Stephanie Allmon of the Waco Tribune-Herald (Waco, TX) recently wrote an interesting article titled "We Americans want our food NOW and fast-food is trying to kick up the pace". The article discusses the fact that many fast food chains are catering to time sensitive Americans by offering unique payment methods, timers at the counters and drive-thru windows, etc.
I believe time is a component of convenience. For some, it is extremely important. In this day and age, time truly is money for some people. Many restaurants who promote speedy service have increased business, especially during the lunch crunch.
However, in some parts of the U.S., fast food chains have successfully counter- programmed their marketing with messages like "We don't make it until you order it" (Jack In The Box). In the laid back Southern California culture where I grew up, for example, chains like In-N-Out Burger have made a 20+ minute drive-thru wait the norm. Instead of quick service, these chains emphasize the quality and freshness of their products.
McDonald's recently attempted to combine the best of both worlds, made-fresh-to-order service with McDonald's famous fast service. The results were mixed at best. Despite investing in remodeled kitchens to streamline the assembly process, it seems McDonald's patrons value speed over any perceived improvements in quality.
It will be interesting to watch these two opposing trends play out over the next year or so. Will more restaurants experiment with the fresh-to-order model, risking alienation of their convenience mantra? Or will we see even more innovative ways to get food to customers quicker? Time will tell.
Being the fast food fanatic that I am, I often find myself computing the price differences in my head for ordering my lunch piecemeal and through various combos and promotions. This might sound a bit fussy and even a***-retentive (term omitted due to unappetizing nature), but everybody has their pet peeve, I always say.
The idea for this article formed today while I was enjoying a delightful repast at a local Wienerschnitzel restaurant here in Southern California. They are currently running a promo (and have been for months) for their "chili cheese dog and chili cheeseburger for $2". I asked the manager at the counter (the staff really pitches in at Wienerschnitzel) whether ordering the special and then the fries and drink ala carte was the same price or cheaper than ordering the No. 5 combo. She answered, with supreme confidence that befits a fast food manager, that there was, in fact, no difference. I promptly ordered the No. 5 for simplicity.
This is where the really picky part of the story comes in. While eating lunch, I reviewed my receipt and the menu board and tried in vain to figure out how the two different ways of ordering would come out even. In my estimation, the ala carte method would've saved me 41 cents (plus tax) over the combo's $4.79 price. To the surprise of nobody that really knows me, I went up to the manager (after eating - can't stand cold fries) and asked what I missed. I was very polite, and to her credit, she was too. She said they just raised the price of the cheeseburger and, while the price change is reflected in the combo, the $2 special remained intact. I was, therefore, right all along. Not to toot my own horn. Just doing my duty.
So this leads to my conclusion that it might start making sense to take a calculator when eating out. The myriad mixture of pricing configurations between combos, meals, packs, individual orders, super size/upgrades, etc. is enough to make anyone too dizzy to eat. My mantra is: don't let them rush you and don't take their word for it. Do your homework and you, too, could be a fast food fuss-budget!
Big Mac, my friend, this you must know:
Your special sauce comforts me so.
When I am tired you're there for me
to say hello with your patties.
The taste makes my stomach tickle.
Is that onion or one thin pickle?
Ingredients that become one
Nestled inside sesame buns.
Consistent as the morning sun
For dinner, lunch or just for fun.
At home, at work, or in the car,
You're always near and never far.
And we deserve a break today.
I'm sure we do, did somebody say?
Oh, can we go? Oh let us please!
Big Mac awaits with lettuce and cheese.
Photo © McDonald's Corp.
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