Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hollerin' For Your Food

As a customer, I refuse to holler for my food. I do not like standing far back in a line and having someone wave at me from across the room and ask me what I want on my sandwich. Okay, maybe I exaggerate a bit, but not that much, really.

Chipotle. The drill is: You stand in line until you get to the front and Employee #1 asks you what you want. Employee #1 also does Step 1 of the prep for your order, either slapping a tortilla onto a piece of foil or grabbing the Bol, then putting rice or whatever in the vessel, and sliding it aside to Employee #2. Then Employee #1 asks the next person what they want, etc.

You step to the left, and Employee #2 asks what kind of meat you want, then slides your item to Employee #3. Employee #3 asks you what toppings you want, then slides your item to Employee #4, who wraps it up or otherwise prepares it for delivery to you, then slides it into a line for the people at the register(s) to take care of payment.

This sounds like a decent plan, a well-oiled machine, and in a perfect world, or at least not during the lunch or dinner rush, it just might work. But during the lunch or dinner rush, this is a bottleneck waiting to happen. You see, #1 takes your order and slides it to #2, etc. But since they are little non-thinking machines, they crank through those babies faster than the poor guys on the register can ring them up, so a back-log is created. Understandably so. This is not a problem.

What is a problem is #2, 3 & 4 do not stop their automation. They insist on taking care of you, even when they are so far away from you (due to the slew of people waiting to pay) that they yell over to you, waving their arms to get your attention, and try to finish your item so it can get in line with the rest of them and wait for payment.

Unfortunately, this is not a customer-friendly arrangement. Why, just last week, someone got out of line (3 or 4 people behind me) to answer the waving-arm person about her toppings, and then she felt that since her order was complete, it was her right to butt in at the front of the line and pay immediately, ahead of the rest of us who were waiting our turns. She caused much disgruntlement, and happily (for me) she had to wait until her sandwich made it to the front before she could pay (oh, do I sound bitter?)

My point is, no matter how many of these orders they stack up, the line cannot move any faster than the guy can take the money from people. So why, why, why, do they insist on hollering at me to shout out what I want for my toppings? I actually have begun to refuse to do so. I wait until I get in front of them, then tell them what I'd like. And you know what? No one is held up, since there are still enough people in front of me who have not paid that no one is going anywhere, anyway. I find this plan so much more civilized.

Okay, that's Chipotle. Today I went to Subway. Same thing. The woman in front of me was hollerin' to person #3 what she wanted on her sandwich, then #3 looked to me to ask what I wanted, but I refused to yell past 4 other people, so I held up my forefinger in a "just a minute" motion, and she got pissed off, so #3 slid my sandwich aside and yelled at the guy behind me to ask what he wanted on his sandwich. Fortunately, he was with me, so he refused to holler, too. ;-) Compound this adventure with the knowledge that none of the #s 1-3 speak English, and it gets even more exciting. Try asking for "any cheese besides American" and you'll get a blank stare. Ask for "just a little" of something and they look to each other for translation. If I have to deal with non-English-speaking workers, I refuse to do it while yelling past 3 or 4 other people. Even after I'd had my sandwich built and packed for me, I still had to wait for the cashier to take care of several people in front of me before he got to mine.

So what's the deal here? Are these people just super-efficient, and they get points for not being the reason for the backlog? Is Customer Service not an issue in whatever country they left? Or is this a training issue with the various fast-food establishments that they feel "fast" is better than making the customer feel like they are important. Or am I still deluding myself into thinking anyone still cares about good customer service any more?

I mean, it's bad enough that I am eating fast food, but I actually get better service at a place like McDonald's or Burger King, or really anywhere that the people actually talk to you first. Yeah, sure, you are still a number to them as far as order fulfillment, but at least you do not feel like they are throwing your food at you. And they do not yell at you, or make you holler for your food, either.

Maybe that's why I eat in the cafeteria so much these days. True, the food can be unappealing at times, or totally boring (how many salads can one eat in a week?), but if I am in a food line, the server asks me, to my face, what I'd like, and actually treats me like a person, not a number. There's something to be said for that.