The McDonald's Counter Rush Job. Why?
August 17, 2010 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Why is it that at McDonald's they rush you into ordering as soon as possible? Specifically, if I'm the only person in the store who hasn't ordered and I'm away from the counter deciding what to order, they'll shout at me say, "Can I help you sir?" This only happens at McDonald's.

It's partially learned behavior on my part; at the counter there's a definite time pressure vibe (aside; I once saw an assistant manager ask for "cooked fries, STAT" like a TV doctor) and I want to spend the time to decide if I need fries that day. This is incongruous with the counter vibe, and I try to avoid being one of those indecisive customers who waste time. At every other fast food place, you signify this by not going to the counter. At McDonald's, they'd probably hire ushers to act as people wranglers if the ushers were cheap to hire.

Primarily, I'd like to know if there is employee training that dictates this behavior. Secondarily, I'd like to know the reason for this. I suspect it increases sales pressure and reduces second thoughts on ordering something cheaper.
posted by sleslie to Shopping (27 answers total)
 
Because they don't want people dawdling in the store. It can get busy quickly and if people are just standing around, it makes things more hectic. They probably also get homeless loiterers and want to make sure people in the store are actually there to order something instead of just standing around inside.
posted by elpea at 8:05 AM on August 17, 2010


I doubt it's that well thought out. It's that they assume everyone knows the McDonald's menu by heart.

Also, confirmation bias - they do do this at places other than McDonald's. I receive this treatment at many counter service restaurants - Subway, Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts - and it's because I'm not really a frequent eater at those places and I do have to take a minute to read the menu. Most other customers, I notice, go often enough that they really don't have to read the menu; they already know what they plan to order.

So the clerk, contrary to pressuring, is probably motivated by two things: the desire to get your order 'out of the way' so they can move on to cleaning or prepping or whatever else they have to do between customers, and the desire not to make you wait an unnecessary amount of time, when they assume you know what you want. I think most people have decided by the time they walk in what they're in the mood for, from the familiar (to them) options.

I generally just hang back a bit so someone else can approach if they need to, smile, and say "I just need a little time, thanks."
posted by Miko at 8:06 AM on August 17, 2010


I thought this was pretty standard for fast-food places.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:06 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, I have had this happen at a number of different places. I have wondered if it is because if the cashier's aren't "busy" ringing someone up, they might be assigned to do another, less pleasant, task.
posted by pointystick at 8:06 AM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


I suspect as well that there is an individual motive here--the sooner you order, the sooner the person at the counter can go back to goofing off with his or her colleagues. If you're just standing there, they have to wait at attention (or what passes therefor at McDonald's) for you to make up your mind.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:07 AM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Because they want to separate you from your money as quickly as possible, so their manager makes them pester you.

I'm away from the counter deciding what to order

Come on, it's McDonalds, the basic menu is the same. Were I behind the counter, I'd be hurrying you along too. If you're being indecisive, there's two ways you can go: sale or no sale. Guess what, they're going to push you for the sale and of course, the higher priced item.
posted by nomadicink at 8:08 AM on August 17, 2010


It's safer to assume everyone wants things NOW. The people that want things NOW are happy. The people that want to dawdle are provided with options. If you're not there when the customer wants you to be there, bad things happen.

A large chain sit-down restaurant once said that, after seating someone, the waiter has about 45 seconds to greet them (even just to say "hello, I'll be right with you") before most Americans start feeling uncomfortable about the service.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:10 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Back when I was a fast food server (long time ago) we had goals for time of customer entering premises to getting food. Also were told to greet every patron with an offer to help. Never given reasoning behind it other than polite to offer to help.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:10 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Speaking as a former fast food employee (not McDonalds, so I can't speak to any corporate policies), when you're working the register, a loitering customer is work that has to be done. A customer who has already ordered is work that is done. Get him out of there quickly and you can continue fucking off.

Also, these places sometimes have mystery shoppers who keep track of how long it took to be helped, get served, etc. I actually got scolded once, in that silly way a freakin' fast food manager scolds a teenager who he knows doesn't give a shit, for taking too long to ask a "customer" (mystery shopper) if I could help him.
posted by bondcliff at 8:11 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's probably also somewhat psychological. If you get asked to order the second you step in, you're seeing them as being responsive and more than willing. Then any wait you encounter can be blamed on you as you took so long to order, not that you had to wait for them. It may also be to push you into snap decision making of deciding to get the $1 more Angus Mushroom Burger or whatever the crap they sell in combo slot number 12 these days.
posted by msbutah at 8:12 AM on August 17, 2010


If someone just stands there for two minutes and then stalks up to the counter and demands to speak to a manager because how DARE you waste his precious time by not imMEdiately taking his order, then you get yelled at. The odds on that may be low, but they're significantly higher than someone doing that because you asked "Can I help you, sir?" So you play the percentages. Remember, the primary motivation of anything that your average fast-food worker does is "Avoid getting yelled at."
posted by Etrigan at 8:16 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Having worked at McDonald's (more than twenty years ago), I can confirm that the process is intended to move customers through the "lobby" as fast as possible. Cashiers are trained to do this, and their performance is evaluated on this.

