A couple of years ago, Taco Bell was running a promotion where participating stores were open late, some as late at 2 a.m. I was back from college for the summer, hanging out with high school friends. We went to a late movie, then needed a place to eat. Microwave burritos at 7-11 not sounding particularly appetizing, and Riley's too far away, we decided to hit the drive-thru at the Taco Bell in Vinebrook Plaza.

So, at around five past one, we pull into the parking lot... the only car in the whole place. We pull into the drive-thru, ready to place our order. The conversation goes something like this...

Voice: Welcome to Taco Bell, may I take your order?

Me: Can we get eight hard tacos... a chicken soft taco... a chilito... a small diet coke... and a medium regular coke?

Voice: No. We--

Me: No?

Voice: We're running out of meat. You can only have five tacos. And no chicken.

Me: What? You don't have any chicken?

Voice: Look, we have to stay open until two, we've got no more chicken, and we're running low on beef. So I have to ration the meat. No more than five beef entrees per car.

[Side note: I swear to God he called them entrees...]

Me: OK, fine. Five hard tacos, a chilito, a small diet coke, and a medium regular coke.

Voice: $6.04 at the window.

When we got to the window, he tried his best to apologize. No biggie. The problem was, though, that five tacos was only going to partially stave off hunger, especially since the chicken soft taco got 86'ed. So (and keep in mind that we're the only car in sight) I go right back into the drive-thru (which is clearly visible from the teller's window.

Voice: Welcome to Taco Bell, may I take your order?

Me: Could I get five hard tacos and a chicken soft taco.

Voice: I'm sorry, no chicken.

Me: (playing along) No chicken? Man. OK, just the five tacos then, OK?

Voice: 3.79 at the window.

When we pulled up to the window, the guy gave us this look like we done the most evil of deeds. He sincerely looked like he was going to cry. He took the money, gave us our tacos, and then said, "You guys are going to get me fired."

I really think he had his own issues to deal with. Shit, if I worked at Taco Bell, and sold ALL OF THE FOOD THEY HAD IN THE PLACE, I would expect a big-time raise and a medal that said "World's Best Taco Bell Saleman".

The reality of the situation was, they weren't running out of meat literally. They were running out of meat on the food line, where it is kept in a massive double-boiler. The meat he spoke of was in a metal pan that holds about eight to ten pounds of ground beef.

If he did genuinely use it up, he would have to start telling customers that they must wait a half hour for one taco, because they have to warm up more meat. That was the being fired he was referring to. This is not the customer's fault. It's either the crew's stupid fault for not dropping meat in the rethermalizer on time, or it's the manager's stupid fault for telling the crew not to drop any meat, because he wants to minimize the amount of carryover food for the next day. Any food that Taco Bell doesn't use up, and that will keep in the fridge, and that isn't dirt cheap, will be committed to carryover at the end of the day, so that they can mix it with the new food in the morning.

The fault of the crew is something that happens very frequently at my store. It is a part of the disorganization that gives Taco Bell a reputation for being the slowest fast food chain in existence. For fries, the rule is that when the fry holder starts getting low, the person doing fries should drop some fresh fries into the deep fryer. They cook for two minutes and 15 seconds, more than fast enough to keep the flow going. Every day I am there, it happens at least once that someone has not paid attention, and the fry holder runs out of fries. This should never happen. It causes customers to twiddle their thumbs and give us the evil eye while we twiddle our thumbs and give the fryer the evil eye so it will cook faster. It doesn't seem to matter what manager is present, either. It always happens.

For the curious, the rethermalizer is a tank full of water at 195 degrees Fahrenheit. We drop packets of cold food into it and take them out when they're warm.

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