Symptomatic of Bigger Problems?

Before I start this particular rant (which I’ve been meaning to write for a week now) let me say that I love the food at Wendy’s.

Okay.

The Wendy’s closest to my house is having real service problems. The last few times I’ve been there they’ve botched at least part of my order. I could point to the fact that my order-taker had a strong mexican accent and blame immigration, but I’ve gotten enough good service from hard-working, well-intentioned immigrants all over this country that I’m not going to play that card. I’ve also gotten enough crummy service from american-accented punk teenagers and meth-mouthed thirty-somethings that I know it’s not about race.

But back to Wendy’s: on my most recent visit I pulled in with a large order — one for the whole family, with several burgers, and one special order. I looked at the line in drive-through, and my thinking went like this: “I don’t want to be pressured by the line behind me when I’m deciding whether it’s worth it to double-check my bag.” In short, I EXPECTED them to screw up my order, especially if I placed it over the speaker.

So I went in and stood in line. While I was waiting I saw two people come in with screwed up drive-through orders. Well… score one for me making the right decision.

Then I waited… and waited… and waited. Okay, lunch rush is a busy time, but I’ve been to Wendy’s that were busier and far faster. They’re also halfway across town rather than around the corner.

Then I placed my order. Then I waited some more. Aaaand some more. And finally it’s bagged up and ready to go.

I open the bag, count, and I’m short a sandwich.

I can probably point to the exact moment in my conversation with the order-taker when things went wrong. Her english was imperfect, and while I tried to be explicit, and was careful to speak slowly, I can see in retrospect where she might have misunderstood me. The missing burger had not been paid for and was not on my reciept. Apparently “two Big Bacon Classics, plus ANOTHER Big Bacon Classic with no onions” would have been clearer as “three Big Bacon Classics. One with no onions.”

(This reminds me of one of the screw-ups from an earlier visit, when I asked for an extra patty on a Big Bacon Classic, and my burger showed up with one patty and… wait for it… a side order of mayonaisse.)

To their credit, they dealt me the extra burger quickly, and at no charge. The manager never questioned whether I was trying to sneak extra food — he just assumed the best of me, and the worst of his employees, and the final burger arrived in something like 30 seconds.

But let’s look back at the whole sequence: The service here has been so consistently bad that they’ve trained me to a) Not order at the drive-through, b) speak slowly and carefully, and c) take inventory of the contents of my bag before leaving the store. Not only do I EXPECT bad service from them, I’ve already adjusted my behavior to compensate.

Couple that with the fact that the burgers are usually assembled rather haphazardly, and it’s a wonder I go back at all.

So I guess what I’m seeing is probably symptomatic of bigger problems: 1) management over there hasn’t figured out how to put together a decent crew, and might not even care, and 2) I keep eating fast food.

30 thoughts on “Symptomatic of Bigger Problems?”

  1. It is a wonder you go back at all. Doesn’t Utah have other Wendys locations?

    From the perspective of the store, why would they need to bother changing to become more competent? You’ve already changed to compensate for their incompetence, and at the end of the day, they still walk away with your money.

    1. There are other locations, but when I’m hungry for Wendy’s I’m typically a) at home, and b) not in the mood for a drive across town. It’s the difference between a 2-minute drive and a 15 minute drive.

      I’m contemplating printing this rant out and delivering it to their store.

      –Howard

        1. Unless it’s a corporate-owned store, delivering it to the manager of the individual store will have more impact. Wendy’s corporate has no direct control over the management and operation of its franchised restaurants. The most they can do is pull the franchise liscense and stop selling their branded products to the store for resale, and they don’t do that over one complaint unless it’s a really big one (and one that specifically impacts their bottom line, like “store X is selling another company’s meal products in their place of business”).

          The owner and management, however, have to work at turning a profit every week. The corporate office turns a profit whenever the franchise fees are paid, whether the individual stores are profitable or not. The owner and management on the local level will thus pay far more attention.

