Is There a Code of Etiquette One Should Use When Ordering Fast Food?
One of the drawbacks of operating a restaurant which offers food to take
out is that whether the customer is talking on a microphone located right
outside the restaurant, or talking on the telephone (that's the way we've always
taken orders), is the lack of eye-to-eye contact between customer and order
taker. There is indeed a vast difference between types of fast food; my
restaurants are Asian Fusion. That means that rather than having a menu
selection that's limited
to 20 or so items, there are literally 200 different possibilities and infinite
combinations of them for the order taker and the customer to deal with.
We utilize order pads that make an original and 2 copies; one goes to the
kitchen; one to the sushi bar; and the third, the one which will eventually go
in the cash register with the customer's payment, goes on the table where the orders
are checked, packed, and condiments, rice, etc. put in. Entrees, appetizers, side dishes may be written helter-skelter on these sheets. It merely takes the chefs a bit of time to A) strike a line over items that they're not responsible for (e.g., sushi, salads, soup) B) proceed to call out the orders to the subordinate chefs, who, if very busy will ask "how many orders of steak Teriyaki do I need all day?" ('All day') is a restaurant term which means the number of total orders of a single item at a single point in time, aggregated from the many checks which might be hanging in the kitchen.
Order-Taker vs. Sales Professional
The fact that the order taker has no idea how many people are dining indeed
can make things frustrating. The order takers that I manage are under an
additional burden, they are subject to seminars on at least a monthly basis
about how to take advantage of opportunities to better serve the customer. By
that, I mean up-selling. For instance, the
order will be complete and our server is compelled to look at it and think, "If
I were eating this, what kind of extras would I want for my
family/guests?" Therefore they'll look at an order with no appetizers and say,
"Would you care for one of our tasty appetizers today?" If the customer
hesitated and indicated some way that they're unsure if they have enough food,
the proper reply is, "Perhaps you'd like to add an order of our House Special
Fried Rice to that so you've got plenty?"
It's hard for someone who is not
outgoing, or is perhaps not familiar with selling techniques, to embrace this
concept. Worse, since take-out orders don't usually involve a gratuity, there's no incentive unless the restaurant creates an
incentive to up-sell. During high-volume take-out times, our company pays idle
waitstaff to do the packing of the take-out orders; we give them a
percentage of the net sales dollar volume before tax. The difference between an
"order-taker" and an astute server who up-sells and makes certain that the
customer's order meets the customer's needs is that this person is called a
"Sales Professional." Now certainly if you're just working in a restaurant while
going to college becoming a sales professional is not going to be your career
goal. However, in the world of restaurant workers, "order takers" go home with
minimum wage or perhaps a little more in their pocket each week. "Sales
professionals" graduate ranks by either promotion within their organization, or
changing jobs when the time's ready, and bring home some pretty impressive
earnings each week.
Sure The Customer's Always Right, but Learn How to Control the Customer
As simple as it may seem, the first and foremost instruction given to servers
in training is "Since you never know how many things a customer will order,
write each item and its price one line at a time." No, in anticipation of your
question, a computerized ordering system for our operation would replace the
difficulties involved with using handwritten checks with an entire new set of
problems. So we don't use ordering computers. However, computers (typically
called POS terminals, for "point of sale") can be a godsend to more conventional
restaurants. Back to writing the order down; I can't tell you how many times
I've seen an order which has started out in huge writing taking up 3-4 lines for
each item which had to be voided and re-written on a fresh check because the
order was large. This is indeed a big deal, because our checks are
serial-numbered, to keep the employees from giving away food. It's perfectly
acceptable to ask "could you please tell me how many people you're ordering for
today?" This works particularly well with the occasional person who just simply
has a problem talking on the telephone and so is hesitant to a fault in-between
asking for each item. It also impels the customer to assist you, the order
taker, by taking stock of exactly how many people they're feeding and perhaps
going over their own list once again.
Typically a member of a two-worker family who's decided that it's time to eat
Chinese/Japanese food and is ordering from their office for a pickup on the way
home is the most organized, having called family members (or merely made a
decision based on the family's favorites). That makes things very easy when it
comes to checking, assembling and bagging the order.
Lunchtime, however, can certainly be a nightmare because there will
invariably be the individual who decides he or she would like Chinese for lunch
and then, while the order taker is on the phone, ask them to hold on (while the
other lines are ringing) while he or she polls their co-workers for what it is
they'd like from the Chinese restaurant. It's not uncommon for me to "punch in"
to those calls (intercept them) on our phone system; free up my order taker, and ask if the
customer would kindly assemble their list of orders and then call us back, and
we'll make sure to put them back in their place in the queue; else our telephone
operators will become overwhelmed. I have yet for someone to complain about this
measure (because it makes sense).