It's not supposed really rush you, or weed out indecisive customers. Instead, McDonald's wants to maximize total sales in a given time period, such as lunch (12pm - 2pm), and dinner rush (5pm - 7pm). Whichever cashier makes the most sales is tracked and celebrated. Different stores in the same region will compete as well to see who had the best lunch or dinner sales on a weekend.

So, cashiers are encouraged to move people through the "lobby".

There's also a customer-service aspect to this as well. From a customer's perspective, it really sucks when you go to a fast food place, and the staff don't pay attention to the customers. So, McDonald's staff are trained and encouraged to interact with customers.

But the only salesy-type behaviour cashiers are trained to do is to upsell. That's it.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:16 AM on August 17, 2010


Best answer: Because they are logged into their register which calculates the time and orders they take within that period.

Its also why you see the cashiers at target, grocery stores, etc logging in and out whenever they are bagging, between customers, or something.

They are graded on their percentage (how many orders they served/time)...and they sometimes get plaques, bonuses, etc. Every so often you will see someone at the register with a "120%" button or something.

Thats what that is.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:17 AM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Remember, the primary motivation of anything that your average fast-food worker does is "Avoid getting yelled at."

Actually, McDonald's is pretty enlightened in its approach to managing employees. A shitty workplace environment will, believe it or not, affect profits, so a lot of time is spent adopting proactively managing employees. There's a lot of training, and the training is pretty precise: videos, training worksheets, "checklist" spot assessments.

It's an "authoritative" rather than "authoritarian" workplace.

Since McDonald's workers are so young, the place is often run like a classroom, and there can be peer pressure to fit in. Every McDonalds has an "A Team" of younger employees who set the tone, and if you goof off, you can be excluded. The "A Team" promotes the various trivial rewards for good behaviour, such as pins and getting your face on the wall as employee of the month.

The managers are either lifers who enjoy the health insurance, or younger rising stars (usually Commerce students) who are hoping to climb the corporate ladder after doing time in the trenches.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:23 AM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Its also why you see the cashiers at target, grocery stores, etc logging in and out whenever they are bagging, between customers, or something.

Well, that and safety reasons. An unattended-but-otherwise-active cash register can be the target of all sorts of shenanigans from unscrupulous customers.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:24 AM on August 17, 2010


Also, when people are hanging back and not in line to order, people start to get confused about where the lines are.
posted by electroboy at 8:37 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: An architectural aside; most fast food places have a place to 'hide' and signify you aren't yet ready to order because of their layout. Thinking about this and reading some of the comments here (I've also noticed this globally and can compare with MOS burger / Lotteria / Quick Burger / Dicos and all the North American chains) I believe McDonald's deliberately builds their "lobbies" to discourage this wayfaring behavior and it's why I have problems only at McDonald's.

There's no place to psychologically hide.

Genius.
posted by sleslie at 8:44 AM on August 17, 2010


Because they don't want people dawdling in the store.

Until recently, with the movement to make their stores look more like coffee=shops and bring in an older clientele, their restaurants were deliberately designed to be only just about comfortable - hard seats, bright lighting, and busy - to prevent people coming into the store and staying. I'm basing this assertion on my dad being tasked with designing a few rather than actually working in one, though, so actual stores may differ from the theory.
posted by mippy at 8:57 AM on August 17, 2010


They can only shortchange you if you order from them -- it appears to be somewhat of an hobby at the mcd's around here..
posted by 3mendo at 9:40 AM on August 17, 2010


Another reason to move you along: if you're dawdling and someone else arrives, they will probably not just walk in front of you unless prompted, which means a few seconds of traffic forms. If two more people walk in behind them, suddenly there's a line that's not moving.

