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Minimum Effort for Minimum Wage

1 Oct

It’s a situation I think every fast food manager is familiar with.

The classic setup:

You’re inspecting the work of a crew member, usually a cleaning task but sometimes work that is central to the job (such as the wrap of a sandwich).  It’s not good enough.  The table base is still dirty, the wall still has spots, or the sandwich looks like a really cute baby slapped it several times while giggling.

You know how babies do that when they discover something cool, especially if it’s a squishy something cool.  But I digress.

You inform the employee that the task is not done properly and tell them they have to redo it.  They say the task is “good enough,” and that since you only pay them minimum wage, you only get their minimum effort.

That sickens me on two levels, and I let my employees know it sickens me on two levels, One Minute Reprimand style.

On the first level comes the ridiculously high current minimum wage.  In Ohio, state minimum wage is higher than federal minimum wage, so we must pay our folks $7.70 per hour.  And, on January 1, 2013, it will rise to $7.85 per hour.

I didn’t make anywhere near that for my entire stint in hourly management!

As unpopular opinion as this is, I think that fast food crew are overpaid because of the minimum wage.  The job responsibilities of a crew member are not commensurate with the federal minimum wage, let alone the higher Ohio one.

Of course, I always get, “Was gas as high as it is now?  Did the food here cost almost $7 for some sandwiches?  Were any other prices this high?”  Of course, the answer to all of that is NO.  And the crew member folds her arms in superiority.  She won against her know-it-all manager.

Then I explain the second way that response sickens me: the deontolgical response.  This is almost a fancy, philosophical way of saying “guilt trip.”  The hypothetical crew person can’t win against this.  It is best illustrated with an example:

If you go to McDonald’s and order something off the Dollar Menu, receive it, and find out that the sandwich wasn’t made the way you ordered it or the meat was raw, you’d take it back, right?

Or if you went to Wal-Mart and bought something on clearance, then found out it was defective or broken, you’d return that, right?

Of course.

Because if you pay for something, even if you pay bottom dollar, you expect that it will fit the needs for which you bought it.  And if it doesn’t, then you complain and expect that the store will fix it.

Well, what if the McDonald’s employee told you that since you bought a Dollar Menu item, you only get the minimum possible effort McDonald’s can muster?  Sometimes that equates to “baked under a heat lamp all day” or “served raw.”

What if the Wal-Mart employee said that since this was a clearance item, that you had no right to complain since you didn’t pay full price?  Only general sale items or full price items can be returned.

I’m sure you’d be fired up and pissed.  You’d be asking for high-up managers or writing letters to the respective parent corporations.

Well, how do you think your manager feels at the utterance of “Minimum effort for minimum wage”?

The point: it doesn’t matter what the restaurant is paying a worker.  They have an expectation of how the worker is going to perform, and every right to coach the worker to complete tasks properly.  Or terminate the worker if the worker won’t comply.

“Deontological ethics” are practices you have a duty to perform.  I believe that if a worker agrees to a wage, minimum or otherwise, then they have a duty to put for the best effort every time they are clocked in and collecting money.  If the money isn’t right, don’t take the job.

“Minimum effort for minimum wage” is the attitude of a loser.  Yes, I couched in strong terms because I feel that strongly about it.  If workers can’t be coached properly and they cling to this mantra and the piss-poor attitude that always accompanies it, they need to be replaced immediately.

Two Lessons from my Personal Hell II: Deliver Superior Performance

8 Apr

Those who read the last post know that I have been going through a personal hell of having worked the past month straight without a day off.

Such is the problem of management.

The two lessons I have gleaned from it, however, are invaluable.  The first lesson is to remain spiritually, emotionally, and physically in shape for what might be a grueling experience.

The second lesson we will discuss today is that you still must deliver quality service, no matter what.

When you take over a new leadership role, especially if you’re not the top dog, you should become intimately familiar with the philosophy of your company.

Burger King promises that the customer will have it his way.

Wendy’s prides itself on quality.

McDonald’s is a production line — delivering prepackaged food at unmatched speed.

Fast food is almost always short staffed, as I am right now.

But guess what?

That’s no excuse for not delivering what your company says it will deliver.  Do not cut corners just because you’re short staffed.

I think a great way to look at this is to set a goal for yourself.  Don’t let anyone that you don’t directly tell find out you are short staffed.  Don’t even let them suspect you’re short staffed.

This means a lot of extra work for you.  This means a lot of delegation to your staff; they will have to learn to juggle multiple jobs effectively.  You will have to be their cheerleader.  And you will have to reward them and celebrate victories or other milestones.

But let your short staffing be as brief as possible.  Plan to solve the situation as quickly as possible, because you will burn out and your team will burn out quickly.

Once the short staff issue is solved, you can celebrate in your own way.  Today, for example, I took my first day off in over a month.  It felt great, and I have many more to look forward to in the near future.  Things are rapidly beginning to look up, and those are the things you and your team should celebrate.

Nobody wants to hear that you can’t do something because of short staffing.

