Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Would You Like Fries With That?

I shocked my daughter on Tuesday by doing something I never do.  We were headed home from Wal-Mart and Kirsten decided she wanted a sweet tea from McDonald’s.  She had a dollar and did not want the tea I had brewed at home.  I pulled into the parking lot so she could run inside and she asked if we could go through the drive thru.  It was about 95 degrees and she didn't want to get out of the car.

I still don't know why, but I agreed.  This was the shocking part.  I don't do drive thrus.  I hate going through the drive thru.  Joe Pesci summed it up best in the movie ’Lethal Weapon 2’ as the character Leo Getz.  He had some very strong feelings about drive thrus that I'm not going to repeat here.  He uses rather colorful language, but captures the essence of how I feel about them.  If you've seen the movie, you know what I am talking about.  If you haven't, I recommend it.  It stars Danny Glover and Mel Gibson before his drunk-driving, Jew-bashing days.

I have worked in fast food and know from first-hand experience that the drive thru is different even from the other side of the window.  There is an extreme pressure to get those orders out within a certain amount of time.  At our local McDonald’s, you can see the timer that is over the drive thru window from the counter.  One website I checked stated that their McDonald’s has 2 minutes and 30 seconds to get a customer their order.  This timer starts the moment they pull up to the menu.

The worker is not allowed any leniency for the amount of time it took the person to order, the parent who is still trying to find out from their kids what they want, or the customer that is digging around in his car for loose change after he pulls up to the window.  They have two and a half minutes starting from the time they first pull up to the menu and ending when they pull away from the window with a full order.  If they don't clear the window fast enough, the stats for the shift are unacceptable and the employees get into trouble.  I've heard of many ways to cheat this timer.  Having a person pull forward has several advantages.  It allows the customer behind you to be served while waiting for your order, but also stops the timer for your order.  A Burger King in New York asks its customers to pull forward about ten feet after approaching the window and then back up again.  This stops the timer and gives them better times.

It gets a little ridiculous at times for these employees who are trying so hard to meet their times that the satisfaction of the customer is often overlooked.  I'm not blaming the employees.  If you happen to work in a fast-food restaurant, please don't send me angry emails, I recognize that this is not your fault.  I blame the corporate system that instituted these practices.  On numerous occasions, I've stood in line at Taco Bell, waiting for my nacho cheese chalupa, and watched eight cars get their orders before me.  I have no idea why the drive thru is given such a priority, but they must have their reasons.  However, ninety percent of the time, if my order is wrong, it has been when I've gone through the drive thru.

I often get stuck behind these people.
I understand that people are human and mistakes will happen, but I am convinced that there is some mandate of the universe that states when Brett Minor is in a drive thru, Murphy’s Law must be observed.

Some errors can be explained with simple logic.  While waiting inside the restaurant, if you order 4 sandwiches with fries and drinks and one of the fries is missing when they slide you the tray, it can be seen immediately.  Before walking away, simply state that you are missing a fry.  They quickly apologize and throw the extra fry on the tray.  Problem solved and forgotten about before you make it to the table.  At the drive thru, however, the food is given to you in a bag.  You won't notice unless you purposefully check, and even then it's not always that easy to dig around in there for accuracy.  However, this must be done BEFORE pulling away from the window.  Even if you pull away but catch it before exiting the parking lot, you must now go inside to have it corrected, which defeats the entire purpose of using the drive thru to begin with.  On the other hand, not checking leads to not knowing about it until you are at least a few blocks away or even already at home.  What are the chances that you are going back for that missing cheeseburger? 

It's even more difficult to check for accuracy on special orders.  When I worked drive thru at Hardee’s, it was not uncommon to get orders for unsalted fries, a plain cheeseburger, raw cookies, extra or no ice, or mayo instead of mustard.  Checking the bag for accuracy on these types of orders while sitting in the drive thru is nearly impossible.  If there are eight burgers, but one is supposed to have extra pickles, you have to unwrap each one to find it.  It's not worth the hassle, just go inside.

