We Are Bad Customers: Fast Food Restaurant Drive-Thru Etiquette (Part 2)
How to have better service and add value to our drive-thru experiences
In my last article, I began by discussing some of the issues we have as consumers of fast food, how our culture has evolved from a one-size-fits-all mentality to a style of serving in which each and every customer is served precisely to their personal tastes and needs. McDonald's used to call this "Made-for-you." Burger King reigned on high with their slogan, "Have it your way." While I know this does reflect the great progression of how our society has grown, I feel that certain aspects of the fast-food business have been neglected. As customers, we sometimes feel that we are owed something when we are making our purchases. With rising pricing of meats and henceforth driving up prices of our sandwiches and entrees. These price increases are also impacted by cost of oil prices as well. Increases in the price per barrel affect gasoline costs which drive up delivery costs for food truck deliveries to each store. To stave off those costs and to help maintain the standard 33% profit that most stores strive for, those costs unfortunately have to be passed along to the consumer. Restaurants have tried to battle the anger of rising prices by attempting to add value to the customer by providing wonderful decor, upgraded merchandising, buildings and scenery that are pleasant to look at, and better quality food. Most importantly, excellent service is a value that is tied into the price of each person's meal. The more value a restaurant and provide to go along with the food that is purchased, the more a customer will feel that they got their money's worth.
More Drive-Thru Etiquette Customers Should Practice to Follow
6. Plan your order BEFORE you get to the drive-thru.
Not knowing what you want beforehand is a deal-breaker for choosing to go through the drive-thru. You are wasting the order taker's valuable time and killing all of their potential for pushing any more cars through that hour. To be honest, being able to figure out what you want or need to order has become ever so much less complicated. Most restaurants have their own websites now, and have their full menu for you to look at and decide upon, even before you get there. Additional, many restaurants even have phone apps now, where you can place your order online and pay for it as well before you even arrive. This works exceedingly well for places where your order might take a longer time to assemble. Subway, for example, brags that it will have your sandwich built for you to your specifications within 15 minutes of your ordering online. Mobile pay makes it easy for ordering as well. With a sign-in, these apps can hold on to your credit card/debit card information, eliminating the need for reaching into your back pocket or purse. Gone are the days of having to fumble through your wallet for your cash or card.
7. Forgot To Order Something At the Speaker?
DO ask to add more stuff at the window. Let me clarify. Small, quick items that you may have forgotten, such as a fry, drink or ice cream are fine, as they can get to those quite quickly without slowing down the processes too much. As a matter of fact, most drive-thrus are set up for such instances. However, when you forget that combo or that sandwich, watch how fast the whole operation shuts down. Tempers flare in the back room when the sandwich makers get the order to make or remake sandwiches that were not on the screen. That bag that we thought they finished ends up sitting there that much longer. Can you guess what happens in the end? You guessed it! The food that they made and have not yet handed out is that much colder and you, the customer, do not receive a quality product. Not ordering it all correctly the first time is the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to receiving quality food. There are many times that cold food was handed out to a customer, but it was not the drive-thru runner's fault. Sometimes, not always, but sometimes, it is the customer who has unwittingly brought it upon themselves.
8. Can I Have This? Oh! Can I Have That?
Do not ask for excessive condiments one at a time at the window. Some customers think it is cute to keep sending the window person back and forth for a variety of sauces and whatnot repeatedly. By doing this, you have ruined all of our best efforts to eliminate all of the extra steps we take in trying to get your order together. Our drive-thru is set up somewhat in this mindset of giving quick service, but all of that goes straight out the drive-thru window (literally) when customers play this game of “Oh, I forgot this. Oh, I need some of that. Can I also get some more of this?” Stop playing games. Tell the window person what you want and how many so we can quickly see you off to enjoy your hot food. I would even recommend requesting the desired number of sauces during the order taking process. There are buttons on their computer where they can ring it all in which in turn translates to the order-filling screen the runners read off of.
9. Small, Medium, or Large?
Know what size combo you want. I kid you not. Nine times out of ten when asked what size combo a customer wants, we are usually greeted with “Can I get an umm, ahh . . . Uh”. Come on people. You know what your size is. Everyone on the planet has his or her size. You know what you are usually going to get. Getting the size out of a customer is like pulling teeth. We could create a completely new industry just by charging customers a quarter for every “um” and “uh” they utter while ordering. We are not asking you to give us a dissertation or a book report over the speaker, but please be able to tell us quickly what size you want so we can move the order along. Remember, the timer is still running against us.
10. How We Order Is Just As Important As How They Take Our Order
Do not speak to slow or too fast. Believe it or not, speaking too slow can still lead to mistakes. It happens more often than not. Moreover, it can just sound rude, like you are talking down to your order taker. That can lead to other issues as you drive through. Speak too fast, and you end up with an order taker that might not be able to keep up with you. Inevitably, your order will be wrong, and you will have only yourself to blame. Although usually, it is the order taker that gets the short end of the stick. Speaking at a medium pace, allowing the order taker to lead you through the order is always the best-case scenario. Additionally, take short pauses in between items you are ordering. Imagine you can see the order taker front of you. It takes time to key in the items. It takes even longer for more complex orders, especially ones the order taker is not used to taking. Give them the couple of extra moments to key in the order so that it can be down correctly, and possibly prevent you from being upset later down the road when you are checking your food.
