By RICH FOLEY
These are tough times in the fast food business. After several years of dollar menus at most of the major outlets, prices are on the rise. How do they continue to keep customers happy? At least one restaurant seems to want to kick up the ambiance a notch or two so you’re less likely to fixate on the price.
Last Thursday, I stopped for lunch in Adrian at one of the national chains. I won’t mention any names other than to say it’s the one whose television ads feature an older, bearded man who is identified as a “legendary detective.“ Unfortunately, I’d never heard of him-so what makes him a legend? After a bit of internet research, I’m still not sure. Besides, who would base their dining decision on what a detective has to say, legendary or not?
I placed my order and my order taker asked for my first name. It was like going to one of those fancy restaurants where you have to give your name to someone for their list, then wait for a seat. Since there were only two other customers in the restaurant, both of whom had already ordered, that hardly seemed necessary. It also ruined the order taker’s chances of being offered a tip to move my name up on the list.
While waiting for my food, I glanced at my receipt and discovered I was mistaken in referring to the young woman who took my order as an ”order taker.” It turns out that, although she performed all the duties you would expect of an order taker, she was, in fact, my “hostess.”
That reminded me of another chain restaurant in Adrian (no longer in business) whose manager many years ago tried to improve employee morale by changing the title of all employees, including the acne-scarred 17-year-old who messed up my order, to “assistant manager.” Back in the present day, my “hostess” was hard at work. It appeared she was consulting with the other “hostesses” on duty to facilitate construction of her guests requests to the proper specifications. At least, that’s what I guess they do in a fancy restaurant.
Finally, the purchase belonging to “Howard” was delivered to the front counter. Howard immediately stated he was also supposed to receive a rueben sandwich. My first thought was that they had misread their orders and given it to a previous customer named Rueben, but that hadn’t happened. The sandwich was quickly located and Howard was on his way to eating two sandwiches, along with an order of fries.
Next, “Becky” was called to the counter. She had been patiently waiting, holding a soft drink and a fistful of napkins, at least 20, maybe more. I assumed she had a huge order to go, but no, just a single sandwich and small fries, plus enough leftover napkins for all of her Thanksgiving dinner needs. She asked for a knife, but was probably disappointed when they only gave her one. Can you carve a turkey with a plastic knife?
Finally, it was time for the team of hostesses to devote total attention to my meal. My hostess walked over to the hostess in charge of the deep fryer and I heard her ask, “Are Rich’s curly fries ready?” Imagine that, my own personal serving of curly fries, prepared just for me.
Actually, that wasn’t the case. The deep fryer hostess simply scooped up a load of curly fries from the curly fry silo, shoved them into the cardboard holder, and handed them over. So much for them being “Rich’s curly fries.” They had come from the same batch that Howard and Becky got theirs from. At that point, I stopped feeling special.
Before I took my order and sat down, I had to get my own drink. I guess that made me not only a guest, but a barista, too. While I was eating, one of the hostesses began to sing. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that in a fast food place before. A few minutes later, a completed order for “Richard” was announced. It’s a good thing I didn’t use my full name, who knows what complications that might have caused.
Next time, maybe I should give them a unique name to avoid confusion. My first thought was to use “Barack,” but these days, I might not like what an uninsured hostess ends up serving me. I finally made the decision that if I go back, I will claim to be “Bo Dietl, legendary detective and roast beef spokesperson.” If they’ve seen they own commercials, that should get me exceptional service.