Ok, I work at a fast food restaurant (and don't worry ClockworkGrue, we call our customers customers, not guests). It's a mom and pop establishment, not like Mcdonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, etc. Anyhow, customers come through our drive-thru day after day and order in a way that makes my blood boil, metaphorically. So, I have taken it apon myself to write a "guide" about how to order at a fast food restaurant. As stupid as it sounds, the employees would appreciate it if you followed this guide.

Please do know, that this applies mostly to drive-thru ordering. If you are ordering in the lobby, I understand that each person will order individually. An important thing to realize, is that the employees are dealing with people who don't give a damn about them all day. This means a lot of customers can be rude, and ruin someones day real quick. Honest to God, the longest amount of time it takes to interact with a rude customer is, at most, an hour. On a good day. When business is slow. And the roads are icy. Ok, a little too much? Anyway, the employees you have to deal with may very well have already met Mr. Hurry!-I'm-Late-For-My-Appointment!-It's-Most-Certainly-Your-Fault-For-Not-Getting-Me-My-Food-Fast-Enough. Thusly, one may get irritated fairly quickly. Your fault? No, not at all. But it helps if you're nice. No one ever tips at a fast food joint, either wink wink. It can really brighten someone's day right up. That being said, ordering out of order may very well be the straw that broke the camel's back.

Step One: Main Course
The main course includes things like hamburgers, fish, chicken, shrimp, sandwiches, and the like.

Step Two: Side Items
Things like french fries, tater tots, onion rings, breaded mushrooms, jalapeno poppers, cheddar tots, and foods such as that.

Step Three: Drinks
I'm sure this one needs no explanation. I'm going to anyway though. Sodapop, shakes, slushies, similar items in drink form, and even ice cream should be ordered last.

"Give me a cheeseburger, medium fries, and a large pepsi, another pepsi, and another cheeseburger." If you knew you were getting two, why not order them together? "Two CB's, FM, PepL." Much easier. Before I forget again, if you're ordering meals (cheeseburger large combo or similar), feel free to order combo after combo. I understand it's easier to bunch them up then spread it out across the steps. I apoligize for failing to mention that previously. If you are ordering multiple orders (example: two separate payments) please please please mention this BEFORE you order. Don't say the entire first order, then say, "And on the next order I'd like..." The employees would like to be prepared before you do that. It's a nice gesture also. "Hello. May I have two separate orders, please?" That sentence works miracles. Honest to God, I think to myself, "Thank you for letting me know what is going on."

I know you may not care about how you order food, especially at a fast food restaurant, but most of the employees (especially the cooks) would be much happier if you didn't order in a different style. You have no idea how frustrating it is when a customer orders their food all out of whack. So please, for the love of God, make sure the people that are handling your food are happy.

I swear on the Bible, following these instructions will make your fast food dining expierence more enjoyable. At least for the employees.

Thank you.

Thank you to themanwho for basically letting me know I didn't explain myself, well, at all.

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 rest.

So now having listed the various types of orders let's condense the last four paragraphs into useful advice:

  1. 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.
     
  2. 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."
     
  3. Confirm that the order is correct by reading it back to the customer (this is also your last chance to up-sell).
     
  4. 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 website.

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 sustenance.


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.

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