I work in a fast food joint. I’ve been working there for about…eh, maybe eight months now. My job for the past six months or so has been predominately working in the drive thru and it is distinctly awful for a number of reasons.
Behind that sliding glass window, I often complain to my fellow coworkers or mutter under my breath or quickly roll my eyes because people who have not worked in a drive-thru do not understand how they work and thus make the drive-thru experience nigh unto unbearable for both the employees and themselves.
How many times have you complained about drive-thru service? In lots of cases, I’m sure it’s warranted. I can’t speak for the work ethic or skill of everyone who works in drive-thrus, but I’m here to tell you that sometimes the negative experience you’ve had is (at least partially) your fault.
Ideally, I want a quick, smooth, easy transaction wherein you order the things that you want and I give them to you. In a perfect world, we can work this out so that my job is a little nicer and you are happy with the service. That is really all I want. I’m serious about how good the service I provide is to the customer. I want you to leave my drive-thru satisfied and in a timely fashion to go about your day well fed. Seriously. I do. I give a shit about my job performance. But the drive-thru is a two way street. I’m trying to provide you with whatever you need whenever you need it, but remember that your behavior during this interaction matters in the outcome.
So, what would I say to my drive-thru patrons, if I were in a position to do so?
SO MANY THINGS, some of them not polite, but here’s a (nice-version of my) short list of tips and things to remember so that you and I can make this as easy and pleasant as possible–for both of us.
1. Please pull up all the way to the speaker. If you don’t, the little beep doesn’t go off in my headset and I literally am unable to talk to you because it won’t let me click on. Also, if you’re not really close to the speaker, I won’t be able to understand what you are saying and I will have to ask you over and over again. Something neither of us like.
2. Speak clearly and just a little louder than normal talking volume TOWARD the megaphone thing. Do not mumble. Do not scream at me. AND DO NOT, under ANY circumstances allow anyone other than the driver to speak into the megaphone. If you do this, it’s extremely difficult to understand and you will either a. get annoyed because I keep asking you what you said, or b. get something other than what you wanted to order.
3. When you pull up to the menu, I am required to greet you as soon as I hear the beep from the sensor. I’m not trying to rush you and if you need more time to look, I am perfectly happy to give it to you. It is my job to greet you as soon as you pull up. For every person who snaps at me that they ‘need a minute to look’ there is another person who would be shouting ‘HELLO?!’ into the mic if I paused before greeting.
4. I am not a mind-reader. If you want something, you need to say it. If you want it a certain way, you need to tell me. You would think that this is obvious, but at least once a day I will get this exact conversation:
Patron: “I would like a cheeseburger and fries and a medium soda, that’s all”
Me: “Okay, did you want everything that comes on the burger?” (what it says on the menu, which I don’t always ask, because I assume that you read the description or if you had any questions, you’d ask)
Patron: “OH. No, just ketchup.”
How would I know that, if I hadn’t asked? I only ask because so many people order and fail to specify but then call and complain later…even though if they had taken a second to ask or to read the menu in front of them, there would not have been a problem. Do not be afraid to over explain things. If you give me too much information, it’s not as much of an inconvenience than too little information.
5. Please read the menu. Almost without exception, everything that you need to know to order your food is on the menu in front of you. Don’t feel bad for telling me you need extra time, even if there are cars behind you. It’s really okay. If you have questions, feel free to ask. I know mostly all the answers, and if I cannot answer your question, I will find someone who can. So take your time. Tell me what you want based on what you see on the menu. If you call it something other than what it is called on the menu, there is no guarantee I know what you are talking about. And please, be patient if I have questions for you because more than likely, it’s because you didn’t read the menu. It’s all on there, folks.
6. I’m doing about three things at once while you’re ordering your food or waiting. I have to take the orders, cash out the people at the window, and make things for other orders at the same time. I do not always have help. Sometimes we are busy inside and outside of the store, so even if the drive-thru only has a few cars, the inside might have an entire baseball team and their parents (true story). Please don’t be offended if I ask you to hold on a moment, if I need to have you park so we can run your food out to you, or if I can’t get to you right away at the window. Please don’t be the person who knocks on the window when you pull up to it. I’m coming. Believe it or not, I want to get you on your way as quickly and efficiently as possible. I’m being timed from the moment you begin ordering to the moment you drive away–literally timed.
7. Please get off your phone before you pull up to order and, if at all possible, refrain from being on it during the entirety of your time in the drive-thru. If you for some reason cannot do this, please try not to be offended when I interrupt your phone call to ask you things. Because I will most certainly interrupt if I need to tell you something or if I need to clarify something with you about your order. (Also, note that I can hear everything that you say while your car is over the sensor, no matter if I am clicked on or not. People have seriously said shitty things about me while they were sitting there in their cars. Like I can’t hear them…really, people? Also keep this in mind if you’re having a conversation you would not want some stranger to be party to…that’s all I’ll say about that.)
8. I understand that this next one is not always possible, but please try to refrain from changing your order drastically at the window. Most of the cooking and fountain things are finished by the time you pull up to the window–unless we’re slammed–in which case, I don’t really have time to make those five shakes that you forgot you needed until you pulled up to the window. If it’s seriously necessary for you to change your order at the window, that’s alright, but recognize that it is extremely inconvenient for me and anyone else involved in making your order–and that it may take some time for us to finish it for you. I do not have a magic wand to make all the things you want appear instantly–if I did, they wouldn’t pay me money to do what I do.
9. In the winter, it is very cold and I know you don’t want to open your car window. In the summer, it’s hot and I know you don’t want to open your car window. I’m sorry. I may need you to do so several times during the course of your drive-thru experience. I try to minimize the number of times that either of us need to open our windows. Remember, I open that window at least a hundred times an hour when we’re busy. I really understand and am doing my best to make sure that both you and I aren’t too hot or cold in the process.
10. I am a person. I realize that I work in fast food and I am young. Please don’t make any assumptions about my work ethic, my intelligence or my attitude based on those facts. I am a person and I would appreciate it if, no matter what the situation, you treat me with the same respect that I am treating you with. You don’t know me, and just because you may never see me again does not give you license to treat me like crap or act all superior.
Now, from my need to express those ten pieces of drive-thru etiquette, you probably think that working in the drive-thru is somewhere around the 4th circle of hell. Some days, it is.
Sometimes people are really really nice. Sometimes they realize that they fucked up and it’s not my fault. Sometimes people understand that it’s busy and I’m human. A lot of people smile and thank me and wish me a good night, before I even give my usual ‘have a great night!’.
So, it’s not all bad. But a suprising number of times a day people pull up into my drive-thru and commit any number of the things I’ve mentioned here. And then they get EXTREMELY pissed off (to nearly inappropriate levels for such a small thing) when things don’t go smoothly, blame me (both when it is my fault and when it’s not) and are unbelievably rude–most of the time to my face, but occasionally, later when they call to complain about their service.
Don’t be that person, okay? Just be clear and considerate and we’ll make this work.