Throw on top of these issues the fact that the employees are very pressed for time and the accuracy rates are naturally going to fall.  It can't be helped.  I once received a snack wrap and salad when I had ordered a Quarter Pounder and fries.  I'd been given someone else’s order.  Since I was in a hurry, I did not get into the bag until I reached my destination.  This is why you must check your order before leaving.

Despite all the procedures in place to assure a fast drive thru experience, it never seems to work that way for me.  One of the advantages to going inside is when a particular order is finished they can hand it to whatever customer ordered it.  However, the cars in the drive thru are approaching the window in order.  The occasional person is pulled forward to serve the one behind them, but in general you are the mercy of the orders that were placed before yours.  This was the situation I found myself in on Tuesday.

All we had ordered was a sweet tea, but there were five cars ahead of us, including the one who went screeching across the parking lot and whipped in front of our vehicle.  I ordered her tea and then continued to sit in front of the menu without moving for another two minutes.  Knowing that it only takes about thirty seconds to pour the tea and put a lid on it, the window appeared to be a mile away.  We soon began to have an additional problem.  My van doesn't have air conditioning, which is not normally a problem when we are moving, but sitting in a drive thru on a 95 degree day without a/c is not my idea of fun.  Add to that the fact that my van begins to overheat when it idles and my patience was wearing thin very quickly.

The menu to window time was not going to be anywhere near two and a half minutes, plus it took over five minutes to even get to the menu.  I reminded Kirsten that the reason we were in this predicament was because she thought it was too hot to get out of the van.  After several more minutes, we made it to the first window.  Our local McDonald’s has two windows.  The first window is to pay and the second is to receive your food.  I gave the girl in the window her dollar and continued to sit there for another 3 minutes, not moving from the window.  I was tempted to walk inside and just ask for my tea since it had probably already been poured and was sitting on a counter.  Unfortunately, I was wedged between two cars and was too close to the building to open my door.  The exhaust from the other vehicles was making me light headed and I was not sure if I could hold myself upright if I did get out.

I laid my head back on the seat rest and tried to concentrate my thoughts away from the sweat dripping into my eyes.  I drifted off for a moment and was startled awake by a honking horn.  I was excited to see that the car in front of us had moved up another car length, but after wiping my forehead on my quickly dampening shirt, I realized it was only a mirage.  Kirsten had grown eerily quiet and I tried to reassure her that we were not going to die here, but my tongue had begun to swell and the lack of moisture in my mouth made it impossible to speak.  Certain I was entering the early stages of heat stroke, I collapsed forward onto my steering wheel.  The surface temperature quickly causing second degree burns jolted me back to reality.

I heard a slight tapping to my left and turned to see the most beautiful sight.  An angel was looking out the drive thru window with a sweet tea in her hand.  She said, “I figured I could just grab this for you so you wouldn’t have to wait for the next window.”  I began to cry and I kissed her.  She had saved us.  I thanked her again and we drove off singing praises to this merciful woman.  It warmed my heart to know that there are still decent people in the world, but my loathing for drive thru lanes is stronger than ever.

66 comments:

  1. I love you Brett :D XD

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  2. In Baton Rouge, hospitals have electronic billboards posting their E.R. wait times all around town. I think the fast food joints ought to adopt this concept. The world would be a better place to live. --shane Morgan

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    1. I love that idea. Crossroads Hospital has that here now, but I would love to see it on restaurants.

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  3. Lol. Everything you said is completely true. Working in fast food for many years, their #1 priority is to be FAST. Accuracy takes a back seat to it.

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    1. I just can't understand that policy. Never have.

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  4. Sounds like you are a patient man. I think I will have some more grace for the Taco Bell lady next time I drive through.

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    1. I try not to get mad at the workers, but it is still frustrating.

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  5. Omg hysterical...how're those second degree burns healing?

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    1. I lost three layers of skin, but am all healed now.

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  6. Brett, Dawn and I had the "missing food" experience from our local McD's. We were missing 4 Mcdoubles. And of course, we didn't check the bags very good, and got all the way home when the storm hit. No Mcdouble's that night.
    Marc

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    1. That is the typical drive thru experience. I hate it. Always go in.

