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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


Are They Your Best Employees?

28 Feb

Recently, a collegue recounted an experience she had working at another store. She said that the crew ran the store, not the management. I asked her what the GM thought about that, and she told me that the GM let the workers do it, and wouldn’t hear anyone telling her that this is wrong.

The two crew people in question, according to my collegue, took full advantage of the situation. They didn’t do the things that they were supposed to, such as cleaning up after themselves. They made fun of the other employees. They generally acted as if they were over and above the law.

The GM’s excuse: “They’re my best employees. They make the food really fast and deliever it on time.”

The problem with this sort of attitude on the part of management is that she is creating an environment that is hostile to the other employees. By endowing these two “best workers” with impunity, she is sending two destructive messages. The first is that this sort of behavior is tolerable. The second is that other employees aren’t as valuable as these two.

If the two “best workers” have major attitude problems that no one is bothering to adjust, it sends a message to the other employees that this is the sort of model behavior that management is looking for. That means that other employees, seeking positive recognition, will start to emulate that behavior and then you will have more than just two employees who behave unmanageably.

In the cases where the two “best workers” are favored above other employees, this will foster an attitude of indifference on the part of the other employees. “If they don’t have to clean up their station, why should I?” Start holding these two accountable, the others will see that, too. But it doesn’t sound as if, in this store, that these two will ever be held accountable.

Have I just described your store? Are you holding on to employees that you’d be better off letting go?

How would a subordinate manager handle this situation? With careful documentation. The subordinate needs to hold these two employees accountable and discipline them when they do things that are wrong. If the GM won’t allow the discipline, then copies should be forwarded to the GM’s boss with an explanation of the GM’s behavior.

If the GM’s boss won’t do anything, then it may be time to contact Human Resources. HR should be able to help out in this situation.

Bottom line: Employees like this need to fall in line with the rest of the crew, or they need to go. All too often in fast food, speed is valued above simple respect. Someone who has speed is immune to prosecution and may do as he or she likes in the store. This is destructive for morale and hurts the store’s performance in the long run. It also undermines the authority of the management and sends the message that such behavior is tolerated, even preferable.

Habits 1 and 2 of Highly Effective People

25 Jul

The first habit of highly effective people, according to Stephen Covey, is to be proactive.  The second habit is to begin with the end in mind.  If more fast food managers adopted these habits, we wouldn’t have half of the problems with fast food managers that we do.

I first encountered the second habit in the book Lead or Get off the Pot by Pat Croce.  I can’t say that it has always influenced me as much as it should.  It isn’t a habit.  Starting with my next store assignment, I am going to ingrain this habit into my head; I am going to always start a new assignment with what I want to accomplish by the end of the assignment.

In this particular case, it is promotion to the rank of senior manager.  I have a long way to go–senior manager is two levels above my current rank.  It is reserved for folks who are general management material but who have no store yet.  This is a manager who leads in place of the current store’s GM.  The Go-To Guy.  Every step I take from the start of the new assignment will be taken with the goal of senior manager in mind.  In a future post, I’ll break down the vision I have for being a senior manager and offer some commentary on the action steps that I will take.

If only every fast food manager began new assignments with specific goals in mind.  Most, however, begin a new assignment with nothing more in mind than running a few shifts and doing what they are told.  This leads us to the next point: being proactive.

For the food service manager, food prep is the place where being proactive helps out the most.  I’ve noted that most managers, when they show up for work, dive in and start helping to alleviate the rush that is inevitably going on at that moment.  That is a huge mistake.  The first thing that the incoming manager should do is check on all food prep.  At Burger King, I check the salads, bacon, tomatoes, onions, mac & cheese, and all of the kitchen stock levels (burgers, Whoppers, and fried product) when I walk in the door.  If something is low, I mentally note it and look for an opening in the business to fix it.  The second thing to check is the cleanliness of the dining room (which includes the trash) and then the cleanliness of the kitchen.  If something is amiss, send someone to take care of it.  Then I check the back-of-house: the dishes, the trash, and the paperwork.  If all is good, then I start helping clear the rush.

After the rush is clear, it is time to confer with the outgoing manager.  There is usually at least some overlap between management shifts, and communication is the key reason for that overlap.

Instead, how do most fast food managers manage?  They react to problems as they come up instead of identifying potential problems ahead of time and fixing them.  As much as we all might hate to admit this, the flowcharts and checklists put out by the company help a lot with being proactive.  As human beings, we are bound to forget something if we try to go it on our own.  Following these aids to the letter is a sure way to run a smooth shift.

10 Steps to Empowerment 10: Respect

24 Dec

I’ve heard it said once that you must seek first to understand, then be understood. This is the cornerstone of respect.

Respect is the perfect closing step to empowerment because each other point requires the manager to respect his employees. Clearly defining job responsibilities shows respect. Giving people the proper authority is a sign of respect for their work performance. Setting high standards of excellence show respect for the employee’s ability to achieve those standards. Training and developing employees shows respect for their track record and for the potential you see in them. Providing knowledge, feedback, and recognition show respect. Trust and respect go hand-in-hand with each other. Granting permission to fail shows that you respect their ability to learn from their own mistakes.

10 Steps to Empowerment 9: Permission to Fail

10 Dec

I’ve heard it said once that defeat can be more instructive than victory. A quick glance at history shows that the people who have achieved the most failed quite a bit. Abraham Lincoln ran for public office six times before he was elected. Thomas Edison tried 2,500 times to invent the light bulb. Albert Einstein failed math. Bill Gates tried to sell Microsoft to IBM to avoid bankruptcy. J.K. Rowling was rejected by an untold number of publishers, most of whom said that Harry Potter wouldn’t appeal to anyone. Babe Ruth holds the record for home runs and strike outs. Terry Bradshaw is the only Hall of Fame Quarterback with more interceptions than touchdown passes.

I could list more examples. But the point is that unless a person tries and fails, he’ll never learn what real success is. And that’s the point of the principle of empowerment: giving permission to fail.

Success and failure go hand-in-hand. That may seem counterintuitive to many, but upon reflection, most people decide that it’s true. This is a world defined by opposites. How can we know that one woman is beautiful unless we can see another who isn’t? How do we know what good is unless we see what evil is? This great philosophical truth means that we will never achieve success without failing first.

This principle is the toughest so far to implement in a high volume business like fast food, because even the smallest failure can create a chain reaction that will wreck the entire shift. We all know that it isn’t fun to play catch up. But, we must contrast that with the fact that most fast food places encourage mediocrity in its employees. We’ve discussed that failure is the key to success already. So without permission to fail, all we do is encourage more mediocrity. This is a vicious cycle. In order to succeed, we must occasionally fail.

I believe that the key to fast food success is nothing less than consistency. If, as a manager, you have a consistent record of success, then you can point to that record when you fail. Therefore, you may give your employees permission to fail, shoot for higher goals, and if a mistake causes everything to crash, just stand on your past record.

Before this principle can be applied, you, the manager, must create a track record of success. These will likely be small successes at first, since without permission to fail, the larger goals will be out of your reach. Small successes include good health inspections and other visits, a good rapport with direct and higher supervisors, a desire to advance to higher positions, good cash control, and consistent speed of service. Build a lot of these small successes and then you will have permission to fail from your supervisors–within certain limits. Know what those limits are.

Then build an environment that doesn’t penalize failure; but rather, penalizes inactivity or indecision. Tell people, in no uncertain terms, that you want them to make decisions for themselves. It is better to have made a decision–even a wrong decision–then to not do anything. Support and encourage them when they fail, and reaffirm their worth as people and as members of your team.

I’ve discussed One Minute Reprimands and I still believe that they are the best way to reprimand an employee. When someone does fail, they should still be subject to one of these, especially if it is a large failure. Giving people permission to fail is a separate idea from building an environment where people don’t care whether or not they do fail. There should still be consequences.

Remember that you must be in control when you give your reprimand. If you humiliate someone, then you will have destroyed all of your hard work to create an environment where people have permission to fail. The crazy lady in our marketing department has a quote in the signature of her e-mail that applies here: “They may forget what you said, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.” Always make people feel like they are an important part of your team, even when they fail, and you will have very happy employees who are willing to take risks.

In the end, an environment like this will produce better results for your company.

10 Steps to Empowerment 8: Trust

2 Dec

Once you’ve defined a person’s responsibilities, delegated enough authority to him, trained him properly, set a high standard,  given him the proper knowledge, and provided appropriate recognition and feedback, the next step is to simply trust this person to do the job.

Is it really that easy?  Of course not!  Trust is a very sticky issue, especially when money is concerned.  But we’re not just dealing with the store’s money.  Our employees bring personal property, such as cellphones and jewelry, with them to work.  Our customers bring money and jewelry, too.  We also have to consider the food within the establishment–that is equal to money for the purposes of a fast food business.

We also trust people with our safety.  Cooking equipment is dangerous.  The grills can scar people and the fryers can burn the store down.  The gas can cause explosions.

For these reasons and more, trust should be earned, never given.  But, it is important to lay a foundation for a good relationship by believing that everyone who comes to work wants to do a good job for you.  If that isn’t the case, it will become apparent soon enough.

Don’t begin by teaching someone how to filter the fryers.  This is a dangerous job.  Begin with smaller tasks.  See how they do with sweeping and mopping, register drawers, and other cooking equipment.  Let them work toward the tasks that have the potential to destroy the restaurant.

