Of Principles, Burgers and Bin Crushers

“Here’s your drink sir, if you wouldn’t mind moving down to park in the waiting bay, your meal will be along shortly.”

Few sentences make my blood boil like the above line from a new generation of fast food drive-through personnel.

Yesterday I took my stand.


“No thanks, I don’t want to park and wait, I’ll just have my money back thanks.”

I was polite, but the reaction from the young girl was still complete shock.

“Um, move down and park. Please”, she repeated.

I politely repeated myself but the stand-off became moot as my food arrived (as I knew it would given the standard nature of my order) and the young girl handed it to me with eyes that said one word very clearly.


Munching on my chippies as I pulled out onto the road, I wondered what my 14 year old self would have thought about the last few minutes of my life.

Like most people working in fast food back in the late 90’s, I was completely caught up in the speed-of-service dogma and the holy Drive-Through Clock which was lord and master to all.

It told us all how long cars had been waiting and if that daily average wasn’t under 2 minutes, lord help your entire crew!

It’s all well and good when you’re getting ‘just a small fries thanks’ or ‘two ice cream cones please’, but when a Tarago full of half-pissed hungry people rocks up and that clock says 4mins 30 seconds before you even get to ‘please drive through to the first window’, naturally the average is going to skyrocket.

I remember one of my particularly savvy managers figured out that if you hit the incoming sensor plate with something metallic (say a bin-crusher for example) ten times, then run to the other end of the drive through and repeat the procedure on the outgoing sensor plate, well, let’s just say it ensured the daily average was no longer ever in danger of clearing 2 minutes.

Looking back now, it didn’t exactly boost enthusiasm for speed of service though (the opposite in fact), but we all thought it was a great idea!

So how did that enthusiastic 14 year old become the 34 year old who won’t be parked?

Principle, plain and simple (I also blame Larry David a fair bit).

Parking or Waiting Bays are a great addition to the drive through dynamic IF (repeat, IF) they are used sensibly to ensure that customers who order 19 lattes and forty gourmet (note term is used loosely here) burgers don’t cause cars behind to wait unnecessarily long.

The problem is that in reality they are invariably used as the modern form of that trusty metal bin crusher, to keep drive-through times down while at the same time resulting in (indeed, facilitating) a natural drop in speed of service focus.

Fast service is, I would argue, the main attraction and/or point of difference for customers to choose these chains.

Why would managers need to roster appropriately to ensure speed of service when one staff member can ensure that all cars cross that outgoing sensor as they ‘park over there and wait’?

It is not just fast food (don’t even start me on self-service checkouts), it is the general principle of doing what your advertising is saying that you are.

Or not doing in this case.

You can’t take the ‘fast’ out of fast food in practice but keep it up on the signs out the front.

Well I mean you can, clearly you can, but you shouldn’t, and my response to ‘being parked’ from now on will be ‘no problems, can I please have my money back thank you’.