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We Are Bad Customers: Fast Food Restaurants Drive-Thru Etiquette (Part 1)

Updated on July 12, 2018
MatthewLeo1701 profile image

Matt Leo has been a working manager in several restaurant companies for over 20 years. He's worked every position up through management.

Drive-Thru Order Monitor
Drive-Thru Order Monitor | Source

Customers Versus Employees

Indeed, there are only two types of people: people who roll through the drive-thru. And those behind the scenes who work it. This excellent idea saved us from having to slave over home cooked meals for our families and us. Since its inception, a slow rising war between these two factions has been brewing for decades. Customer complaint lines and direct access to companies via the internet have done little but help fuel this amnesty. The ever-increasing pressure for faster and perfect performance on the side of the servers has put this situation right on top of a powder keg. Also, the managers trying to run the show find themselves caught in the middle of it. This supposed to be the future? As a society, shouldn’t we have moved past these issues? Altercations and complications still plague drive-thrus all over the world. Many of the customers that go through the line have never worked fast food, so they have no clue how their unpreparedness affects the stress levels and overall productivity of the people trying to feed them.

"Have It Your Way" Has Ruined Everything

I have been running restaurants for the better part of two decades, and the problem does not seem to be improving at all. In fact, our world has become a customizable society. At the onset of Burger King's "Have It Your Way," what once was one or two special orders in an hour, has become a particular order for every man, woman, and child that visits any restaurant. I have witnessed this evolution first hand over many years. Our society has grown into a highly self-centered culture where every possible aspect of our food orders is customizable. As a people, we've gotten spoiled on this way of life, as we push the people who make our food to get it to us faster and faster. What we've gained in speed and convenience, we have lost a lot of the human touch in our businesses. Most restaurants have lost the "family feel" that I once remembered as being commonplace. I remember times when I stepped out from behind the counter and poured coffee for my morning patrons. Nowadays, they walk up to pressurized thermoses to fill their own cup. Visits that were usually so full of courtesy from both employee and customer are now lost to the winds to abruptness and rudeness as we rush off to our jobs.

Intro the New Drive-Thru Rules of Ettiquette

I have been racking my brain for a way to solve the problem. Yes, I picked a doozy of a puzzle resolve. The best thing that I have come up with is to write an article to inform both sides how they affect the other in the form of general rules of etiquette.

Before the rules, here is some knowledge. Did you know that most fast food restaurants have you on a timer that starts the instant that you pull up to the outside menu board? It is true. Every car tracked uses different divisions in the time. The first division is the menu time. It begins when you pull up to the speaker, and it ends when you pull off that spot. The goal for most restaurants is to take every order within 15 to 30 seconds. That is all we have. 15 to 30 seconds. It is not much time at all. However, can you guess how much time the average American takes to place their order? 60-120 seconds. Did you also know that the crew of the restaurant only has 90 seconds to take down your order, assemble it, pay you out and get you off the window pad? If it takes over 30 seconds to order, then this becomes impossible.

Typical Fast-Track Drive-Thru Timer
Typical Fast-Track Drive-Thru Timer | Source

The second division is the window time. This time begins when your vehicle reaches the window and ends when your car pulls off the drive-thru pad. Here is where we have the most problems. Sure, product outages and having to wait on sandwich makers affect this, but you will find below how the customer affects this time as well. Indeed, this issue has gotten out of control and is spiraling further into chaos year after year.

A Continuously Raising Bar For Excellence

With the economy going south, jobs becoming scarce, bosses have raised the bar on performance, Managers and crew alike are often threatened with termination. This type of verbal motivational tool is a go-to for many upper management types as a motivator for better performance. They believe they can do so since they can have their pick of all the applications in their pile. This adds undue stress to the pressure cooker in which all fast-food employees have found ourselves. However, that is a topic for a different article.

It's Time To Play By New Rules

We are all customers at one time or another. As such, here are some tips that will help take some of the pressure off and make things go more comfortable for everyone on both sides of the window. Forgive me if some of these sound a bit short and forward.

1. Know what you want to order before you get to the speaker. There is no excuse. We now live in the Information Age. Welcome to the promised future! Most restaurants now have menus that are accessible online. You can check the internet before you leave and make a list of what you want to order, especially for the larger orders. Nearly all cell phones are internet capable now. We can no longer use the excuse of being out in town and away from our home desktop. You have the technology. The power is in your hands. Use it! There is no good reason not to know what you want to order before rolling up to the drive-thru window. Why is this important? Not knowing what you desire to eat drives up the Menu time. The Menu time is the one section of the drive-thru time that crew people have a marginal chance of affecting on their end. If you take over a minute to order when they only have 90 seconds to get you through the drive-thru, then they have already lost the battle. Understand, their performance rating depends rather heavily on their drive-thru times, and this could make the difference in their review if they get a raise or not.

Drive-Thru Ice Bin
Drive-Thru Ice Bin | Source

2. When you get to the speaker, do your best to order in a clear voice. Nothing slows down an order faster than an order taker having to ask customers to repeat themselves. Annunciate your order, strive to make each word clear but do not overdo it to the point where you are trying to teach English to a non-English speaker. On our side of the speaker, it is considered rude and rude talk gums up the whole works.

3. The order taker can mix up some items if not appropriately phrased. In addition to speaking clearly, understand that some words in the order-taking process can and will sound the same over the headset to the order taker. One of the worst pairs that tend to get confused is Sprite versus Fry. If you are a Sprite lover and order a large one, but end up getting a Large Fry instead, this is why. Clarify what you want by saying Sprite soda or a HOT fry. This clarification will make it easier for the order taker to pick out what you want just from the context and avoid having to fix the issue at the window. Also, know that there will be price differences in the items if the order taker does not ring up correctly. Most places have an order confirmation board you can make use of to clarify as the cashier keys them. I will go over this as well shortly.

To be continued ...

© 2012 Matt Leo


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    • TheRandomPages profile image


      7 years ago from The United States of America

      Good hub Matt, that is too true. When I worked at Burger King we had a guy arguing with us about not having cheesey tots. He just sat there demanding some sort of tots like he absolutely had to have them. For a second there we thought his life depended on it. We had been making great time on a slow night and then BOOM, our times were messed up.


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