called secret menu, you need to be as specific as possible in your request. This is because these items are not included in standard employee training, so the person you are talking with is unlikely to be familiar with their names. According to fans of the restaurant, for the most part, the secret menu isn’t all that special at all. Instead, it’s mostly just a list of menu items that you can customize to your taste — just given a fun name. Instead of calling it that, you are more likely to be well-received if you just describe what you what.

For example, Reader’s Digest reports that there is a grilled cheese sandwich on the secret menu. If you order that by name, most employees will probably tell you that McDonald’s doesn’t serve grilled cheese. However, if you order a cheeseburger without the meat, you’re going to get exactly what you want. A small bit of extra planning can save you from the headache of trying to explain the secret menu.

They can hear everything in the drive-thru

Something McDonald’s employees wish more people knew about is that they can hear everything that happens in your car when you are in the drive-thru. So you need to be careful about what you talk about unless you are okay with strangers knowing your business. According to a former manager, when your car pulls up in front of the ordering box, it trips an alarm to the employee working the drive-thru. Even if they haven’t greeted you yet, all the audio from outside is already being fed into their earpiece.

Usually, this moment right before placing an order is spent trying to decide what everyone in the car would like to eat. But on the off chance you are talking about something private or saying anything insulting about the employees, they hear you. A Reddit user and former McDonald’s employee also warns that the audio feed doesn’t cut off immediately after the customer is greeted. In other words, if the employee says they can serve you in a moment, you are not being placed on hold. Instead, the audio feed continues while they finish the task on hand and turn their attention back to you.

It’s true: McDonald’s burgers don’t rot or mold

McDonald’s burgers truly are something else. According to research by Serious Eats, the reason you have seen all those pictures of old McDonald’s burgers floating around is that instead of rotting away or being overtaken by mold, the burgers just dry out. Many might think that something is wrong with the food because of this, that the food is probably laced with dangerous chemicals and preservatives and that eating it is poisoning your body. While the overall nutritional value of McDonald’s food can easily be called into question, per The Food XP, the burger’s rate of decomposition has nothing to do with it.

When McDonald’s employees prepare a burger, the high-heat environment kills most of the bacteria present in the meat and bun. Because they were killed, they don’t have a chance to grow if you leave your burger sitting out. In addition, this cooking process pulls most of the water from the food as well. That’s why they last so long, not because they’re poison.

Don’t play pranks on them

There seems to be a popular trend on social media of playing pranks on drive-thru workers. This could be anything from blasting an air horn when you are at the pay window to even having a friend run between your car and the window to snatch your food away. However popular these videos tend to be, one thing is clear: McDonald’s employees don’t get paid enough to deal with you. According to salary information on Zippia, employees in Texas make a median salary of about $24,000 a year, while workers in California make just about $30,000.

It’s not kind to tease people who are already being underpaid. This sentiment is popular with users on Reddit, too. Stating that while most social media stars who perform these pranks see them as harmless, they are typically anything but. Others agreed, adding that it was especially cruel when people didn’t even bother to blur out the faces of the employees. While recording someone without their consent isn’t illegal in all states, it is still distasteful, per Sparks Law.

If the dining room is closed, you can’t use the bathrooms

Something that McDonald’s employees have to take very seriously is access to the restaurant’s public restrooms. Typically, the toilets are free to use throughout the day. At some locations, you might need a receipt to enter, or simply ask an employee to open the door for you. However, one situation where employees can’t give you any leeway is after hours. Even at a 24-hour McDonald’s, if the dining room is closed, employees cannot let guests inside to use the restroom. In fact, they could lose their jobs if they do.

According to Inc., a McDonald’s employee in Minnesota broke the policy when a famous football player needed to use the toilet. Adrian Peterson, a running back for the Minnesota Vikings at the time, begged to be let in at 3 a.m. for a bathroom emergency. When management found out the next day, the worker was promptly fired for breaking the rules. There was much public outcry surrounding her termination, even from Peterson on social media, so she was eventually rehired, per the outlet. While Peterson didn’t know about the restaurant’s policy, everyone else should, so as to not repeat the incident.

Parking while waiting for drive-thru items is normal

It might be a little bit annoying to go through the drive-thru because you are in a rush, only to be told to park your car and wait for your food. However, there is no reason to be mad about it. McDonald’s employees just want you to know it means the food is fresh. Former employees told Reddit that needing to wait is almost always about the freshness of the food. For example, if you ordered an entire meal and the next batch of fries isn’t done cooking, they will ask you to move aside to let the person who just ordered a frozen Coke collect their order.

This system can benefit you on both sides of the situation. In the first instance, you get warm, freshly cooked french fries. However, if you are the person who just ordered a Coke, you get your drink faster without having to wait for someone else’s order to be done. As stores look to increase the overall number of cars served in the drive-thru each day, you might notice that instead of just pulling ahead, you can now wait in one of the marked mobile order spots.

The PlayPlace is probably as gross as you think it is

There are plenty of horror stories about the cleanliness of the McDonald’s PlayPlace. You might even have your own. According to a Reddit thread, children have been known to relieve themselves on the slide and even find old, rusty scissors in the ball pit. In fact, Wired reported that in 2011, Dr. Erin Carr Jordan took swabs from the PlayPlace at her local McDonald’s and found traces of staph, coliform, and even listeria. She later swabbed locations in other states as well and discovered similar results. She was eventually banned from McDonald’s in her hometown, per the outlet.

However, playing there is still a vital part of growing up. If you visit a PlayPlace on any given day, there are always at least a few children enjoying the equipment, so this knowledge isn’t discouraging parents or kids. But here’s the thing: McDonald’s employees know that the PlayPlace is dirty. Most people who take their kids to play there know it, too. If you are concerned about sanitation, you don’t need to complain to them — just wash your hands.

The Chicken McNuggets aren’t as bad as they might seem

Don’t believe the horror stories about McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets. If you are already eating at the fast food giant, it’s safe to assume you aren’t too concerned anyway, but employees would love for you to know that they’re not that bad. According to NPR, the nuggets aren’t actually made from a pink, Play-Doh-like substance. Instead, meat is stripped directly from chickens before being passed through a grinder.

From there, it’s formed into one of the four famous McDonald’s Chicken McNugget shapes before being battered up twice and par-fried. Next, the nuggets are sent to local McDonald’s stores where they are deep-fried before being served to customers. There has been much debate around the overall health and safety of the chicken used by McDonald’s. However, research shows that the company, while not providing the quality you might find in a five-star restaurant, follows all modern food processing practices, per Snopes.

They can’t help you win McDonald’s Monopoly

Employees have absolutely no control over the popular McDonald’s Monopoly game. They will actually get in trouble if you ask for any help getting your hands on certain pieces, so don’t ask them to help you cheat the system. According to former employees, managers take the game very seriously and keep a careful eye on all employees who have access to the game pieces. In some cases, the game pieces are locked up so employees can’t get to them. In all modern rounds of play, employees and their families aren’t even allowed to play the game because of fears they might have stolen the pieces used to win.

That said, because cheating is cheating and employees can be fired for tampering with game pieces, it’s unlikely that they would be willing to put their jobs on the line to help you win a new TV or luxury vacation. Instead, you’ll have to play by the rules just like everybody else.