Understanding the language of the industry was a major challenge for me. It was like hearing a foreign language every time I approached a counter. After a couple of visits, the context provided some help, and if the line was long enough, I could listen to other customers order. After a while I began to understand one of the problems. I was often greeted with a line that sounded more like it was a script written by a corporate executive rather than a natural comment from the employee—repeated over and over all day long.
McDonald’s was ubiquitous and consistent. Apple slices with caramel dipping sauce became my fast snack favorite. I sometimes stocked my fridge with items from the dollar menu, which was simple and right sized for me. The fries will always be the gold standard in “food memories” for me.
Also high on the “food memory” list is White Castle. I grew up savoring those 5 cent burgers as a special treat with my dad. It was nice to know they were still served up hot, fresh, and in those cute little boxes, albeit costing a few pennies more.
At Panera, the food was almost always fabulous, but the lines were often daunting, especially at lunch, and avoiding the rush and choosing dinner meant there were often no more of those great cookies. Even though it was not really quick service after waiting in a line of 20 people, the soups and salads were often work the wait.
The company that has seen the biggest change and all for the better was Domino’s. I had some nasty remarks for folks who served this pizza to their children five years ago, but it was a completely different story today. Talk about reinvention. I no longer had to beg my colleagues at the office to share a pizza with me; now there was a fight over which was the favorite, buffalo chicken or vegetarian. The hand-tossed crust lived up to the hype and that was no easy task in light of the online chatter we heard.
Bravo to those that stayed true and those that did a lot more than tweak!
Q SERVICE R
There was a lot of good food out there and a fair amount of good value fuel that did not suit my taste. But no matter what I was hungry for, service is what made the difference. I visited many restaurants as I traveled around Chicago, Northern California, and Texas. I was obviously a “tourist” in many of the locations I visited—taking forever to review the menuboard, asking lots of questions about the items, and just plain looking out of place.
I encountered a fair amount of wrong orders based as much on my lack of knowing the right language as the listening skills of the crew, but some of the recoveries were nothing short of heroic. Even at places I tried more for this experiment than my personal taste would normally allow I found fast and friendly service. Inconsistency is the thing that moved some of my favorites down a notch. Yet the welcome experiences dazzled me and overshadowed the disappointments.