      1. I’d recommend sending it to the regional (or national) corporate office rather than the store. Though maybe that can be your second resort. I’d guess that, even if you handed it directly to the manager, he’d trash it rather than let his superiors know what a systemic problem there is.

        Sora and I faced a similar problem with the Subway near her office. We went there three times over the period of a month – all three times, the staff (different people each time) were rude, and anywhere from not caring about the quality of the service to downright incompetent. There are enough Subways around, though, that we can just hit another one instead, and if enough people stop going there due to the service, their sales will drop enough that the regional office will realize something’s going on.

  2. When I worked at Hoover’s (the financial information company, not the vacuum place), a Wendy’s opened up at the other side of our large parking area and thus most of us in technology wound up walking there for lunch at least two or three times a week. After a while the joke became that this was in order to save money by removing the urge to gamble, after all you’ve already played the Wendy’s Food Lottery (What’s in the bag this time??? A goat? Oh you crazy Monty Hall!).

  3. Speaking as someone who’s currently in a Hospitality major, and thus had to go through management classes for every facet of the industry:

    Fast food is a labor nightmare. The average fast food worker lasts something like a month; that’s a false average actually, because it is a combination of the people who go years in the field with all the people who quit on their second day, but it gives you an idea of how hard staffing and training is. Most people will also only look for a fast food job when they’ve exhausted all other options and decide that they actually need money that badly, which means you get those people who are unhirable in all higher-paying industries – people with no work experience or people with no skills or people with no motivation. No matter how you look at it, you’re trying to train people who don’t want to be doing their job and don’t have much of anything in the way of experience how not to screw up with no guarantee they’ll stick around past the week of training. If they don’t, you have to try and find new people and start the cycle over again… and in the meantime, your store is understaffed which leads to overworking which leads to more mistakes and more departing workers. The cycle is pretty tough for anyone to fix using anything more than dumb luck.

    That’s why I mostly eat at quick service restaurants that don’t have a drive-through, actually. Places like Moe’s or Panera are actually “fast food” taken up one notch – quick food served at the counter with a target menu price of under $10 for all menu items – but because they aren’t a McDonald’s or Taco Bell or Wendy’s they don’t have to overcome the hiring stigma that leads to less-qualified, less-motivated workers.

    1. Be that as it may, there are fast-food places that have overcome this, that retain employees, and that develop loyal customer bases with a combination of friendly, effective service and good food.

      Wendy’s has a great franchise model — the food always TASTES great, even if sometimes it looks sloppy. And at most of the restaurants I’ve been to the service is good.

      1. If they could bottle that, or even teach that, I assure you I’d be looking for it. You can actually make really good money even in fast food if you manage a few operations that are all humming cash-makers. Unfortunately, that seems to be due to luck more than anything. A good system only really works when the employees want to help it work, and people like that are at an extreme premium in Hospitality (and especially fast food). For many businesses, there is an inherent challenge in simply filling all necessary positions – much less finding qualified and interested workers to hold them.

        I wish someone came up with a solution, because I’ve actually contracted food poisoning from a few of the fast food places near here (another reason I tend to avoid them) and I know that’s just employees ignoring management training and management not having the hiring pool to get rid of them. It’s a downward spiral, basically, with disgruntled employees causing customer dissatisfaction which leads to more disgruntled employees. Most places like that tend to eventually either change ownership, in which case they start from scratch on hiring and might find better people with a “clean slate” of reputation, or they go out of business. If there was some other way, the book on it would make a fortune I’m sure.

        1. I think the key is marketing their establishment as a fun place for teens to work. I mean, heck, if you could find one cute girl that always has a smile ready, you could pay her WAY more and get some retention out of other employees.

          Howard has neglected to mention that he worked at McD’s for several years. I tried it and quit on my second day. I think the difference was in the managerial style, which makes me believe this Wendy’s issue is one at the managerial level.

