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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

My "Dirty Dozen Fast Food Drive-Thru Peeves"

We could relate statistics on the poor nutritional value of fast food restaurants all day long. I know eating this food is like signing an preoperative agreement to a triple bypass, but I, and I suspect most every one of you, frequent these establishments. Today, I want to vent about the fast food drive-thru.

Here is a little drive-thru history to consider. In 1948, Harry and Esther Snyder opened the first In-N-Out Burger in Baldwin Park, California. The Snyder's concept is credited with being the first establishment to use a two-way intercom for customers to place their orders from a speaker stand, then pull up to a window, where they paid for and received their order. Up to this point, drive-in restaurants were the fast-food norm, with carhops taking and delivering orders while cars were parked in spaces on the property. So, In-N-Out Burger is credited as the first drive-thru in the modern tradition.

My post today is based on hundreds (thousands?) of personal experiences with fast food drive-thrus. Most of these experiences have occurred in chains such as McDonalds, Burger King, Rallys, Wendys, Rax, Long John Silvers, etc., etc. The convenient drive-thru should attend to the customer in a short, reasonable amount of time with utmost courtesy and convenience so that the customer may order and receive a meal (fast food = 7 minutes or less) without leaving the vehicle.

A major purpose of the invention is to increase customer satisfaction by involving the customer in meal choices and preparation from start to finish. This results in more satisfied customers and increased business for the restaurant. (At least, it should.)

My "Dirty Dozen Fast Food Drive-Thru Peeves"

1. Customers should begin deciding what they want to order (everything they want) before approaching the menu board. OK, good sense says some decisions must be made at the board, but carloads of people delaying others in the drive-thru line with excruciatingly slow indecision and "What all do you have?" type conversations (especially at the most busy times of day) defeat the purpose of the drive-thru operation.

2. Can drive-thru employees stop doing this, please? When I order my double cheeseburger with pickles, onions, mustard, and ketchup, that is exactly what I want. Don't ask me if I want to combo or supersize or have a drink. I know these inquiries sell more product, but I'm in the fast lane and it's not the first time I've been to the fast food rodeo. If, for some reason, the combo or whatever is CHEAPER than my original order, then feel free to point that out -- your observation will be greatly appreciated.

3. Customers who employ drive-thrus with a handful of separate, multiple orders should be required to enter the restaurant to place their orders. Dealing with many separate preparations, separate checks and sorting individual change takes too much time in a drive-thru designed for speed. Just do the business inside, at the counter there.

4. After passing the menu board, customers should not change their order by substituting or ordering additional food at the pay or delivery windows.The customer, for all practical purposes, should drive back around and return to the menu board to change an order. Other waiting vehicles grow impatient as people make massive changes at the delivery window.

5. When the employee hands customers back their change and when the customers receive their orders, the employees should, at the very least, thank the customer for their business despite the fact the employees are pissed at the entire human race they are making minimum wage.

6. At the very least, employees should include napkins and straws with the order and inquire about any preferred extra utensils and condiments. This courtesy may drive the cost factor up a little but the customer satisfaction rating will rise with the extra attention to detail.

7. Drive-thru operations should not ask customers to pull forward into the parking lot because "their order requires some extra time for preparation," then require the customers to patiently wait and wait to discover, upon delivery, their orders are cold because someone forgot to bring them promptly to the car. Slow delivery and time lost waiting should never be blamed on the customer. No excuses -- money back.

8. Since the customers cannot oversee the food preparation, is it too much to ask an employee to distribute the customers' condiments evenly and neatly without making sandwiches look as if they have been put together by a toddler? Just a little "squaring up" on the bun would be greatly appreciated and facilitate consumption.

9. Because customers cannot oversee the packaging of the meal, how much more time would it take to check the contents of the order BEFORE putting the food items in the bag? Couldn't an employee simply match up the checks with the orders to get them right before the customer drives away. This is part of the "courtesy and convenience" required by management to insure "satisfied customers."
(Note - a cheeseburger has cheese on it, and a diet drink is not the same as a regular-- simply mark them as such to avoid possible confusion.)

A post-delivery inspection by the customer slows the departure from the delivery window, delaying following customers and reducing overall throughput. An extended waiting period discourages subsequent patronization and results in a net customer loss.

10. When customers do have to return an incorrectly filled order, remember some have driven many miles to do so. Employees should not treat customers like criminals trying to cash in on some ridiculous scheme to receive free French fries. The cashier should apologize, check the new order to be sure it is correct, and promise the customer the problem will never happen again. Then, of course, the right thing to do is to compensate the irate customers with a coupon or with a discount.

11. Fast food restaurants should require employees on drive-thru operations to take training lessons requiring them to speak clearly and accurately in a pleasant, clearly audible voice. Perhaps, these lessons should include having each member of the staff pronounce correctly all foods on the menu and enunciate their words with distinction.

Also restaurants should discourage drive-thru staff from employing long periods of silence during ordering or issuing the dreaded "I'll be with you in a moment" that usually translates to "take five."  (When I get them "on the box," I order loudly and follow my order with "That's all" to expedite the process.)

12. Fast food restaurants should replace electronic ordering systems that sound like old 1920 crystal set radios. With today's technology, there is no reason drive-thru systems should employ communication devices that deliver muffled and barely intelligible sound. Many devices I have ordered over sound worse than tin can telephones we played with as kids. I have often wondered why I couldn't just shout out my order to an employee in a nearby window and get the job done more effectively. Snap, crackle... "W-lco.. to Bur...w... you li--ke to try ou... new ... bar... sandw...? Hello, hell... can y... hear me?"

My Last Take

Wow, I feel so much better now. I've wanted to say these things for quite a long time. You know, I worked many service jobs before and the old saying "The customer is always right" was instilled long ago into my working brain. This is not to say you don't run into some cantankerous customers that can't be pleased and some other customers who feel as if they "own" service employees, but the old philosophy is golden to those who practice it with regularity.

Today, good service seems so rare that I make a point of rewarding it with good monetary compensation when I can and, at least, with extra praise for a job well done. Great young service workers still "get it."

And "it" is...

"I am the customer and my satisfaction is, perhaps, the key factor to you, the employee, holding your job and taking home a paycheck. Don't bore me with stories of low wages because I could do the same to you with my own tales from the '60s and '70s. Treat me kindly, and always thank me for my patronage and I will likely be back. And, hey, kid, just a little lesson for you -- the world doesn't owe you anything, but you can earn its respect with your hard work."
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