Sunday, August 10, 2008

Take-Out Blues

Some might think that jobs like being a lawyer or doctor, which require extra years of schooling and then years of "apprenticeship" to do effectively are hard jobs. But apparently, it is working in food take-out that is the real rocket science of the employment world. At least, that's what I'd have to conclude from a non-scientific sampling of take-out from many restaurants on a repeated basis over many years now.

It doesn't matter if it is McDonald's or Outback steakhouse. It doesn't even seem to matter which restaurant or person fills the order. With consistency that would make the trains run on time in Switzerland, orders are messed up, things are missing, or in the wrong quantity, on upwards of 1/3rd of the time (or more). Sometimes it seems like every other time we go to a certain restaurant for take-out, we are using a coupon or some other thing we got from when the screwed up the order the previous time.

What I'd really like to know is: What the hell is the problem? It should be simple enough to keep an order straight. I mean, why not at least have a system in place where you have a checklist of what is supposed to go in an order and then double check it before it goes out the door? It is not like our orders tend to be all that large or complicated. Far from it - often, they are fairly simple. It amazed me just how often even an order at McDonald's drivethrough like: 2 hotcakes and 2 egg mcmuffins (and NOTHING ELSE) would still get messed up - I'd either not get the mcmuffins or I'd just get one, and I'd not get the hotcakes or I'd just get one.

As a result, I now check over every single item every time I pick up take-out. And maybe that ultimately is what we're all just going to have to do, but I would hope that this is an extra failsafe rather than a requirement because the packers don't bother to get it right in the first place.

Really, just what is so complicated? I asked it above and I ask it again. This isn't complicated. Make a check list. Then check the list. Why oh why does this simple thing seem to evade so many across the spectrum of so many restaurants? My enquiring mind wants to know.

I was planning on posting this yesterday after getting take-out from Outback steakhouse where the person assured me she checked twice on my order. And my food was, in fact, correct. My drink was another matter. It was entirely missing. Then the busy-ness of the weekend took over and I forgot about it. Then this morning, Cracker Barrel. Biscuits and gravy. Or rather, just gravy, hold the biscuits. Just what we needed. And so I remembered again to do this post. Btw, if anyone got the biscuits without the gravy, I'm willing to do a half-and-half exchange.


The Barefoot Bum said...

It's not a matter of competence. It's a matter of simply not giving a shit.

How much would you care about customer service if you were paid starvation wages and constantly harassed at work by your idiot boss?

We're not going to get good customer service until we can physically or criminally punish low-wage employees who fuck up.

Bring back the lash!

Robert said...

You get what you pay for. At restaurants, most of the crap jobs are done by people who get crap wages. Query: what level of mental adroitness and competence leads one to settle on "fast food cashier" as a career path? And there's your answer to the question of why you can't get your burger order filled competently.

My experience in restaurants was that the higher-value brains who fell into the work through convenience, stepping stone on the ladder, etc. are what holds places like that together. I mentally would assign a 0 or a 1 to each worker and then looking at the schedule I'd know how much proper work would actually get done - it's the pattern of 1s, not the number of 0s.

DBB said...

I do try to leave good tips, even for take-out. Not that it seems to make much difference.

At my first job, there was a sign on the wall: "The whippings will continue until morale improves."

I suppose the adage "you get what you pay for" cuts both ways - pay crap wages you get crap workers, but on the other end of it, people who are incompetent will generally only be able to earn crap wages (unless they are born into the upper class or have other connections).

Even when I had a crap job, though, I did what I was contracted to do. That includes working in fast food (which I did when I was in high school). Of course, admittedly, I quit after about six weeks, but that was mostly because of the hours I ended up being assigned combined with my need to actually, you know, go to school and graduate.

ThirtySomething!?! said...

"How much would you care about customer service if you were paid starvation wages and constantly harassed at work by your idiot boss?"

not to mention the harassment from idiot customers...

hedera said...

I disagree with the_barefoot_bum. We won't get good customer service until we're willing to pay servers a wage that makes it worth their while to do a good enough job to keep from being fired.

Food service is actually a pretty demanding job. I recently revisited a hotel where, 5 years ago, the experienced (and well paid) staff gave me some of the best table service I've ever had in my life. This time, I regret to say, management had changed, and all the experienced servers had been replaced by pretty college boys who couldn't tell skim milk from one percent - worse, they didn't think I could. I am not making this up. We tipped accordingly in both cases.

DBB said...

Hedera - how does tipping fit into that paradigm? Part of the problem with take-out is that you often don't discover you had crappy service until you are long gone from the place.

Which gives me some inspiration - have take-out people registered online through a restaurants web-page such that you can tip them online after you get home - perhaps that markte-based solution will give servers some incentive to do a good job. I'd be happy to tip quite well after I get home and discover that my order is perfect in the bag. And I'd be just as glad to be able to tip in the other direction if the order is completely screwed up.

Erin said...

If you don't mind me being snarky rather than logical here, why do you go back to places that consistently screw up your order? Isn't that just asking for a headache? I worked in foodservice all through college, and I swear there are all kinds of people who are just looking to have someone screw up their day, and as luck would have it, those are the people whose orders get messed up. It's like when you're in a lousy mood already, that's when you realize your power got cut off
so you're running late for work but you left your headlights on so your car battery is dead. Karma? Irony? I don't know what causes it, but man, you're just asking for trouble going back to places they're already messed up once. Not that Cracker Barrel or Chilis were a very wise choice to begin with if you actually wanted quality anything.

Besides, isn't it a form of market correction NOT to pay for goods or services that aren't good? You mentioned withholding tips, but withholding repeat business would be much more effective, and encouraging others to do so has an even greater impact. Otherwise, what incentive do the coke-snorting middle managers at the Olive Garden have to actually hire compentent workers, produce a decent plate of speghetti, and provide a reasonable experience?

Finally, I'm becoming more and more convinced that giving a shit just isn't part of the American ethos naymore. Only we intellegentsia-types even get all het up about apathy.

My advice is to seek out a handful of mom-and-pops hole-in-the-wall restaurants and just go there. They are often less expensive, they usually make better staffing decisions, they have a more immediate and pressing interest in giving you a great dining experience, and the money you spend there will stay local.

DBB said...

Erin - that's a good suggestion. The problem is that 1) there aren't a whole lot of choices in my area for eating out w/ take-out to begin with, 2) I have limited time so it limits my ability to get further afield, 3) if I stopped eating at the places where my order has been messed up, I'd stop eating out, period, because every single place has done it - from the expensive to the cheap. I'd love it if a mom and pop place opened up nearby that did take-out. There just aren't any here. They were probably all put out of business by the chains. Or something. But I'll keep looking.

Maybe it is a lack of any competition that is the problem - if everyone screws up orders, there's no where you can go.