          There was a Burger King a dozen years ago that routinely — ROUTINELY — neglected to put the bacon on my burgers. I shared that experience with some friends in hopes we would avoid that place, and we all had a good laugh about the employees having a “Randy Tayler” button they would push when they saw who was ordering.

          We didn’t avoid the place, however, and we found as we drove off that EVERYONE ELSE’S SANDWICHES HAD BACON, but not MINE.

          “Huh — I’ve got bacon.”
          “Me too.”
          “I got bacon and I didn’t even order it — I’m gonna just throw it out the window.”

    2. I think fast food places get what they pay for. You want decent workers who are dependable and Will Show Up For Work? Pay them. Pay them enough that not going in to work is a less attractive option than going to work.

      I used to work at a place where you made an extra buck an hour for every hour you worked in a month where you were never late or absent. Tadyness, absenteeism were not a problem for us.

      1. Another reason why I eat at “quick service” places that have no drive-through. They charge more for their menu, but that means higher pay for the workers and thus better job satisfaction. Not amazingly better, but good enough that people will care about the work they do.

        Fast food’s profit margin is literally something like .5% – they’ve cut prices so much that in some cases they’ve got loss leader specials running in an attempt to get people through the door, since that’s the only way to get the bargain market. At that point there’s precious little money left to pay anyone, really, and even the management gets hosed on wages. That’s why the only real way to make a decent wage in fast food is to own several stores or be the original franchisor. Unfortunately, as it is a market segment which makes huge sums of income (though most is turned around into food cost, real estate, and franchise fees) then people get into it in search of that elusive profit.

  4. This seems to symptomatic of Wendy’s. Our local branch used to consistantly screw up our order every single time, while there were never any problems at the McDonald’s or the Chik-Fil-A just next door (and this was before Dave Thomas passed on). I think they’ve got systemic problem in their training system, and not just because of the general problems that listed.

    Of course a large part of it might be the complication of allowing customers to custom order their sandwiches, which would add to the comlexity of a fast food environment.

    1. I’ve generally had good luck with Wendy’s, but even among a chain there are wild variations in service quality. It’s certainly not just Wendy’s, For example, the Hardee’s in the town I grew up in is one where if I were to go there, I’d make sure to double check the order before leaving. This has been the case for at least ten years. Whereas the local Hardee’s has rarely, if indeed ever, gotten my order wrong. These are both the only Hardee’s in a small town (a bit over pop. 10,000) in the upper midwest and both are more downtown than near the major highway.

      1. My “screw-em-up” place was a particular Taco Bell. The one closest to home never had any problems with my orders, but the one near my church would forget this item or that item, or not add the sour cream to my burrito, or leave out the napkins… unfortunately, it was also the ONLY fast food place a convenient distance from the church for a while.

        I heard from someone that this particular Taco Bell was a “training location” — the new hires in the area would all start there, then move on to other Taco Bells in the county when they actually learned to do their job — but that didn’t sound like franchise behavior to me.

        1. My screw up place was the closest McDonalds to where I was living in NYC a while ago.

          Mind you I only ever went there once, but that gives them a 100% or orders screwed up, 100% of items screwed up, and me not bothering to go back ever again.

          I ordered just one cheeseburger. What I got was a cheeseburger without any meat – so a bun with some cheese in it. And I was half way home when I opened the wrapper and got to see the new definition of “burger”.

  5. Expectations

    They are probably just doing a test to see how little service they need to provide before you go away.. at Wendy’s “A” they hire good workers, pay them well, get good managers, staff the place up right. they make revenues of (for example) 1m. their costs are 750k with a profit of 250k (Ok, I know this isn’t real finance, but work with me here…) At Wendy’s “B”, their revenues are 700k (less because they screw up orders and some people don’t go there anymore), but their costs are only 400k since they hire less people for less money. This provides a profit of 300k making it clearly superior than Wendy’s “A” and proving it is a conspiracy.

    so, here is a question… do we have different expectations for fast food workers (or even some fast food workers compared to others), or do we have the same expectations, but are willing to let them slide (and is there a difference in those two statements?)

