January 11, 2016

Writer Seeks Clear Communication. Hello?

I have a confession to make: In my old age, I fear that I’ve grown into a crusty curmudgeon. And for this, I cast all blame on comedian Jerry Seinfeld. That’s right. You might recall that he became famous with the line, “have you ever noticed…?” And sure enough, he has yielded hundreds (thousands?) of insightful observations about the quirks of human nature.

My latest gripe: fast-food joints.

About 20 years ago, McDonald’s introduced combo deals. That is, instead of ordering “Big Mac, fries, and a Coke,” you can just say “Number one.” The other chains quickly followed, and I always imagined that the new arrangement could make the ordering process much more efficient. Just imagine that your store serves 500 customers per day, and you could cut five seconds from the processing of each order. It adds up; that’s about 42 minutes that an employee can spend doing something else. Probably more, I would think, if the simplified new procedure cuts down on mistakes.

I’ve been noticing a trend in the past few years. Often, these clerks don’t even pretend to listen to me. Instead, they just try to follow a script. For example, here’s a typical conversation:

Me: “Quarter-pounder with cheese to go, please.”

She: “Do you want the combo?”

Me: “No, I want the burger."

She: “Do you want cheese on that?”

Me: “Quarter-pounder with cheese to go, please.”

She: “Will that be for here or to go?”

Me: “Quarter-pounder with cheese to go, please.”


So is it any easier if I use the combo number instead? Not necessarily.

Me: “Number 2 for here, please.”

She: “Do you mean the burger, or the combo?”

Double-ugh. Isn't that what the combo numbers are for?

At Carl’s Jr. (also called Hardee’s), combo #1 has a Famous Star with cheese. But if I ask for combo #1, they ask if I want cheese on it. Ummm…yes. That’s why I asked for a #1.

Come on, can I get a witness, people?

The worst offender is Wendy’s, because their combo numbers don’t mean anything. If I ask for a Number 3, they have to ask if I want it with fries, chili, or a salad. If I proactively try to say “Number 3 with fries,” they interrupt me to ask if I want fries, chili, or salad. Yup.

And if I want a combo with fries, PLUS a cup of chili on the side? They argue with me that I can’t have both. Almost every time. Don't they train you to upsell me into ordering one more item? A dessert, or a super-size? Is it OK with you if I do it on my own?

And then, almost everywhere (at least, here in SoCal) there are the clerks who don’t speak English. They return a blank stare if I say anything other than “Burger, fries, and Coke.”

And these are the guys who demand a pay raise to $15 an hour. REALLY?

Are there any exceptions to this pattern? I have a friend who manages an In-N-Out Burger outlet, where he earned $98,000 last year. There, and at Chick-Fil-A, they seem to hire a different class of people; they listen and smile and speak English. They’re consistently polite and well-groomed, and don’t chatter among themselves when customers are around. For this, they get paid more than the average fast-food worker. And they stick around longer, on average, than the workers in the other chains.

Go figure.

1 comment:

  1. Then you get home, open the sack and (insert favorite fast food joint here) has still messed up your order.

    Better wages should go hand in hand with more competent employees.