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  7. They BONK YOU in the drive thru. Okay! They BONK YOU, BONK YOU, BONK YOU in the drive thru. Ok! ok..kay..kay..kay...

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  8. This was a hoot. I'm actually a drive-thru user and I know exactly what you mean by those timers. I was asked to wait in a parking lot at a Taco Cabana not so long ago and sat for a full 23 minutes before my food came out. I went directly home and used the "Leave Feedback" Survey URL that they so conveniently attached to my receipt. They don't ask anyone to pull up anymore! I don't know why companies don't just use secret shoppers. Seems to me that they would get much better analysis of true service that way. I would volunteer for that job!

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    1. Marji, we don't have Taco Cabana's here. I assume it is like a Taco Bell.

      I used to be a secret shopper for a bank. I would take out loans for boats, cars, businesses, whatever the assignment was that week. It was fun. They gave me an new identity and credit score to get all the loans and then grade them when I left. I felt like such a big shot. It was great.

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  9. I loathe drive-thrus for all the reasons you sited. Still, it ticks me off when I go inside and have to wait forever and I watch the drive-thru moving right along. You can't really win at a fast-food joint, can you?

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    1. Not usually. Lucky to even get the order right.

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  10. You've convinced me that drive thrus are just not worth the trouble!!

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  11. Hahahha that does sound stressful. Glad you guys were rescued!

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    1. It was pretty bad. I won't do it to myself again.

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  12. I didn't realize this about drive-thrus. Thanks for the education. I think we'll continue to stay away...

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    1. I don't know why it is this way. They must have their reasons.

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  13. I used to mystery shop our local McDonalds. We had to time from the time we got into the drive-thru line until we ordered, then from the time we ordered until we got our food. The time thing is a big deal for them. But it was a great way to get free food!

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    1. With free food as an incentive, I may consider it. Plus, the opportunity to get to mark down the bad experience and hand it to someone that matters.

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  14. This was a riot! I have a long standing hatred of drive thru's. It never ever fails that my order is WRONG. They always forget the fries or we're missing a burger. When you're ordering for 7 people, it's impossible to check the bag properly. Gah!

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    1. It never fails. I have not been to one since that day.

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  15. I once kept a sign on my desk. It read, "Tell me how you measure and I'll tell you how I'll perform. If you measure illogically, don't blame me if behave irrationally." If time (vice the customer experience) is the only metric that matters, it's the only goal that will be attained.

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    1. I don't think that could be said better.

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  16. Oh man. Drive thrus are awful with forgetting stuff and it's like Murphy Law or something that when I don't check theres always something important missing.

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    1. I agree. That is one of the many reasons why I finally gave up.

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  17. My husband and I too have an aversion to drive throughs. I think it is much faster to park the car and walk in. I dislike traffic jams and having to sit in one to get food is not my idea of fun.

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    1. I am glad you understand. It's just not worth it.

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  18. "I often get stuck behind these people..."

    SO sorry. That might've been my buggy.

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    1. Quite alright. It won't happen again.

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  19. I'm having an anxiety attack just reading this! I could just feel the heat and the waiting, waiting of this.
    I love when the unexpected happens like the blessed angel with your tea. Kindness from a stranger is a special sort of gift, I think.

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    1. It's been almost a year since I wrote this and I still have nightmares.

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  20. And I thought you were going to say they gave you an UNsweet tea!

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    1. That's how workplace shootings happen. An office worker goes out for lunch, endures all the chaos and then returns to the office to find that they gave him the wrong size fries. Then he snaps.

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  21. Laughing!!!! I never thought about this, so thank you. I got some moments where I wasn't thinking about myself, which is heaven. Thanks for the great post.

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  22. Hilarious! I am reading this to my husband. He's always mentioned the words "Murphy's Law" with the words "Drive-thru". He will be thrilled that he's not alone.

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    1. We should start an anti-drive thru convention. We could get waiters to be our guest speakers.

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  23. LOL!!! That picture made me laugh out loud! Mostly, because it hilarious and also because I didn't notice the carriage the first time I looked at it. This is making me think twice about the drive thru. I feel so bad now for contributing to the stress of the drive thru employees. How will I ever go back?