11. Allow Your Order-Taker to Lead The Conversation
Keep it conversational. As I indicated above, allow the order taker to lead you through the order with open-ended questions. Going through the drive-thru is not just you pulling your car to the speaker, yelling at it, and pulling up the window and expecting everything to be perfect. It's a give-and-take situation. A symbiotic relationship between you and your order-taker. Allow the order-taker to lead your through. Most importantly, sometimes the computer program that is running the cashiering does not allow the order-taker to go any further without you having to answer a question. Typical questions such as “Will that be a small, medium, or large?” “Would you like a Coke with that?”, and “Would you like barbecue sauce with that?” Also, understand that this is what these employees are trained to do. Getting upset with them is only going to make the situation tense for everyone involved. Know that a great deal of time has been spent on coaching them on what they need to say to you in order for them to expedite your order as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
12. Menus Are Constantly Changing
Do not come to the restaurant after a 3-year hiatus and expect to be able to order the same thing. As far as I know, you cannot go into any McDonald's here in the states and order a McLean Deluxe. It is off the menu. As competition has risen to all-out war among all of the different food chains, items have come and gone into the nether. Also, do not expect a restaurant in one state to have the same menu as one in another state. There are test markets for new products all of the time, but they are just that. Some items are limited in only specific areas of the country due to testing and demographics. So, do not be upset if one restaurant if they do not have your item. Instead, you can be more proactive about it by writing that specific company or franchise and give them a request to consider including it on their menu. Companies adore and thrive on customer feedback.
13. Let's Talk Calmly About The Prices
Do not complain to drive-thru personnel about prices. They have no control over any of the price increases. That is the company’s directive. If you have an honest qualm concerning the cost of any given product, contact the company by email or phone and open a dialogue with one of their representatives. You might not be able to change anything, but perhaps they can give you a reasonable explanation for the price. Again, complaining about the expenses during a transaction is only going to drive up the times and will slow down how long it will take to get your food. Remember, if you do not think the prices are fair, you do not have to eat there. Also, if a price that is on the menu is not the same price as the order-taker has quoted, you may politely let them know that the price is incorrectly labeled. Most times, they will only charge you for the price that was showed on the menu. All too often, a customer will get upset and start screaming about the price being incorrect. This is completely unnecessary. Calmly let the order-taker know that the price they quoted is different on menu outside. Believe me, they will thank you! Managers are usually fairly quick at correcting such oversights because it is in their best interests to keep the drive-thru running smoothly.
However, once you have informed them, you must understand that a regular employee may not have the ability or access required in order to fix your total. This requires cards or access codes the the employee is not allowed to have. They may have to get a manager in order to make the changes necessary to charge you price you read on the menu board. This may take a few moments of your time, as the manager may be busy assisting other customers. Have patience with the employee and wait calmly until that manager can get to you. Most managers will appreciate the time taken out to correct a mistake that was missed when the prices were changed. Also note that prices are typically changed quarterly, so do not expect the prices to remain the same after any given four month span of time.
14. I Wanted It Swapped Out, Not Added On
You want to swap out your fries for a different side item. Be clear with the order taker that this is what you would like to do. All too often, a customer will rattle off their order, assume that they will be getting their side salad in place of their fries, and in the end discover the charges for both.
15.Please Have Your Money Ready
Have your money ready. This concept is a biggie. Picture this. You are the cashier. You have the drink in your hand, and the bag at the side prepared to hang out and your hand out the window beckoning for the customer’s payment. You look down in the car, and your “guest” is just now reaching for their purse/wallet, or fingerpicking at their change holder. You get the idea. Being unprepared only slows the whole process down, after the crew rushed to get your order ready. Meet them halfway and have your money at the ready and you will be motoring down the road with a hot meal in hand in no time.
16. Doing Your Part Can Help Create Jobs
You will be helping the economy. The faster and smoother that drive-thru's can operate, then more cars can sail through the line. The more cars floating through quickly, the more many each restaurant can make. The more money each restaurant makes, the more people it will need to bring into the business to balance the labor. This additional income creates allows companies to expand and build more restaurants that will need more employees. This also creates management opportunities for people who have been stuck in lower management positions due to the lack of job openings.
To the Future, Cheers!
As I said earlier, this is the future. With that, there are massive expectations on all management and crew alike. However, we, the hard-working masses, have hopes for the customer as well, and it is about time that we gave voice to these concerns. This is the future, yes, but we as a people will not evolve further without looking inward at ourselves and deciding to change. Choosing to change for the right reasons will bring us closer to the future that we envisioned so many years ago. A future where we treat one another with respect, and approach these conversations from a place of understanding.
© 2020 Matthew Leo
About the author
Matthew Leo is an Amazon self-published author of "Zombies Don't Ride Motorcycles". I have written over 200 poems, and written numerous articles. If you enjoyed any article please let me know with a heart & for more content please tip.