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Examiner
  • Jeff Fox: Hold the pickles, and just be nice

  • Its two main problems seem to be “fast” and “food.” Health advocates for years have criticized the food, and the company has taken some steps, but even by the company’s own reckoning a Big Mac has 550 calories, or about one-quarter of what you need for a whole d...
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  • There is a large company with 14,000 fast-food restaurants around the world.
    Its two main problems seem to be “fast” and “food.”
    Health advocates for years have criticized the food, and the company has taken some steps, but even by the company’s own reckoning a Big Mac has 550 calories, or about one-quarter of what you need for a whole day. Still, I think most customers know all this going in. Let’s leave that debate aside for today.
    No, almost equally distressing is the “fast” part of the equation or, dare I say, the concept of service. According to the folks who annually rate the speed of drive-through service – what a dreary job that must be – this company comes in just about at the back of the pack.
    And when they finally toss you your dinner, it’s often without a smile, or so the company itself tells its franchisees. One customer complaint out of five, it’s reported, is related to simple friendliness, and the top complaint is “rude or unprofessional employees,” the company says. The word “chaotic” comes up, as does the phrase “service is broken.”
    Two things here. One, this large company is hardly alone. Two, simple problems don’t necessarily require complicated answers.
    The Wall Street Journal found a $7.25-an-hour employee who suggested that maybe things get balled up because employees are trained in specific tasks and therefore don’t understand what the rest of the team is doing.
    Seriously? Specialization? A bell goes ding when the fries are done. A frozen hamburger patty goes on the grill for a set time, period. There is no rare or well done. This is frying a hamburger, not roasting a rack of lamb. If you claim to have served “billions and billions” of these things, you ought to have it figured out. And, for goodness sake, the company has trained its customers to pour their own drinks.
    At the counter, the job is not much more complicated: Take order, take money, assemble part of order, hand empty cup to customer. And smile. Smiling would be nice. Of course, at minimum wage, employee motivation – and smiles – can be an issue.
    But hold on a minute. Like many among us, I too had this job once, at minimum wage. Somehow I managed to get a handle on all these tasks – plus filling drinks, mopping floors, cleaning restrooms and other lovely chores – in a relatively short time. While generally smiling. We were told to smile.
    It didn’t seem that complicated. It’s minimum wage, but it’s also an opportunity to learn. One lesson is that every job requires things not in the manual or the job description. If you work with the public, smile, dammit.
    Page 2 of 2 - The company is looking at all sorts of solutions. One is a “dual point” ordering system. This can’t be good. Place order, get number, move down the counter, wait for number – and food? – to appear. The person at the back end of the counter says thank you. And perhaps smiles.
    Here’s the deal: If two people now are in charge of you, your food and your happiness, then no one really is in charge. Too much can slip through the cracks.
    Another approach is more franchisees are turning to 24-hour service, despite the math that suggests marginal financial gains at best. Yes, by all means. If you’re doing something poorly, the solution is to do more of it.
    I’m thinking the solutions are simpler and close at hand. They surely involve stepping it up a little and smiling.
    Follow Jeff Fox on Twitter @FoxEJC.
     
     
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