    For example…

    My wife was saying that she has different expectations between a fast food worker and the wait staff at a good restaurant. when a worker shows any initiative behind the counter at , she is pleased, but completely expects that initiative when dining at a nice restaurant. But she wonders if having different standards is somehow not a good thing, if we expected everyone to work at a higher level, wouldn’t at least some people try harder to meet that higher standard?

    I however think that I expect everyone to work to a high standard, but am willing to understand that some people don’t have the experience or maturity to meet that standard yet. So, while I expect the counter worker at the fast food place to work really professionally, I am not upset when he does, but I do expect the manager to work to that higher level since he/she should have the experience (in theory at least). But, I wonder if I am always allowing my expectations to not be met, am I sacrificing my standards?

    And is there a difference at all in our two views, or is it simply in the words that we use to describe them?

    Anyway, maybe we are both wrong and your experience is really the way the restaurants should be working…

    1. Re: Expectations

      I fully expect a higher level of initiative from waitstaff, for one and only one reason: They expect ME to pay them for it directly.

  6. I check my order at any fast food place, always. My biggest gripe regarding fast food bugers? The pickles. Three pickles stacked on top of each other is not acceptable, take the 1/2 a second to spread them out. I would have to say that In-n-Out burger on the west coast consistently has good service, but they also pay better and have more employee retention.

  7. We have the same issue here in Canadia. Most stores are decent to good in service quality, but the one closest to my house, and the one most convenient to my normal route of travel (that’s two stores, total) suck rotten eggs (and sometimes spit them into my bag when I’m not looking).

    Here, I think it may have something to do with the location, and the attitudes of the people who live close to those locations (many of the domiciles in the area have the same sloppy/falling apart appearance as the food I get).

    Then again, when I include the other fast-food joints I hit, I notice there’s a bit of a cycle. Normally early summer and early fall are harbingers of a serious drop in service levels. Possibly because those times coincide with the changes in the work force composition?

    Either way, I still loves me my food from Wendy’s.

  8. Point 2: you have a beautiful wife and kids you love, don’t do it, man! Eating at Wendy’s may not kill you as fast as smoking, but it certainly isn’t good for you.

    I used to like Wendy’s too, but I prefer to support non-chain businesses, and for the price of a burger, fries, and a coke, I can go to a Lebanese place and get lunch for two plus enough leftovers for dinner, or go to a greek/coney island and get much faster service (maybe that’s just a Detroit thing, but “fast food” is not as fast around here)… better food both ways. Asya’s also cooking lunch for us about half the time, which really helps.

    Perhaps call one of those restaurant delivery services or a taxi cab, who will go pick up a really nice burger from a mom & pop place, or at least check the order for you? Yet another advantage of dealing with small business is that they remember the way you like things, which also makes fast, correct ordering easier.

    1. Indeed. When I was living in NYC, the guy at the corner deli that I stopped into every day on my way to work took two days to start saying “bacon egg and cheese on a roll, right?” when I came in. A week later, he didn’t even ask, just handed me the sandwich.

      But that’s NYC, where the food rocks beyond belief.

      Then again, the mom-n-pop shop by the barracks in Korea was pretty quick to learn my habits as well.

  9. At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, I have to ask…
    Have you phoned up the store during a non-rush time and asked to speak to the manager? I am sure s/he’d at least listen politely to your description of the service problems you’ve had at this store. And it just might do some good.
    I doubt many if any people have taken the trouble to talk to him/her, so your opinions and experiences will carry much more weight than one customer.
    It’s kind of like calling the fire department to report a fire. If you assume someone else MUST have called already, the house may burn down while everybody watches.
    The manager may not be able to immediately fix the problem(s), but putting (polite, reasoned) pressure on him/her will only help getting things moving in the right direction.
    And, if s/he’s rude to you, or dismissive, call corporate. After all, it’s “your” Wendy’s store, so make them shape up for you.

