I have now lived long enough to see the birth and death of fast food. Death may be too strong a word, but certainly many of the fast food restaurants I visit are ill if not dead.
I go into a chicken type chain store on Jonesboro Road on my way to work to snag a couple of steak biscuits in a hurry. And after paying I wait and wait and wait. I finally say to the clerk that I am in a hurry. She says they are frying the "steak" and it will take a little time.
I eat lunch in the afternoon at a new hamburger restaurant on Jonesboro Road and it has been my experience that if you had people lined up outside the building they still wouldn't open a second register.
Here are some of the problems that have led to more and more people getting frustrated with these types of restaurants:
The people hired for these restaurants have no concept of time management and multi-tasking. In many cases they are more concerned with that cell phone call from their honey than they do about your order.
If someone orders 100 things in front of you and you order a cup of coffee, the clerk could dispose of you by taking your money and handing you a cup of coffee. But no, they fill the humongous order before even dealing with you.
The concept of the fast food restaurant was that they would have a limited menu and therefore as you walk up everything would be prepared. Snap open a bag, pluck up the various items, put them in the bag and ring up the order. Then in a matter of seconds, the clerk says: NEXT!
Now the workers don't look to see if they have a steady supply of the food. So my chicken restaurant which sells a zillion steak biscuits forgets to drop more steak into the hot oil so they wouldn't run out.
In the old days, a hovering manager would assess the line and rush up and open a second register even if they had to run it themselves. Not any more. They seem too busy themselves with busy work while people shuffle back and forth in line waiting. The manager seems to know that the fast food restaurant nearby is just as slow as they are and you are unlikely to leave and start over.
What is the future of fast food restaurants? My prediction is more grousing by inconvenienced customers will drive people back to regular restaurants, bringing your own food from home or some million dollar research company will break the news to the chains about why they are losing business.
If it is going to be six minutes before the steak is ready, tell the customer as he orders. Let the person then decide if he wants to go to another restaurant or order something different. Put the burden back on the workers. If you order something on the menu and it is not already there you get it free and the cost comes out of the employee's paycheck.
I remember when the first fast food restaurant opened in my hometown of Spartanburg, S.C.. It was such a big deal that the Spartanburg High School band came out and played in the parking lot to entertain the customers.
Up to that point you went into the diner and the waitress with the hairnet and the No. 2 yellow pencil sticking out of her hair would take your order on green flip over order pads. They always used words like "honey" or "sweetie" or "darlin'" when soliciting your order. The cook patted out the meat and fried your burger. Someone cut up potatoes to make fries.
So approaching the new McDonalds on its maiden voyage into my hometown, we high schoolers asked each other: "So, let me get this right ? they only have a limited number of things and you walk up and they are already prepared?" Yeah, that's right. They are posted on a board with the prices. "And they don't make each shake separately like at the drug store?" No, they have some machine. I don't know how it works but it works. But I heard you could only get three different kinds of shakes. "Hmm. And what if you want extra pickles on your burger?" I don't think it works that way. You just take what is already done. "So where do we sit? You can't actually get in the restaurant?" Yeah, you get your food shoved through a window and sit on little benches outside the restaurant or take it to your car and eat it there.
Now we are so accustomed to the way it works it is almost humorous to remember the beginning, the first golden arches in my hometown.
So I don't know what other people are doing, but I am edging my way back from fast food ? slow food restaurants ? to the old timey ones again.
I ate in the Sub Factory on North Main Street in Jonesboro recently and I had forgotten what a real diner type place is like. Propriety Greg Berkers is the cook and greeter and cashier. You tell him how you want the sandwich and he does it right there. You tell him the ice machine is out of ice and he retrieves you some ice immediately. He talks to you about what you have in common, a recent trip to Prague. He answers questions about things while he is preparing the food. Regulars come in and you get to hear some good Southern conversation, no sterile fast food silence, but real people interacting. If you want to join in and add your two cents worth, no one seems to mind. Everything in the place looks like that place and not a million other places.
I figure what the heck, rather than waiting in a long line for slow fast food, I'll enjoy the food and the Southern atmosphere of the Sub Factory and places like it.
Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .