What counts as good service at a fast food restaurant? Speed obviously matters but what about staff interactions? No expects a quick service restaurant to have a Zagat’s rating (although some Chicago hot dog stands are graded) but can fast food service slip so much that customers notice?
Apparently the answer is yes, and furthermore McDonald’s hasn’t been doing so well in delivering service (McDonald’s Tackles Repair of ‘Broken’ Service, Apr 10).
But achieving speed and friendliness of service across the chain has been a particularly elusive goal, at least in part because about 90% of McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. are owned by independent operators.
In QSR Magazine’s annual Drive-Thru Study, the only comprehensive industry comparison of customer service at fast-food chains, other restaurants have consistently outperformed McDonald’s in those areas. In last year’s study, the average service time at the McDonald’s drive-through studied was 188.83 seconds, compared with 129.75 for industry leader Wendy’s Co. Chick-fil-A had the top friendliness ratings. Out of the seven major chains in the study, McDonald’s was second to last in the “very friendly” ranking, just above Burger King.
So what are the root causes of the problem and what can they do about it?
One problem highlighted in the article is how McDonald’s divides up work among the staff in its restaurants.
Monica George, a McDonald’s employee in Brooklyn, N.Y., said she can understand why customers complain, and that there are frustrations on both sides of the counter. “Let’s say I’m in front at the register and the grill’s not pushing out food quickly enough. So you have to wait on food, and the customer is getting aggravated at you because you’re not giving them the food quick enough, and the grill gets aggravated with the cashier because we’re asking where the food is,” she said.
Ms. George, who says she earns $7.25 an hour, said one problem behind slow service and inaccurate orders is that employees are trained to do specific tasks and don’t always understand what other employees are doing.
Now to be fair, simplified tasks may be unavoidable at McDonald’s. As the article notes, turnover in the quick service industry runs about 60% per year. If staff is likely to be trained today but gone tomorrow, it makes sense to minimize the time it takes a new worker to get up to speed. I can’t imagine any other firm besides McDonald’s would have an e-learning module entitled “Worldwide Training Curriculum – French Fries”. Also, I doubt that rotating between, say, front-end and kitchen duty would make the work experience that much richer that workers would be less inclined to move on to another job for a few cents more per hour.
So what is Mickey D’s doing to right the ship? Interestingly, they are dividing up the task of serving customers even more finely.
Franchisees say the company is doing several things to improve service, from boosting staffing at peak hours to rolling out a new system for taking orders.
Under a new “dual point” ordering system that is being rolled out nationwide, the customer places an order at one end of the counter and is given a receipt with a number. When the order number appears on a screen, the customer picks up his food at the other end of the counter. The new position of “runner” has been created to do things like hand out cups and sauce packets, and fetch juice boxes for Happy Meals, freeing up the order taker to focus on the customer. The employee who delivers the food at the other end of the counter is supposed to thank customers and ask them to come again, according to franchisees.
“Dual point provides personalized one-on-one service which directly improves order accuracy,” according to a memo the company has sent to some franchisees, and which was reviewed by the Journal. “To the customer, we appear friendlier and better organized.”
OK, there are a few things to note here. First, adding additional front staff is not new to the industry. Starbucks outlets frequently have an extra person behind the counter during busy periods. They don’t handle cash or make drinks but instead do odds and ends (e.g., bag pastries or refill the half-and-half carafe) so cashiers and barista can focus on their work.
Second, it’s not clear to me that this actually requires extra bodies behind the counter. This reorganization reduces the cashier’s responsibilities so presumably they can have fewer cash registers open while still providing overall faster service.
Finally, this seems the logical progression from changes McDonald’s made several years ago when they switched to assembling burgers to order as opposed to grabbing Quarter Pounders from under the heat lamps. That shift created a longer delay from placing and paying for the order and actually getting one’s food but they never really addressed what the customer was supposed to do or where they were supposed to go during that downtime. That inevitably led to a logjam at the front counter as customers hovered near the register where they placed their order. This finally brings some clarity to what the customer should do.