    Your rant got me thinking about my expectations for fast food service. In my experience it’s almost universally poor-to-mediocre. We _always_ check our order before leaving the drive-thru window, at least making sure we have the correct number of food items, even if we don’t verify they’re the right kinds. I’ve also been “trained” not to make special orders, and I cringe when my wife insists on them.
    I was also going to suggest cooking at home instead of going to fast-food places, but upon thinking about that, I realized that there are several reasons for visiting the chain-stores for food, and that home-cooked food, even when you’re actively trying to simulate a particular fast-food product is often an unsatisfactory substitute when what you -really- want is (eg.) White Castle’s sliders.

  10. It isn’t just Wendys.

    Here in the SF bay area, I can count on horrid service at just about any fast food “restaurant” I go to. I just finished writing Taco Bell about the lack of any unsweetened drinks at their stores (I drink lots of iced tea, they don’t have any any more), as well as the taco I had the other night with virtually no cheese and the Crunchwrap that had blobs of ingredients inside. I love Quizno’s sandwiches, but the two stores nearest my house are so bad that I have the regional manager’s number on my cell so I can call him when things go wrong (which is about every other trip).

    Someone else mentioned in a comment that it’s a problem getting fast food help. I would argue it’s a problem with the general American work ethic, since I see the same problems at Wal*Mart (you should talk to my dad about his stories from working there), and just about any other low-end food or service industry. People don’t want to work. One of the local Quizno’s is a classic example. They start putting things away at 7pm, even though they don’t close until 8pm. Somewhere along the line, closing the store at 8pm became the employees going home at 8pm; instead of continuing to provide the same service ’til 8pm that they provide the rest of the day and going home when their work is done at 8:30 or 9.

  11. How very weird! I read this post thinking another LJ friend had posted it (I…errr…don’t have a creative color palate) and I totally knew which Wendy’s she was talking about. Except…this wasn’t her post. Word for word this could be the Wendy’s on the north side of my home city. We have six or so Wendy’s and the north side one has always been noticeably much slower than any of the others and they are the least reliable in terms of getting the order right. They also tend to hire non-native English speakers who have a very poor grasp of the English language. Maybe there is a Wendy’s Law that states: “The Restaurant most convenient will be the one that is the most mismanaged”?

  12. And of course, the service is so bad that even management is used to it, and just gives customers the benefit of the doubt, because they also are expecting their staff to screw up.

    Honestly, it’s the working conditions. I don’t think fast food restaurants do enough to keep their staff alert and comfortable, and so things get botched. It’s also difficut to give your all to a job when you’re being paid peanuts for it.

  13. My Wendy’s WTF-moment usually comes from ordering salads and chili from the drive-through. For some reason they don’t seem to grok the notion that when you order salads you generally eat it with utensils not you hands. Also compared to other places it difficult getting ketchup out of them.

    If you want to complain, find out the company that actually owns the franchise. They usually hang it on the wall somewhere. “Owned and operated by Non-descript holding company, LLC” or something along those lines.

  14. I haven’t read all the comments, so I’ll be brief.

    I _have_ to special order just about everything. Not much choice there, unless it’s Chik-Fil-A, or something like “give me some fries”.

    I only hit the drive through if I’m the only one in line, or they don’t have the walk in open. (okay, a few times when there are only one or two other people, tops – but that’s rare, and usually it’s a simple “Plain”)

    Why? Because it’s faster to walk in, even if you don’t have a special order. Also, you can speak without having to go through a severely distorted outdoor microphone with an idiot in a diesel truck behind you (why do they BOTHER with the drivethrough?)

    The other is that it wastes less fuel. A lot less, especially if it’s a big order.

    So, just so you know, it’s not just that Wendy’s. It’s fast food all over the country, and in Canada. (I don’t know about the other countries. Those are the ones I have experience with)

    Give it to the _owner_ of the local franchise. Not the manager. Usually, you can get the franchise office name/number at the local store – often on the window of the drive through.

    BW

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