But everyone is wowed when they find out you were short staffed but never batted an eyelash; all of the work still got done and all of the customers left the building happy.

That’s leadership.

Fast Food & Pie-in-the-Sky Marketing

29 Oct

I’ve always hated the marketing department.

“Which marketing department, Cory?  You’ve worked at Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and Burger King.”

All of them.

The marketing department takes hours to construct the perfect sandwich, using ingredients that aren’t even edible.  They put a fine mist on the tomatoes, they paint the lettuce green.  BK uses shredded iceberg lettuce, but the ads look as green as romaine lettuce, and they use full leaves of lettuce.  They play up the grill marks on the sandwich to emphasize “flame-broiling.”  They put each ingredient on that sandwich as though they were playing a Jenga game with $1 million dollars at stake.

They play with lighting and exposure times, then take that single, perfect picture.

Then, they touch up any imperfections on the perfect picture using effects in PhotoShop.  The result looks mouth-watering:

Conversely, when the customer orders a Whopper, the goal is to make it in 7 seconds, sometimes with substandard ingredients.  Or, at least shredded lettuce as opposed to leaf, mayo that isn’t as white, onions that have fermented in their own juice for at least an hour, and a burger patty that hasn’t touched a real grill in its life.  The result looks like this:

I have no doubt in my mind that the whopper in that picture tastes excellent.  That’s not what I’m here to talk about.  What I am here to talk about is the seriously unrealistic standard that the marketing department of a fast food restaurant creates with those PhotoShopped but delicious looking pictures they use in the advertisement.

Customers, fact of life: it will never look like the picture.  Unless you want to wait for two hours while a team of workers stack each ingredient perfectly and we paint the food the vibrant colors.  Then treat it with a special gloss so that it shines in the light.

But then your food, like the delectable picture, wouldn’t be edible.  And you wouldn’t be able to grab it and go at the drive-thru.

It would be nice if the marketing department adopted the Domino’s Pizza approach by using real food in the pictures taken by customers and uploaded to a website.  It looks far more realistic, and just as tempting (in many cases).  And best of all, the customer knows exactly what to expect and isn’t lead astray by painted lettuce or meticulously arranged nacho chips.

It also creates some accountability with the employees: while speed is important, presentation is also a must!  This might be online.  Do you want to be “that guy” that made the “Slopper” that appears on our company’s website?  Nobody wants to be “that guy.”

Since I don’t see  BK or Wendy’s adopting that kind of a policy anytime soon, I recommend that employees just joke with the customers about how disappointed they are in the presentation of the real food versus the fantasy marketing.  Then, after sharing a laugh, tout the quality of the food for the price, leaving them with that food for thought!


More food comparisons.

How to Answer the Drive-Thru

14 Oct

One of the top tips I gave for increasing speed of service is to streamline words, phrases, and questions at the drive-thru.  This caused quite a bit of controversy in the comment section, so I decided to clarify a bit.

Let’s take a peek at an employee at my last restaurant, who is a great example of what not to do.  I will present a typical order from her, followed by a critique:

Customer: I’d like a Whopper, —

Order Taker: Would you like cheese on that?

Customer: Sure.  And I’d —

Order Taker: Is that a meal?

Customer: . . .  Uh, yeah.

Order Taker: What would you like to drink with that?

Customer: . . . Um . . . I’d like . . . a . . . Coke, and —

Order Taker: Small, Medium, or Large?

Customer: The drink?

Order Taker: No, the meal.

Customer: Oh. . . Uh, I guess . . . uh, Medium.  Uh. . .

Order Taker: Is that it?

Customer: No, I’d like . . . uh. . . a. . . Chicken Sandwich —

Order Taker: Original or Tendercrisp?

Customer: Which one is on the long bun?

Order Taker: The Original.

Customer: Original —

Order Taker: Would you like cheese on that?

Customer: Uh, sure, I guess. . .

Order Taker: Would that be the meal?

Customer: Well, uh, . . . sure —

Order Taker: What kind of drink?

Customer: Uh, . . . uh . . . Maybe . . . Diet Coke?

Order Taker: Small, Medium, or Large?

Customer: (quietly) Small, Medium or Large?

Friend: . . . (almost inaudible) Not sure . . . Large!

Customer: (loud again) Large.  And —

Order Taker: Is that it?

Customer: No, I got more comin’ . . .

I’m not impressed, and I’m annoyed.  I would have had this order taken already, in its entirety.

How could this possibly go quicker?  There are two critiques I have, in addition to politeness.  “Is that it?” is not a proper way to attempt to close an order.  It’s a bit rude and off-putting.  Always say, “Will that be all for you, today?”  Or something like it.  Note also the number of “–“‘s that end the customer’s side of the conversation.  This is where our order taker has cut the customer off to ask a question.  Also very rude.

