The other morning, Monday morning, Nov 5 at 0815 in the morning to be exact, I stopped at the Walnut Bottom McDonalds in Carlisle, PA on my way to an appointment in Harrisburg. It was raining pretty good that morning and seeing the size of the drive through line I decided to go inside for a change thinking it’ll likely take less time and I won’t have to sit with my window open and get wet while going through the drive-thru. When I got inside, however, I wasn’t ready for what was waiting for me. It was almost like stepping into an episode of the Twilight Zone: the old series from the 60’s and not the sad reboot of the series that failed.

The counters that one used to walk up to where one would place their order were gone! Standing back from where the counter used to be was a large kiosk where customers were meant to place their order. Ok… I’ve seen these before and they aren’t difficult to use, so I went through the menus and placed my order. At the end, as I expected, I got a receipt with a number on it and stood back to wait for my number to be called. That’s when things got weird and bit surreal.

McDonalds, since I’ve been a small boy, has always made a bit deal about serving their customers with a smile. They’ve made it their mission to create a fast-food establishment known the world over that no matter where you go on the planet you can get your McDonalds favorites. They almost always had good service and a well established standard that made them a model for others to follow. As I’m standing their I start to notice a few things:

  • There are employees floating around in the dining and ordering area assisting customers and offering suggestions.
  • The people behind what used to be the counter with registers were doing the normal stuff but there was a definite detachment that caught my eye.

As I was standing their taking all this in I heard a number called, Almost in a voice too quiet to hear. Primarily because the one who called out the number wasn’t facing outward towards the customers waiting, but was facing inward doing something else and talking to a co-worker about something. She put the bag on the counter for pickup and a lady moved forward to get it. She examined what was in the bag to make sure it was hers and then asked the young girl behind the counter a question. The girl barely turned her head, said something not quite audible, and then turned away to continue what she was doing. The lady (customer) again asked a question but was ignored! TWICE!! I was absolutely flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe what I was observing.

While this customer was asking questions of the two behind the counter, they were completely ignoring this customer and talking back and forth completely disinterested in the woman talking to them. I could tell they knew she was addressing them because the one would give the lady a sideways look from the corner of her eye and go back to talking with her co-worker. And then they both waked away from the front line altogether! Then, out of nowhere one of the floater employees came over to me and asked if I’d ordered a drink. I suddenly felt like I was at a used car lot and had the sensation of being ambushed. I told her I had ordered a drink and it was coffee. She kindly showed me where the drinks were that i was to get my own beverage and where everything was. While I was getting my coffee I just barely managed to hear what I thought was my order number being called out. I asked one of the other customers standing around waiting what number they’d called out and the confirmed it was mine. I wasn’t going to ask one of the two customer-ignoring meat-heads what number they’d called out because after what I’d observed they’d have definitely been read the riot act for their detached, unprofessional behavior.

I don’t care if its a minimum wage job; we’ve all been there at some point in our lives. Coming up I can’t think of a single person I know that didn’t spend some time working for one of the many fast-food establishments or other restaurant in the area as a young teen. And these days there are a good many older folks working at these places. It’s good, honest work and if something is worth doing it’s worth doing correctly. Had I not been on the road going to an appointment I believe I would have asked to see the manager. I was honestly thinking about it, but then began to wonder if they would have actually even cared. I was left with the distinct impression that no one in charge really cared. The whole experience felt detached and disconnected.

McDonalds, what the HELL were you thinking? Did someone actually think it was a good idea to completely remove customer service from the front line? You know… that place where the customer is greeted, the order is taken and then there is actual interaction between people? Mind you, not all fast-food places are like this. I was recently in a Wendy’s in Lancaster on my way back from a business trip to Delaware during a very bad storm that was flooding everything; interstates included. They had people working the front line that actually talked to you and paid attention to what was going on around them.

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