When I was a kid, there were hardly any fast-food restaurants in my small home town, and none of the multi-billion-dollar franchises that have made the fast-food brand so famous. I joined a swim team when I was 14 years old, and one of the high-lights of our out-of-town swim meets was heading to McDonald’s for a Big Mac and a milkshake after the competition was over. It was a rare treat and we all looked forward to it.
Eventually, my old home town would grow big enough for the likes of not only McDonald’s, but also Subway, Burger King, Harvey’s, A & W, KFC, Boston Pizza, and not one, but five Tim Hortons. When the population warranted it, the big fast-food franchises all swooped in a take a grab at the piece of the pie that was my home town. Indeed, you can travel almost anywhere on my continent now and have access to the fast-food experience.
As I have gotten older, even though it is now easy to find one of the countless fast-food chains that dot our landscape, I have found myself eating at such establishments less and less. For one thing, they are much more expensive than they used to be. For another, I have discovered that the older I get, my system does not handle such fare as well as it used to. And I find it less and less easy to justify supporting their appalling overuse of plastic containers, plastic-lined drinking cups, plastic straws and plastic condiment packages.
The other day, I added one more reason to my ever-growing list of reasons to avoid fast-food restaurants like the plague.
My husband and I were out on a round of doctor visits and errands when lunch time came and went as we hurried to get all our tasks completed. As we drove by a Burger King, we suddenly realised that we were both starving. As soon as my husband suggested we stop for a bite, all I could think about was the taste of a Whopper. Vowing not to get a drink in a plastic-lined cup, I managed to justify – to myself at least – going in.
We parked our car, went inside the building, got into a decently-sized (but not outrageously long) line up and were pretty quickly processed so we could place our order. By this time, I could smell the burgers and my stomach was rumbling in anticipatory pleasure at the thought of that burger.
My husband did get a drink (no plastic cover; no straw) and, as he is known to spill things on a many-times-daily basis, rather than have him stand in line holding it, I offered to take it to a table where I would sit as he – ever the gentleman – stood waiting for our order.
The next thirty-five minutes or so found me first day dreaming rather mindlessly, then idly people-watching, then gradually coming to attention as I watched a spectacle that will forever have me thinking twice before entering another Burger King (or McDonald’s, or Tim Horton, or…) ever again. The people behind the cash register were clearly busy and every member of the sizeable staff was working really, really hard. No one was sitting idle. Every single staff member was working full out.
But every single person who had been in the line before us when we arrived, and every single person who had arrived after us stood there waiting for at least 35 minutes. Not one person was served as I watched, utterly fascinated, as my husband’s drink ceased bubbling and went progressively flat. It didn’t make an ounce of sense that the staff could be working that hard without serving so much as one of their customers.
I live in a really nice part of the Maritimes. People here are awfully polite. We don’t curse much and we tend not to complain too loudly, even when truly annoyed. And we chat with perfect strangers in line-ups. So, in the beginning, everyone did what folks around here do, and I smiled to myself as I overheard conversations starting from one end of the lineup to the other. Gradually, though, I noticed several people beginning to anxiously check the time on their phones as a few (politely) wondered aloud about what was going on (many were clearly on their lunch breaks). As the staff continued to scurry about with no obvious signs of progress being made, I could see the increasingly-anxious looks of the folks in line as they tried to determine the cause of such efficient inefficiency.
I had a much better vantage point than they did – all huddled up near the cash register waiting for their orders – but even I didn’t immediately notice the long, continuing line of cars, trucks and summer trailers driving by the side of the building every couple of minutes. Because the folks ordering their meals at the drive-through were doing just fine; getting processed every 3-5 minutes; just as regular as clockwork. The folks who had made the mistake of coming into the restaurant for the Full Burger King ‘Fast’ Food Dining Experience were clearly no one’s priority. And as I sat there, I remembered the times I have waited at McDonald’s; at Tim Hortons: at any fast-food franchise that has introduced the drive-through into its repertoire of services.
Somehow, the invisible management behind the ‘fast’-food business has forgotten to treat all of its customers with respect; with deference; with efficiency. Somehow, keeping traffic in the parking lots moving; keeping parking lots freed-up for the suckers who don’t mind parking their cars and coming in to wait (and wait, and wait…) for their meal, is more important than treating the walk-in customers with the same courtesy afforded the clients breezing through the drive-through in a pick-up.
And as I watched, I made a decision: I won’t be going back to any fast-food restaurant that does not treat every single customer with the same efficient respect.
My community has plenty of Mom and Pop restaurants to choose from; places where they call you ‘dear’ as they take your order; places where they recommend a local craft beer because they care about promoting other local businesses; places where they serve your food on real plates and your drink in a real glass; places where they know your name, your tastes and your preferences; places where the parking lot is equitably shared by all the clients they are serving and where clients are treated like… well, like clients.
I do not expect any readers out there to do the same. But next time you have a hankering for a Whopper, or a Big Mac, or a coffee from Timmies, even if you are on foot, you might consider just walking through the drive-through.
Once you’ve placed your order and are held captive inside, you won’t be much of a priority.
Patti Moore Wilson/© wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com