The critiques that will assist speed of service, and thus the body of this post, are that she is overselling and over-clarifying. Continue reading

Speed of Service 1: Be a Leader

13 Oct

It’s a question faced by every fast food manager at some point in his career: how do I decrease my speed of service? Let’s face it–there is a lot of pressure from above you to do so. Most of the time, the higher-ups will not accept the fact that customers do a lot of little things to increase your speed of service (e.g. not having money ready or taking a super-long time to order). But it’s pointless to vilify the customer when there is so much that can be done by the store’s employees to decrease speed of serivce.

In the previous post, I identified six points for faster service. I will now expound on what they mean. The first point is to simply be a leader. What does that mean?

As the visible head of the organization, your people look to you to get their cues. They actually follow you. Which means that if you’re all about speed of service, then they will be all about speed of service. If you act like speed of service isn’t a big deal, then so will they.

Start by clearly defining the speed of service goal for the shift. At Burger King, our gold standard is less than two minutes and thirty seconds. So I establish that as the goal right off the bat, and I communicate that goal to everyone. Our timer gives an average when there are no cars in drive-thru, so on the rare chance that the drive-thru is empty, I call the time out and give everyone feedback on how they’re doing–either positive or negative.

In his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell talks about the Law of Navigation, which says that only a leader can chart the course. It is up to the leader to chart the course on speed of service. The old axiom holds true: “Whoever fails to plan plans to fail.” You need a solid plan in addition to motivation. You need to chart the course. People need to be placed right, the store needs to be set up right, there needs to be enough food to get you through the rush so that everyone can be assisting customers and helping out with service instead of cooking. These points will be covered in later posts, but they’re worth noting at least for now.

In short, if speed of service is in all you say and do, that will rub off on your people and they will be all about speed, too. Clearly define an appropriate goal. Plan your shift to meet that goal, and set up your store for speed.

Six Tips for Getting Better Speed of Service Results

12 Oct

There are many ways to improve speed of service results. Here are six possibilities:

  1. Be a leader
  2. Organize for speed
  3. Right number of people in the right place at the right time
  4. Stock enough product, condiments, and other supplies
  5. Use enough headsets
  6. Execute speedy procedures

Each day over the next week, we’ll discuss a different point.

These points will only help your restaurant get faster. If you want to bring customers back, you can’t just practice speed of service. You need to practice speed with service. Customers will respond to fast, friendly service. Taking care of your customers is what will bring them back time and time again.

Messed Up Orders: Two Views

26 Nov

Helium has two essays on messed up orders in fast food restaurants. One says that the employee and the customer are to blame. This one says that only the employees are to blame.

You’d expect that since I’m a fast food employee, that I would side with the first article.  Frankly, I think the first article was written from the perspective of a fast food employee that I’d prefer not to employ. Giving rules the way that the author does is a little bit ridiculous.  These customers choose to spend money in our restaurants and they will not frequent a place that would purport to issue rules for its paying customers.

The place down the road doesn’t have rules.  The customer will go there.

By contrast, the author of the second piece challenges managers to think about how their business is conducted.  First, he talks about training, an issue near and dear to my own heart.  Every word is true: fast food managers often do not train people correctly.  They put the person into a position and let them go.  This is a wrong that I am fighting to right.

Staff attitude is a very big deal.  If employees are rude to customers, or if they act like the customers are less important than what happened last night at the club, customers pick up on that and are far less likely to come back to an establishment.

Conditions within the restaurant, both of equipment and cleanliness, are an indication of whether or not the staff actually cares.  People who take pride in their jobs don’t work in filthy operating conditions.

Finally, leadership plays a role in all of the author’s points.  Most of the managers that I’ve worked with are interested in passing the buck–“He was supposed to do it,” “I called for the fries, why didn’t you drop them?” or “He knows what his job is!”  None of that matters.  When you are the leader, the buck stops with you.  When a breakdown occurs, accept responsibility and fix the problem.  A former U.S. President had a plaque on his desk that said “The Buck Stops Here.”  Managers should get that tattooed on their forehead.

There may well be some problems that the customer creates.  But we can’t do anything about that.  We can only solve what is under our control: training, attitude, environment, and providing the best leadership we can.  When you think about it, there really is quite a bit under your control.  Solve what you can, and try not to sweat the rest of it.  And pray for the wisdom to know the difference.

What is Four Cents, Really?

15 Nov

I have two customers who regularly visit my establishment.  They are incredibly annoying.  They will place their order, and the moment I turn around to help my fellow employees, one of them invariably signals me to add something to his order.  One of them always changes the order between purchasing it and receiving it.  They normally pay in change.

Yesterday, I had the chance to pay them back for the headaches that they normally give me.  One of them was four cents short of being able to pay his order.  I could have been a dick and refused service to him.  Instead, I remembered that–annoying or not–he is still a loyal customer.  In the grand scheme of a $1.1 million per year operation, what is four cents?

In that particular case, that four cents could have meant the difference between keeping a loyal customer coming in every single day.  I spent four cents, but my return on that is likely in the neighborhood of $3600 per year–because these guys spend an average of $10 per day.

I think that is an appropriate way to spend four cents!