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    1. We have a large Amish population here so it not uncommon for that to happen.

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  24. I think you've just insured that I never go through a drive thru ever again... That's a crazy amount of stress to put on someone! Granted, I was never a big fan anyway... For some reason, I have a voice that doesn't come through loud and clear on those intercoms, and I have a hard time understanding people back so I always got crazy bouts of anxiety every time I tried to go through the drive thru. I'd much rather park and go in!

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    1. It makes things much simpler. Although, I have no problem with and even enjoy screaming into those speakers.

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  25. I thank god for drive thru with two kids still in car seats. But then again, I do have air conditioning and DVD players in the car. But you did give me horrid flashbacks of when I worked drive thru at Wendys in college and once passed out from the heat vs A/C duel that is the drive-thru window. Luckily, we weren't timed back in the olden days.

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    1. I completely forgot about that side of it. I worked midnight shift at a Hardee's during one of the coldest winters I can remember. It was -10 degrees and I thought my fingers were going to fall off. money can't be handled well with gloves so I just had to tough it out.

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  26. I don't do drive-thru very often, but can't think of an occasion where it's ever been less than 2.5 minutes.

    I hope the tea was worth it.

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    1. Since my tea at home is better anyway, ....NO, it wasn't.

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  27. We've never really gotten into the whole fast food thing in my house. It just isn't the type of food I care to eat. Also since every morning on my way to work, I have to navigate the people coming and going to these places I have even less desire to go to any of them.

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    1. That's the best attitude to have. I have visited those places more than anyone ever should.

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  28. The drive thru is one of my favorite things because I hate getting the kid in and out of the car. But I do hate when I have to wait and when they screw up my order. Both of these things happen often.

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    1. They do have their advantages, but my kids have gotten older now and the bad far outweighs the good. I expect they will still be around for a while, but will NOT be visited by me.

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  29. Interesting - I had not idea about the drive thru from the point of view of the employee. Where I live the idea of an ER having a billboard stating wait times is laughable but the city no longer grants drive thru licences, because they are not environmentally responsible and don't promote community involvement.

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    1. The drive thru window is one of the more stressful jobs in fast food.

      I would never have considered that a restaurant would have to have a license for a drive thru.

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  30. I though of Joe Pesci immediately! So glad yo gave him a nod and so glad you got your sweet tea. Ellen

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  31. I think that there should be a national service requirement for everyone between the ages of 18-22. Just a year - could be the military could be working in a hospital - but working in food service could be in there too, because it is the most eye-opening experience anyone could ever have, especially if you work in a fast-food or chain restaurant. It's brutal, and the side you see of humanity... eek. Scary freaking monsters.

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    1. Yes. I could get behind that. Plus, the people that are subjected to this ugly side of society are teenagers who are still trying to figure out proper behavior for themselves.

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  32. You clarified to me why my order is almost always wrong in the drive-thru. I never knew about the 2:30. I always check my bag for accuracy which ruins their time. My husband refuses to do that, but we usually end up with something missing. That picture of the Amish buggy made me laugh. I used to live in North Central OH in a small town and often got stuck behind buggies on my seven minute commute to work. That was my traffic. They made me late. Never had I considered leaving my house three minutes early.

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    1. I really don't go through drive thrus. I have been through them less than three times in the last 5 years. I hate them that much. It drives my family crazy when I refuse, but I have had too many bad experiences to consider it worth the risk.

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  33. Holy crap - a free thinking person with a little foresight at a McDonald's??

    I did my stint in the drive-thru window as well - some of the most hilarious conversations happened over that speaker. :-)

    However, our timer didn't start when they pulled up to the window, it started when we began to key in the order. Sometimes we would wait for them to stop "um, umm"ing and spit it all out before keying in the first item.

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    1. I did the same thing when I worked at a Hardee's 20 years ago. The computer kept track of the time as soon as we started the order. I sometimes waited until they spit it all out as well, which only added to the possibility of getting it wrong.

      Of course, there are enough people who don't know how to order properly that getting their order right will never happen.

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