walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

A Personal Economic Indicator: Fast food service

Having been through a few economic downturns of various magnitudes, and upturns as well, I have noticed qualitatively different fast food service during downturns vs upturns. The magnitude of the qualitative effect is so substantial that the worst fast food service I have experienced some months into a significant downturn is better than the good fast service (altho not the very best fast food service) near the top of the peak of the upturn. My explanation for this is that many, many good workers are laid off during a significant downturn through no particular fault of their own. They are energetic, motivated, cheerful, intelligent, organized thinkers with strong bodies and good motor and interpersonal skills. Put them at the drive through or the counter or in the kitchen and it is a freaking miracle. At some point, as the economy improves, they will abandon their job at the fast food place in favor of better remunerated work more compatible with their education and experience. The longer the economic doldrums, the more likely the management the store will be composed exclusively of this group of people which will exacerbate what happens next.

As the energetic, motivated, cheerful, intelligent, organized thinkers with strong bodies and good motor and interpersonal skills depart for better pay sitting down without fry oil in the air, they are replaced by people who are less well endowed in one or more of those areas. If management is not exclusively composed of the temporary residents of fast food -- that is, if someone involved is going to be doing this For Ever -- then management will be careful to make sure that they are replaced by people who bring things to the store that the departing lacked: loyalty, patience, an inability or unwillingness to produce or be entertained by sarcasm, schadenfreude, pranks, etc. If those attributes are accompanied by difficulty making change, a lack of eye contact with the customer, fine motor skills deficits, etc., well, at least they won't leave right away. A store that is exceptional at finding these workers can provide decent customer service throughout an upturn.

There's the background. There are some automation issues -- you can compensate for a lot of unevenness in employee ability over the course of the economic cycle with automation. Simple things like buttons on machines that dispense sugar or condiments, or the scoop to fill the fry packet or the salt dispenser or whatever. But if the automation is at all complex, it, too, can flummox the worker because the learning curve can get pretty bad. Even if you have a button for every menu item, that's a lot of buttons to look at to find the one you want.

Here is my evidence that, at least here in Boston Metrowest, things are picking up. I took both kids over to the Chelmsford BK. It took about a half hour or so each way to get there and back. And I was gone for _2 hours_. There were a few people ahead of us, but not nearly enough to justify the slowdown. I watched the beautiful, lithe, extremely well groomed, patient, sweet and hard working woman be moved from drive through to counter, where it became _painfully_ obvious what was wrong. The register produces two receipts: one for the order picker and one for the customer. She was consistently _losing_ the order picker receipts. Which should not, actually, be possible. They are supposed to be attached to the bag OR the tray, never crumpled and left for dead on the counter. Basically, the customers in line figured out that if they wanted their order, they had to go up, hand her _their_ copy of the order, and then watch her like a hawk as she filled it, because if you took your eyes off her, she'd crumple it, get lost, her lead would distract her and you would _never_ get your food and now you'd have no proof you had ever even ordered, altho the burger pile up got kind of intense.

Someone needed to retrain her in ticket process, or fire her, but I don't think she should be fired, because (a) she never lost her temper and that was a terrifyingly stressful situation for her and everyone else, (b) she was sufficiently appealing personally that anyone -- male, female, old, young -- was going to cut her a ton of extra slack for her slowness and most importantly (c) she was actually a very accurate order taker. Which is not nothing in fast food.

But as badly run as that BK has been, on and off, over the years, this is hands down the worst I've ever seen it (right around the time she was taken off drive through, the lead had to go outside to fix some of the drive through issues). That's not my only example, just the most pronounced one. And that's my evidence that things are going okay, at least around here: the fast food service is really sucking again.

ETA: If you would like to counter with an argument that the economy is still horrible, it's just that a Five Guys opened near this BK and poached the good workers and a lot of the business, I would observe that _a Five Guys opened_ in a new strip mall, and point out that that, all by itself, is evidence of an upturn.

ETAYA: Related data:

Tags: economy

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