March 1st, 2015

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:

http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2015/03/restaurant-performance-index-shows.html

Exploring TripIt Pro

I spent part of yesterday and today making weekend trip reservations to North Conway, and finding and printing existing travel plans to fill out my travel binder (AKA Don't Forget To Have Fun Binder). As I was doing this, and filling out a list of action items for some of those future trips, I thought to myself, Self, You should try TripIt.

So I am. Here is what I have noticed so far. Residence Inn confirmations go through great. Confirmations associated with my trip to the Netherlands -- including a Delta flight confirmation -- do not. So that's interesting. I will continue to poke around and see what I can do manually.

Expect updates.

Update 1: Took the Red Jacket Reservation when I forwarded it from my mobile, where it displays correctly, but not from my webmail, where it does not. Interesting. I also noticed that I screwed that reservation up, so I called and had them fix it. So, yay!

Update 2: Delta reservation that was screwed up when forwarded from my webmail was handled better when forwarded from mobile where it displayed correctly.

Update 3: Trying to manually convert the unfiled item associated with an RV rental. It didn't like the pickup time and drop off time (because I entered "before 11 a.m." and then I think "1 to 4 p.m.). It got rid of everything else I entered AND the form it all went into. And I can't figure out how to retrieve it. That is seriously annoying.

Update 4: It only shows a certain number of upcoming trips on the home page. It is adding more, but you have to select Show All Upcoming Trips in order to see more further in the future. That was very confusing, but okay.

Update 5: I have some pdfs with lodging information that it won't let me add as notes (well, it doesn't display them at all). Not sure what's going on with that. Otherwise, I've downloaded the mobile and the display is beautiful on that, reasonably intuitive interface. There is some cruft left over visible on the mobile from multiple adds of a particular note that I then deleted; have no idea why that happened because it is completely gone on the web view but not the mobile. The annoying form fill thing is real -- you are better off just filling out the bare minimum, saving, and then adding further detail, otherwise you just lose your work unpredictably.

On the whole, I like it. I'm starting to use the TripIt Pro account tracking feature right now, to figure out whether that's worth keeping or not. It works with JetBlue, but if you want it to keep track of Delta points, you have to forward it via email. It does Hilton, Marriott, National, so I have to say on balance it at least covers the stuff I would kind of want it to cover. Hopefully, over time, they will make it able to suck the reservations over without me having to forward the confirms. (If it does that already, never mind.)

Okay, the calendar feed feature may be the single most worthwhile aspect of this whole thing. Wow. Just, wow.

Update 6: I looked over the sample itinerary, and found the add directions feature. That's kinda cool. To make sure things are in the appropriate order, you really do want to put times in. Which is probably for the best, because that sort of forces you to notice how early you have to get up in order to get to the airport to drop off the car in time for your flight home.

Update 7: TripIt really encourages tinkering with plans, which has some nice side effects (at least if you're stuck indoors with a sick family, not feeling that great yourself, and it is cold and snowy outside. If you have something worthwhile to do, maybe not so much). I tracked down the name and address of the laundromat, in case we need it while we're at Efteling (I think we have laundry for the other half of the trip). Which reminds me, I should check the laundry situation at the Cape. I also found out when JetBlue is going to extend their schedule through the winter holidays, and discussed the drive vs. fly tradeoff for visiting my sister.