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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Drive Thru, Please........

Over the years, I have eaten a lot of fast food. During my teenage years and into my early twenties, I rode a bike everywhere, upwards of 30 miles on weekends, so it never showed on my body. I still eat fast food these days, not as often but more than I should, and there is one common factor that links all of my experiences together...BAD SERVICE!!

My most recent experience, which pushed me over the top and forced me to put this on my blog, involves Burger King. My wife and I were coming home from Merced after a weekend with her parents and dinner with friends.

As usual, when fast food ideas get tossed around, neither one of us wants to commit to one place but BK came to mind so we went with it. We stopped, ordered, and pulled away trusting that our order was right which is where we made our mistake in this visit. Kacy's food was fine, although her burger was ridiculously deflated looking. I ordered a Texas Double Whopper, which is supposed to have 2 patties, bacon, cheese, sauce, lettuce and tomato. I got a smashed bun with two staggered patties, some crap smeared on it and some lettuce; no cheese, no bacon, no resemblance to the magnificent burger in the picture on their menu. Five miles down the road, and after years of buildup, I reached my boiling point with fast food companies and the imbeciles that they hire.

I must have missed something along the way through all those years of buying fast food. I thought that the responsibility of giving you the correct food was that of the employees. The person who takes your order has a simple choice: pass the food on to you from the cook, assuming it's right, or open the bag and make sure it's right. Some places claim to have order checking in place, but that will only ensure that you get the right number of items in the right size in your bag so even if they do check it, it all falls on the cook (I use that title loosely). There is no incentive for the cook to make sure you get what you ordered, other than avoiding a complaint. They make minimum wage or maybe a dollar more, after working there for a few years, and all rather than concentrate on your food they're watching the clock waiting for their shift to end. I guess I wouldn't care much about the food I was preparing if a whole months' pay covered very little other than rent, either.

I think what really aggravates me is the fact that in most cases, when ordering from the drive thru, you'll be far enough away that it won't be worth turning back if they screw up. Just based on that fact alone, I would want to make sure everything was right if I worked the drive thru window. Think of a family travelling on the road, two parents with two kids around 7 or 8 years old. The father is driving and they leave the drive thru and get back on the freeway. Mother opens the bag and sees that the happy meals got left behind and dad's burger is covered with onions after politely requesting "no onions". Now two kids are starving and upset, and dad's burger is ruined and they have to drive 10 miles to the next off ramp just so they can go back and hope that it's right the second time around. Do you think that after causing the customer such grief, they would be even slightly remorseful? If you said yes, you are sorely mistaken. They'll act like they're sorry, and maybe offer one larger size item to make up for it but the second you drive away they will laugh it off and move on to screwing the next person.

After all that being said, as much as I love to bash the idiots that work fast food I think the ultimate failure rests on the shoulders of the manager. That's the one that sits in the back room and orders milkshakes from their desk in the heat of a lunch rush. Maybe they're too fat and lazy to help because they have an extra employee meal on their shifts. I have been a manager in the food business and worked with that kind of manager that sits in the back room, on multiple occasions. I know from experience that customers love to see a manager on the front line, sweating it out during the rush and greeting people as they arrive. On very few occasions I have seen that manager and usually I will let them know that I appreciate it. I think a manager who sits in the back sends a message that he/she is too good for the kind of work that the employees do, which is basically the fast-lane to people to having people walk out on you very inconveniently. There are managers who make 50K per year and more, and there is no way they deserve that kind of money for sitting around on their ass while paying minimum wage.

Part of what inspired me to share this with you happened long before my recent Burger King disaster. On three separate occasions, within a two-month period, me or my wife have been the recipient of hair in our food.

The first incident came from Cold Stone Creamery, the place where ice cream and chosen fillers are folded neatly into a concoction of guiltful sin. Ice cream is a top craving for my wife, being that she is pregnant, so I made a run to Cold Stone for us. After arriving home and starting our sinful indulgence, my wife pulled a long wavy hair out of her ice cream. I was proud as she simply shook it off and proceeded, but the second curled hair that hugged the side of her bowl put a quick stop to her craving being fulfilled. With a very stern voice, I called the store and left a message explaining the level of disgust I had from the experience along with my knowledge of required precautions for health reasons, namely hair nets or hats. During my voicemail tirade, I remembered the girl who served me with her long, greasy hair, completely unrestrained. I received a call the next day from a manager who tried to save face with stories of hair nets or hats, or having the girls pull their hair back at the very least. We were offered a free ice cream at any time and an apology, to which I replied that we may or may not return to claim it.