I remember from my days at McD's that passenger traffic is non-uniform and comes in bursts (or waves, or rushes, if you prefer), and that just like highway traffic it can be flowing well at high speed or it can get clogged. The store I worked at was very busy and we frequently had gross sales in the top 5 in Canada. I recall one shift in particular where we set a sales record - orders were flowing really fast, but we never fell behind, and a line never formed. It was just boom, order, make the burger, gone, next, over and over, for hours. I was stunned to find that we'd set a sales record because it didn't feel busy at all. Meanwhile, other shifts turn into total gong shows because a few orders get held up for whatever reason, and suddenly we fall behind in the back, and the lobby starts to clog up as cashiers spend more time dealing with customers who are milling around waiting for their food, and drive-through backs up for the same reason. Now all the customers are grumpy because they've been waiting a long time, and every order has a long wait because the kitchen is perpetually behind, and sales are SUB-OPTIMAL, the worst thing you can be in McDonald's. This condition lasts until the breakfast/lunch/dinner rush peters out, which will be two or three hours.

McD's is all about throughput. Everything about the design of the restaurant bears this out. Watch them assemble burgers and you'll see; it's a pipeline that can be three or four people deep, on either side of the dress table. It's constantly being tweaked, too, which means there are engineers at HQ testing out ways to shave off those seconds.

One more example. When the burgers are ready they're placed in little heated bins where the front counter staff pick them up. When I first started working there, the bins were about 4 inches higher than the dress table, which means finished burgers had to be picked up and placed in the bin by the kitchen staff. However, on some late night shifts a few of us liked to build ramps using thin metal sheets (pie trays? I forget) so we could slide the finished burgers along the dress table all the way into the bin, just for fun, but also because it saved us a few seconds of walking. Then one day... we arrived to find the dress table height had been raised 4 inches, making it flush with the bin. Someone at HQ had had the same idea. And throughput was improved.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:59 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


McD's is all about throughput. Everything about the design of the restaurant bears this out. Watch them assemble burgers and you'll see; it's a pipeline that can be three or four people deep, on either side of the dress table. It's constantly being tweaked, too, which means there are engineers at HQ testing out ways to shave off those seconds.

As if the food wasn't bad enough, it is depressing to contemplate, while waiting in line to be served, the engineered, industrial aspect of a McDonald's kitchen. The human workers are mere cogs in a machine, and the only differentiating aspect between different McDonalds restaurants that give them any sort of personality are varying levels of cleanliness, gunk and grit.

It's all a lot more complicated than avoiding getting yelled at.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:34 AM on August 17, 2010


away from the counter deciding what to order, they'll shout at me say, "Can I help you sir?"

Because the public treats service workers really, really poorly. While you are wondering why they're trying to get your to order, there are another 5 customers in the same situation who would complain that no one helped them. No, you're not really in line, but that wouldn't stop a lot of people from feeling they were being ingored.

To give a somewhat related example: when I worked retail, there would always be someone hanging around, talking on their cell phone. It was rarely clear if they were in line or not. I wouldn't call on these customers- not because I was trying to make a point, but because I always thought it was rude to interupt people on the phone.

To my suprise, many of these people would then complain to me or the manager about me! That's when I stopped calling on thse customers- to make a point.

It's not just McDonald's by the way. In the past week, I've had this happen to me at several locales.
posted by spaltavian at 11:04 AM on August 17, 2010


This is true, I expect to be spoken to first by a McDonald's employee. I don't like to be rushed -- but if they don't speak to me first, I get super annoyed. To me, the opposite scenario is far worse to undergo.

This happened to me once in a McDonald's store at a mall. I approached the counter, not sure what I wanted, but figuring I would be spoken to. The young girl behind the counter saw me and just glared at me as I looked up at the menu. She was standing at one register, then suddenly moved to the second one for no apparent reason. There were no other customers waiting -- it was just the two of us.

I decided on something and began to order. Still not a word from my unhappy helper. She started punching stuff into the register and glancing up to give me the evil eye. I had a question: "Are the fish sandwiches still a dollar on Friday?" (or whatever, I can't recall exactly what I asked.) She almost screamed: "It's not Friday!" As I continued to hesitate, she barked, "You want the sandwich OR NOT?"

"Not with that attitude," I said, and stalked off. It was just bizarre. I couldn't stop thinking about it, so I made a complaint at the McDonald's web site. A couple of weeks later I got a message on my phone at work from a young woman whose voice I didn't recognize. She was actually crying. It was my angry McDonald's server, wailing and moaning that she was sorry for the awful service she'd given me, and that she wanted to make it up to me. She even left me her phone number. Strange! I didn't call her, but I wondered about that. I was almost more disturbed contemplating the punitive stuff coming down on her as a result of my complaint, than I had been by the experience.

