Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Do I Have To Take Your Order??

[OK, one or two more of these blog entries where I cheat and pull stuff from my archives, and then I hope to get back to writing in real time again, rather than copying and pasting. But in keeping with the theme of strangers helping me to write my columns, I wanted to share this one, mostly because of the reaction it got after it was published, which I've included in this entry as an Addendum at the bottom. I have to admit that it made me grin pretty big to know that the story written below was seen by the right eyes. Oh, and the references to the Olympics should make it pretty obvious that this column was pulled from 2004.]

I had originally intended for this week’s column to be an Olympic wrap-up of sorts, touching on some of the big stories of the games.

I thought I’d comment on Paul Hamm’s controversial gold medal (keep it) and the U.S. men’s basketball team and the medal they brought home. (Doesn’t quite match all the bling they wear around their necks, does it?)

But instead, I’ve been inspired to go on a bit of a rant, so join me if you will.

I’d like to use this space to make a plea to fast food establishments everywhere that if you don’t wish to serve food up until the closing time of your posted open hours, then please edit your signage to read as such.

A couple days ago I walked into such a place to buy myself a late dinner. I knew it was getting close to closing, but I looked at the clock and still had a dozen minutes to spare, and I even asked if they were still serving, to which I received a “yes” response.

So I placed my order, overjoyed that I wouldn’t go hungry, or be forced to eat a tube of crackers as a meal.

And then...it began. Tension so thick you could have cut it with an oven mitt. Apparently, what this person really wanted to say when asked if I could still get my dinner was, “Umm, no. If I’m gonna get out of here two seconds after we close, there’s no way you can order anything. Goodbye.”

I stood there quietly and observed as things were not-so-gently flung about, and got the heaviest silent guilt trip laid on me, because I had the audacity to commit such a heinous crime as (stay with me on this one) entering a place of business during its open hours and offering to drop another 15 bucks into its till before it closes that day’s business.

I should be flogged.

The inconvenience I must have caused this person by asking her to do...her...job...had to be monumental.

Now, I’ve never worked fast food before, and I’m sure there’s a closing procedure that gets knocked out of kilter when a Johnny-Come-Lately like me tries to get a bite to eat before things are shut down.

But again...did I show up two minutes after closing and demand that my order be filled? No. I was there 12 minutes before.

This type of customer abuse (I’m scarred for life, by the way) can be prevented if these establishments would only clarify their hours of operation by requesting that all orders be completed 20 minutes before the posted closing time, so that employees can bolt for the door the second the business’s “Closed” sign gets flipped.

And if I did something wrong, I’d appreciate it if someone well-versed in fast food etiquette would point it out to me.

Rather than fanning the fire by refusing my order after it was filled and walking out, or making some sort of formal complaint to management, I simply sat back and took it all in, and thought to myself, “Thanks for the column!”

And by the way...if they add an Olympic customer service event in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, I can guarantee you one American who’ll never even make it to the trials.

“Your most unhappy customers are
your greatest source of learning.”
—Bill Gates

[Addendum: A couple days after this column appeared in the newspaper, I received a voicemail from the owner of three franchises like the one in which this episode occurred. He was concerned whether this took place in one of his restaurants (it didn't), and he also asked me if I would be opposed to him hanging my column on the wall in the back of his restaurants as a reminder to his employees of how to treat their customers (I wasn't). So I can only assume now that the employees of those three restaurants aren't real big fans of the guy who wrote that column, and they look at my byline and ask, "Who the hell is this asshole?" waiting to for me to come in and buy something so they can run the janitor's mop over my food before serving it to me, or replace my "extra pickles" order with extra dust balls instead. I've tried to avoid such retaliation by using the following line when I go into any of these three establishments: "Hi, I'm Bill! I'd like to place an order, please." So far, it's been working.]

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