Posts Tagged ‘Psychic Pain’

TAKHOMASAK of angst.

August 15, 2012

This summer I worked a job at Steak N’ Shake. I have written some about it, but very little, maybe nothing at all, on here. Here is something that I wrote just recently and I thought it worth sharing.

Initially I was disappointed to be put back on drive through for the conclusion of my summer.  However, I noticed these last few days that I have a far greater competence at that particular station than I did at the start of the summer, and this has afforded me some insight into the job—and into people—that I didn’t have before.

Such as:

Many people refuse to engage with or even acknowledge complexity.

In many ways a restaurant menu is like a computer program. It is a series of options that a user can choose from to produce a desired product, i.e. what you want to eat. A menu, if written well, functions like a flow chart. Do you want a burger, patty melt, hot dog, or one of an array of miscellaneous sides? You choose a burger. Do you want it to have one, two, or three meat patties? Two…

And it continues in this way until the customer has isolated exactly what they desire. A good menu does not actually present customers with all of these options explicitly though. Many of the choices customers make are decided simply by what region of the menu their eyes and appetites are drawn to. Obviously, pictures help with this quite a bit.

The thrifty SnS customers are drawn to a portion of the menu prominently labeled: 4 meals for under $4! (all of which total $4.29 after tax). These are combo meals number14 through 17. Numbers 14, 15, and 17 are burgers served with a small side of French fries. Numbers 14 and 15 come with cheese on the burger. Number 17 does not. When I press the button for any of these three combination meals the very next screen to appear on my computer is a dizzying array of condiment options for the burgers.

At this point, working through the verbal menu flow chart, I have to quickly interrupt the customer to ask them what they would like on their burger. Otherwise, they continue with a flood of information that I can’t record until I pass that screen.

“What would you like on that burger?” Or because they often ask for multiple number fourteens at once, “What would you like on that first number 14?” I have to be quick.

“Everything.” is a typical response, or something along the lines of, “No onion!”

I want to be clear that the customer is blameless through this question. The burgers at most fast food establishments have standard dressings and the customer is assuming that ours is the same. They cannot be faulted for this. They aren’t aware that they are working within the confines of the verbal flow chart. They just want lunch. The answer to the next prompt though is the really telling moment.

I say, “That burger comes plain so you will have to tell me what you want on it.”

The worst responses to this are the ones along the lines of “Lettuce, tomato, all that stuff!” These responses are the worst responses because almost without exception the transaction then follows along a path that quickly escalates in hostility.

“Ok, lettuce and tomato. Anything else?”

“PICKLES, ONION…” they rage in reply. What is a lost irony to them is that they often end their order by screaming something like, “AND NO MUSTARD!” Keep in mind that these people cannot even see the screen with the dizzying array of options. They are being forced to express a preference though for each of the standard burger dressings that exist in their mind, which then forces them to contemplate, if only for a fleeting moment, what they think standard burger dressings actually are. They don’t want to do that. “EVERYTHING YOU CAN PUT ON A BURGER, PUT IT ON THE BURGER!” screamed one man. I hope he enjoyed his burger with an egg, French fried onions, and honey mustard sauce.

The grand observation here is that in order for a person to receive exactly what they want they have to make quite a few decisions. They have to engage with complexity. What is revealed though when the process is begun is that few people are actually willing to make those decisions. Perhaps because when it comes right down to it people don’t actually know what they want. The person who is trying to guide them through this process (me) is causing them psychic pain and all in the name of being accommodating.

… I’ve noticed that people are particularly conflicted about onions.