I mean was pleased to get a response from McDonald's, but it would have been more appropriate to just get a letter of apology with a gift certificate for a free large drink or something. I found myself wondering if the poor kid was going to be all right, like, physically.

Very odd.

It was still worth complaining about it, though!
posted by frosty_hut at 11:10 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is true, I expect to be spoken to first by a McDonald's employee. I don't like to be rushed -- but if they don't speak to me first, I get super annoyed. To me, the opposite scenario is far worse to undergo [snip] It was my angry McDonald's server, wailing and moaning that she was sorry for the awful service she'd given me, and that she wanted to make it up to me. She even left me her phone number. Strange! I didn't call her, but I wondered about that. I was almost more disturbed contemplating the punitive stuff coming down on her as a result of my complaint, than I had been by the experience.

To the OP: this is a better example of my point. They're yelling at you to order because they're afraid of getting fired.
posted by spaltavian at 11:18 AM on August 17, 2010


I have this happen to me in pretty much every business with a counter service: not just Mickey D's and not just the other fast food places either.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:37 PM on August 17, 2010


Best answer: I know this is a bit late, but thought I’d add my thoughts.
I work at a McDonald’s in the UK, and I do call out to customers who are hanging back. This is because often customers who are waiting to order do stand quite a way back from the counter, maybe due to confusion over where the queue is or which person to order from. We’ve got motivation to serve customers as quickly as possible from several sources:
1. Mystery shoppers visit the store twice a month (as well as regional managers dropping in unexpectedly), and they grade everything they experience at the store, including how long they have to wait to order. None of us want to be the staff member who ruined our store’s scores by making the mystery shopper wait around.
2. Staff productivity is constantly monitored. In my store, there’s a notice board in a staff area where the names of the most and least productive staff members of the week are displayed – those who took the most/least money in an hour, sold the most/least large vs. medium meals, etc. No one wants to be one of the bad workers, partly just for reasons of self-respect, but also because if you consistently do badly then the managers won’t be happy with you. It really is a bit like being at school in that way – who wants their teacher to be disappointed in their attainment?
3. There’s pressure to get high volumes of sales through as a whole store as well – results are compared regionally and nationally, and the success of the store influences how much money we can spend on new equipment (which makes our lives so much easier) and extras for staff – like extra budget for the staff Christmas party, or a DVD player for the crewroom.
4. We have other things to do that we can’t be doing if we’re standing there waiting – and I don’t mean hanging out with friends, because you can’t really get away with that in most stores here. There are always things that need to be done, whether it’s cleaning, getting more stock out, carrying out assessments on junior staff members (there are targets for those too), or getting things ready for the next day if it’s late. One of my managers likes to use those cheesy motivational phrases, which actually kind of embody the attitude – “Time to lean, time to clean”; “teamwork makes the dream work!”
Usually we don’t mean to sound rude or pushy, it’s can just be a high-pressure job, and it can be really noisy as well so we get used to being LOUD. Feel free to take as long as you like to decide (and I love customers who know what they want before they start ordering – it’s incredibly annoying when someone starts and then takes ages deciding). Most staff are actually really happy to help you however they can – we are nice people! Really! (Also I promise I actually am just a lowly ‘crew member’, not some corporate high-up. We all want customers to be happy, because it makes our job a lot more pleasant. And I actually have a life outside of work too, promise.)
posted by pocketfluff at 1:33 PM on October 22, 2010


Response by poster: My god this is fascinating.

My question asked why, but the reason why I asked was because it was so uncomfortable to not have a way to signify to to the people behind the teller that I don't know what I want yet... I go to McDonald's because I've given up on caring about food and just want something to eat. You guys fit the bill. I go to McDonalds to go to McDonalds. When I enter, I scan the board for something new, and if there's nothing new or interesting (In Canada, McAngus, or that burger with lettuce that's actually green) I have to think about it (just the dollar burgers vs. a meal)

The problem, as I've thought about it more, is that unlike the majority of restaurants there is no way to NOT be in the queue because of architectural layout. Alternative entrances are locked from the outside and the one and only entrance leads one to be instantly noticeable to the cashiers... and they "bug" you right away. I came to realize this aspect because I've been to McDonalds in dozens of countries and anything built recently is built like this all over the world. (Aside: I did this international McDonald's tour because it was fascinating to see the differences in the menu. Spain has the best McDonald's burgers, 2nd best is Japan)

My final take on this: the Corporation is telling us both to hurry the fuck up and there's not much either of us can do to fix it.
posted by sleslie at 11:18 PM on October 31, 2010


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