What happens when the trust that someone earned is violated?  That has to be taken on a case-by-case basis.  If they set a fryer on fire, perhaps they didn’t know that the fryer has to be off when empty.  No trust violated.  A One Minute Reprimand will do nicely.

Perhaps they wanted to go home early, so they purposely left the fryer on.  That’s a different case altogether.  By the same token, if cash comes up missing from their register, or if employee or customer property is missing, then you may have a situation in which a One Minute Reprimand isn’t going to cut it.

10 Steps to Empowerment 7: Recognition

1 Dec

Recognition works hand-in-hand with feedback.  The difference is that recognition is an actual reward for positive work performance, while feedback is a quick note on how work performance is progressing.  A One Minute Praising is good for both recognition and feedback.

Since a One Minute Praising might be the most effective low-to-no-cost method of recognition, I thought that this would be a good place to repeat the rules:

  1. Tell people up front that you are going to let them know how they are doing.
  2. Praise people immediately.
  3. Tell people what they did right—be specific.
  4. Tell people how good you feel about what they did right, and how it helps the organization and the other people who work there.
  5. Stop for a moment of silence to let them “feel” how good you feel.
  6. Encourage them to do more of the same.
  7. Shake hands or touch people in a way that makes it clear that you support their success in the organization.

What are some other methods you could use?  At my new store, we are instituting an employee of the month program.  We are also keeping notes about who does things consistently well and we are going to mail a thank-you note to that person’s house.  Each manager has to select an employee over the next two weeks for the thank-you card.

A special honor will be presented to one lucky crew person at the crew meeting on Sunday in front of everyone for outstanding help while the store was short-handed.

There are as many ways to recognize people as there are people.  Some pointers on effective recognition (adapted from 10 Steps to Empowerment by Diane Tracy):

  1. Be sincere.
  2. Recognize the people as well as the achievements.
  3. Make sure the recognition is appropriate for the achievement and consistent with recognition for similar achievements.
  4. Tailor the recognition to the person.
  5. Make sure the recognition is timely.

10 Steps to Empowerment 6: Feedback

30 Nov

I once heard it said to seek first to understand, then be understood.  When giving feedback to your employees, this statement is very true.

Feedback is the lifeblood of the fast food industry, and quite possibly the most important tool in the manager’s arsenal.   Feedback should be immediate, tailored to the individual, and continuous.

Feedback that is given too long after the fact is ineffective.  To alleviate this problem, the feedback must be given as close to the behavior as possible.  The feedback must be specific.  Always target the behavior and not the person–even when giving positive feedback.

Here is where One Minute Praisings and One Minute Reprimands come in handy.

Feedback should be tailored to the individual for two reasons.  First, generic feedback will seem insincere.  It will seem as if you don’t care enough to observe performance. I’ve been over this in previous posts.  “Good job!” is not nearly as motivating as, “You make a perfect Whopper every time.  I appreciate that, and so do our customers.  Keep making those beautiful sandwiches!”

Specific, positive feedback can be very motivating.  Not only will the employee keep up the good behavior, but they will feel good about it.  Once people start taking pride in their jobs, it will make the entire restaurant run much more smoothly.

To tailor feedback to the individual, it is first necessary to understand each individual’s motives and reason for being in your restaurant.  Managers with hearts are so rare, and the manager who puts in this extra effort will earn people’s commitment.  This pays huge dividends in the running of your restaurant.

Continuous feedback is important because it will keep the employees focused on the customers.  We all know that once service goes awry, it will be very difficult to get back under control.  In really high volume restaurants, service goals are impossible to attain if your staff suffers even one misstep.

But don’t overdo the feedback.  You don’t want to be a micromanager.  Everyone hates those guys.   The real trick to good feedback is finding the balance between too often and not enough; positive and negative.  Master that, and feedback is a powerful tool.

10 Steps to Empowerment 5: Knowledge

28 Nov

The fifth key to empowerment is to give employees the knowledge they need to do their jobs.  If they’ve been properly trained, they know their responsibilities, they know the standard of behavior, and they have the authority to do their jobs, what good is all of it if they are lacking in important facts with which to make decisions?

As the manager, you know if the sales level is leveling off.  If you keep that under your hat and don’t communicate it to your team, then don’t be surprised when they drop enough food to feed a small army.  Conversely, if you see a half dozen cars pull in the parking lot and don’t tell your team to get ready for a rush, don’t be surprised if they run out of food.

It is extremely important that your team have all of the knowledge that they need at their disposal.  In a fast food environment, the best way to do that is to talk to them continuously, making sure that they stay apprised of business trends, food that is already prepped, sandwiches that are “extra,” and anything else of the sort that you, as their manager, feel that they need to know.

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.