The second incident came from Round Table Pizza, which my wife and I both love and usually call when we want pizza. Nearly an hour after ordering and being quoted a 35-minute delivery, I received a call from the delivery boy asking directions. I really wanted to cancel because I figured that the cheese had gotten cold and solid but we were hungry and I am smart enough to know that you don't keep a pregnant woman hungry for too long. He arrived shortly after and the pizza didn't look as bad as I expected. That's what I thought right up until the point where one of my slices had a big hair coming out from under the cheese. I was in shock, primarily because of the experience I had with Cold Stone only a week or so before. I grabbed the hair and proceeded to pull it out, but noticed that this hair gave some resistance, which meant that it was embedded into the crust. I know that these places buy dough balls and form them so the culprit was the guy or girl who turns the balls into the round crusts and their hair got kneaded in. What may surprise you now, and still surprises me, is that I didn't call. I lost my chance to get a free pizza and I would have had so much fun screaming at the manager and giving them the same lecture about health precautions as I did to Cold Stone. To this day, I have no idea why I didn't call. We just finished eating and just shrugged it off as bad luck. After the day passed, my argument would have sounded like a complaint made up just for free food. I know this because I dealt with customers at Jamba Juice who would drink 90 percent of a smoothie and then complain of it being too tart or chunky or something like that, expecting a free smoothie card. Once you know how to detect a con, you see more and more of them.

Our next "hair-raising" adventure came when Kacy's parents were in town and we had lunch at BJ's brewhouse restaurant. They have the biggest potatoes I have ever seen and they put all kinds of fun toppings on them. For lunch, I always get a half baked potato and a wedge salad. The food came out and after enjoying my salad I moved on to the potato. About halfway through, I looked at my potato in horror as I saw a long stringy hair poking out from under the cheese and sauce. I didn't want to ruin anyone's lunch so I quietly took the hair out and set it on my salad place in plain view of anyone who even glanced our way. When our server came to collect our plates and ask how everything was, I just said that my lunch was great, with the exception of the hair in my potato. My lunch was removed from the menu with apologies and I was satisfied with the server's manner in handling the situation. It does not excuse the fact that there is an obvious problem in the kitchens of these places that have no concern for health practices.

When I was a manager, our company had what were called OSE's (Operation Standards Evaluation). Our regional manager would come out and grade us on every possible thing, down to dust on the merchandise shelves. They were unannounced, which I agree to be the only true measure of any business and their level of competence. It seems to me that every company needs to have these often and unannounced until the managers start taking cleanliness, and the health of their customers, more serious.

The health department actually requires any food service outlet to post their "grade" for health practices in their window for all to see, like the Scarlett letter of food service. If you are a food service manager and your facilities are not up to par, everyone who approaches your restaurant will know about it. That alone should be a huge incentive to get very involved because most managers have a stake in the business for bonuses.

Aside from health cautions and bad drive thru experiences, one thing that I've also dealt with is rude servers and I'm not going to ramble on about it but I will say one thing. I am a great tipper and all that I ask for is an occasional stop to check on beverages and to make sure our food came as it was ordered. If my steak is overcooked, just cook another steak for few minutes less than the first and bring it out on a plate. I don't need an entire new dinner just because the cook can't tell the difference between medium rare and beef jerky. That was an Applebee's experience a few weeks back, and yes I did eat both piles of mashed potatoes in case you wondered.

In the restaurant world, my worst experience had to be in Santa Cruz on the wharf. The restaurant has been replaced by another, so you're safe from the kind of experience I had. I ordered swordfish with asparagus and a beer. I asked that the asparagus be on the firm side because if I can tie my shoes with it, it's not going in my mouth. I reminded the server three times about my beer and it finally arrived in a nice warm glass, just out of the dishwasher no doubt. When asking if they had any glasses that would better suit a cold beer, she said she'd check on it but never had an answer. I asked twice for some garlic butter melted for my fish and our server disappeared for a long time. I ate most of my food and it wasn't until only a spec of food remained that she finally brought out a tiny cup of butter, with parsley sprinked on top. I told her that 20 minutes had passed and I didn't feel like waiting for my food to be cold for the butter and she gave some excuse that I can't remember. She asked if I wanted the glass that my beer came in and I accepted, thinking it was her way of making an offering in the wake of her incompetence. The bill came, including an 8-dollar souvenir glass. That was the point when I asked to speak with a manager and the server gave me the nastiest look possible. I explained everything to the manager and he said that the glass must have been a misunderstanding and took it off the bill, not meant for me to have but only not to pay for it. I left, giving the impression that it would be the last time, and it was.

The moral of this story is: cook at home. Watch Rachel Ray, Giada, and Bobby Flay on the Food Network and buy their books to learn some good stuff. Food cooked at home will always be better, for your bank account and your waistline. My wife and I have started making up a menu for the week and buying what we'll need for it. We still eat out, but it's going to become more of a treat like it's supposed to be. America has started to rely too much on fast food and restaurants to feed them, and those places have gotten their egos boosted way too high to care anymore. In order to change things, everyone needs to do their part and speak up when your food is not as you ordered.

Do not fear for tainted food as the result of your defiance of accepting others' mistakes, but instead stand tall when you return it, knowing that you are smarter than someone who can't assemble a burger to order.

**If you need any other reasons to start eating at home and putting fast food in your past, watch the movie Super Size Me, starring and directed by Morgan Spurlock, creator of the reality TV show 30 Days.**

1 comment:

tony said...

Great rant. Another book I'd recommend is Fast Food Nation (haven't seen the "fictionalized" movie). I still like my drive thru cuisine, but I certainly look at it differently. I worked in the FF field and it's getting worse. I've pulled hair off of food and eaten it too, but there's a limit to acceptibility.