Monday, March 13, 2006

COLUMN: Fast Food

Once upon a time, I wasn't an impatient person.

I don't know what made me change -- perhaps the overall cynicism of growing older, or maybe just 35 years of accrued frustration -- but I've definitely lost my patience. Last week in these pages, I mentioned my growing disdain for "convenience" stores and their lack of, well, convenience. This week, I'm all riled up again, but it's not over the Kwik-E-Mart. No, this time it's a far more annoying demon. I'm riled up over chicken.

"Can I take your order please?" was how the conversation with the outdoor speakerbox began this weekend.

"Sure, I'd like a #2 with a Pep--" I tried to answer.

"ORIGINAL OR SPICY?" came the intrusive interruption.

"Original. With a Pepsi," I replied.

"Alrighty. And what would you like to drink with that, sir?"

"A...PEPSI," I retorted through clenched teeth.

"Alright," said the Fastfoodian, "I've got a #2 with a medium Pepsi and a medium Diet Pepsi."

My head was craning in all directions, but, alas, no Allen Funt. This HAD to be "Candid Camera," right? Nope, it was just another round in my never-ending battle with Fast Food.

My main problem is two-fold. (1) I'm a busy guy. I work two jobs, plus I write this column. Time is a precious commodity in my world. (2) I'm also a lazy guy. This is NOT a good combination. This means that, in the few times that I'm NOT busy, I'd rather just park it on the couch than, say, cook a meal. And I'm too busy to go to a sit-down restaurant most of the time. This means that I rely HEAVILY on the fast food empire for sustenance. Not cool.

In our culture of expanding menus and countless side items, "fast food" is a thing of the past. What we're left with now is sort of a mid-tempo food. I've figured out one simple way for these restaurants to speed up a little bit, though: get rid of the wacky scripts they force employees to read.

The other day, I was driving around and got thirsty. Rather than stop at a convenience store (see: last week's column + aforementioned usage of the word "lazy,") I instead spotted an empty Arby's drive-thru. I pulled up and ordered simply a large Pepsi. The response was classic:

"Okay, sir, please pull around WHILE ME MAKE THAT FRESH FOR YOU." Ahh, yes, there's nothing like a fresh, home-cooked Pepsi, straight from the, err, fountain, just like Granny used to make it.

But the king of weird drive-thru scripts has been and always WILL be Taco Bell. Every time you pull into one of their drive-thru windows, you're treated to a Shakespearean-like soliloque of a flat sales pitch, usually offered in the one-word, monotone style. Something along the lines of...

"Thankyouforcrossingtheborderwelcometotacobellwouldyouliketotryournew triplecheesegorditacrunchgoaheadwithyourorderwhenyoureready."

Folks, when this happens to you, do not fear the Taco Bell. This is merely the Taco Bell's way of saying "Hello."

Some fast-food restaurants realize that their drive-thrus take forever, and have kindly taken notice of the situation. So what's the remedy? Add more employees to the drive-thru? Create another lane? Streamline their cooking process? Nope.

Their answer is to put up little signs apologizing for the wait. Don't believe me? Go to Hardee's. Go to Culver's. Go to Steak n Shake. All of them now have signs outside that are various interpretations on the same theme, "Our food is freshtastic and super awesome, and this means it takes longer to cook. But it's worth it, because it's so mmmm-good."

To these places, I say: don't try to pass yourself off as what you're not. Your food might be tasty, but your restaurant is NOT haute cuisine as long as your signature dish is referred to as a "Thickburger."

Is our sacrifice as consumers not enough for you? When you see us at your drive-thru window, recognize this: we have made a conscious decision to put convenience over our own health and personal welfare. About the only thing people can agree on when it comes to fast food is that 90% of it is astoundingly BAD for you. There's no way to fake good living out of a Butterburger. There are no Diet Fries.

But we ignore that. We put it, our cholesterol levels, and our well-being aside for one simple reason: your food is fast. If they figured out a way to make McBroccoli To Go, I'd eat it. Until then, I and my weakening patience remain your humble slave. But I only want ONE Pepsi. What? Okay, yeah, supersize it.


WindingHills said...

As long as it is fried brocolli!

JohnC Anderson said...

Long John Silvers has some sort of brocolli and cheese bits.

People who are interested in losing weight might want to turn to a new sort of "fast food."

Juices, and low calorie nutritious foods taken in quantities that approximate fasting.

I think "FAST food" is a good title for some sort of article on dieting. If I weren't so lazy I'd write the article and then pitch it to some publication and give some squirrel screener the oportunity to pitch it in the circular crap container, formerly known as, the wastebasket.

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