Now, while it's always better to have a little personal touch, a friendliness
with a customer, occasionally it backfires and the nameless, faceless customer
on the other end of the phone is saying "oh, and give me that spicy chicken
thing; you know, the one I always like." We have six different "spicy
chicken things" on our menu — how the hell do I know what you want?
Now, I won't even get into the way customers mangle the names of the exotic
foods we purvey. Elderly customers who're prone to forget item names, or simply
give a description, must be dealt with using respect and intuition. Is the
'shredded chicken stuff with vegetables and those crispy noodles' Chow Mein or
is it pan-fried noodles? Suffice it to say that errors are committed all the
time, and we have a 100% satisfaction guarantee. Therefore, there are typically
4-5 "mistake" orders sitting in take-out pails or on plates on a table in the
kitchen. Some are given away as bonuses to good customers; the staff eats the
So now having listed the various types of orders let's condense the last four
paragraphs into useful advice:
- Don't hesitate to ask your customer to give you clues as to the size of
their order, so you can be organized about taking it.
- It's perfectly alright to ask a customer to wait a moment if you're
really busy and they're dilly-dallying. A disarming yet tremendously
effective way to do this is to ask "Pardon me, may I beg a moment of your
time and put you on hold? I'll be right back."
- Confirm that the order is correct by reading it back to the customer
(this is also your last chance to up-sell).
- And although the Customer is Always Right, there are many ways that a
clever server can find opportunities where they can control the customer,
for the server's convenience and perhaps profit.
This is the limit as to how far you'll be able to control your customer. You
cannot ask the customer to give you the meat orders first, the fried orders
second, etc. It takes only a modicum of skill and a minuscule amount of time for
your co-workers to scan an order slip for the items they're responsible
for preparing, and just ignore the rest. The packer's the one with the
responsibility for making sure everything's there, and packed correctly (I
believe that we've all gone to some kind of restaurant for take-out and
discovered that the shakes have been packed right next to the fries, rendering
the shakes gelatinous and tepid, and the fries ice-cold, greasy, and probably
wet from the condensation on the shakes).
The Matter of Etiquette
Two civil human beings who must communicate with each other are bound by
unwritten rules of etiquette that most of us are taught at a young age. Those
who're not intelligenced about etiquette early either go through life
acting like Neanderthals or, more often, are taken aside by a friend, mentor or
the like and taught the simple bits of saying "please," "thank you," "pardon
me," and the like. The saddest situation is that of a person who believes that
their status is so great or their time so precious that unless speaking with
those who're their peers, they let common manners fly out the window when
talking to those who serve them. They deserve everything they get. Some
disgusting but very pertinent examples of this can be found on this
You have chosen to serve people. Any place which serves food to its customers, from a
coffee and donut kiosk in a bus station to a fabulous restaurant of
international reknown given three stars by
The Guide Michelin, is a service business. The customer
is always right (even when they're wrong, e.g., dazed and confused, devoid of
manners, demanding and brusque). You're there to serve the nasty ones, as
frustrating as it may be, as well as the nice people who give
you a well-organized order quickly and pleasantly (these people often have
enough class to tip, as well — a part of a an altogether different code of
etiquette which is rarely exhibited these days — the code of etiquette followed by
true ladies and gentlemen who have the highest level of dignity, kindness,
and esteem for themselves as well as their fellow human beings).
In conclusion, but for that we assume that you both communicate with
civility, one cannot expect a customer who utilizes a service business to
make things at all convenient nor even pleasant for those who serve them.
There is no code of etiquette which any patron of a service business must adhere
to. One who chooses to serve the public in any capacity is a special breed of
person. First and foremost they enjoy working with people. They're willing to
let go of resentments held against the hordes of ignorant, rude individuals out
there they encounter. They embrace, however, the cheerful smile and "thank you"
given by a satisfied customer, because, after all, even though money has been
exchanged in the transaction, the server has, indeed, essentially broken bread
with these people, having attended to one of the most basic human needs; that
For those who've not read the first writeup under this nodeshell title, it might be interesting to contrast the opinion of the fast-food worker who wrote it with my opinions, in the interest of objectivity. As a CE here, I tried my best not to "answer" the above writeup but create one which will stand the test of time.