Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Fast-Food Chains Mull over Ways to Cut Wait, Improve Service

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Fast-Food Chains Mull over Ways to Cut Wait, Improve Service

Article excerpt

CHICAGO -- Americans may be loath to admit that saving a few seconds makes a difference to them when they decide where to eat, but restaurateurs know better. Especially at the fast-food end of the business, shift managers of the low-paid, ever-changing workforce are schooled to be nearly as attentive to quick service as pit crews at the Indy 500.

These days, though, the industry that started out selling speed is looking a little winded. Take McDonald's. The king of the $100 billion fast-food sector thought this spring that promising customers they would get their food within 55 seconds of ordering might generate warm memories of the chain's founding in 1955. Give anyone who has to wait longer a coupon for future use.

No way, said the franchisees, who contend that the menu has grown too big for them to come that close to the 30-second service times of the original 1950s McDonald's. They resoundingly voted down the plan. The franchisees weren't worried about handling the typical Big Mac attack. Service in well under a minute is the norm. But could they exclude the customer who orders for a large family? Or a softball team? What about mid-mornings and late nights? To keep enough food freshly cooked to instantly meet brief spurts in orders during those slow periods could force them to repeatedly make and then throw out much of the menu. Then there was the issue of whether the program would look like a frustrating gimmick. After all, quick service once an order is placed won't mollify those who waited forever to place it. In fact, industry researchers say, the battle is already lost if lines are too long. "The customers' standard expectation seems to be three minutes," said Marianela Aran, vice president in charge of research and development at Burger King. "The level of satisfaction drops off at four minutes and goes way down at five minutes." Hitting those targets is not rocket science. Actually, it is tougher, since there are so many human variables. To start with, most customers expect friendliness with their food, and workers perform better when they are not treated like robots. "We can keep removing seconds, but we still have to let the customers know they matter," said George Kunz, a McDonald's franchisee in Las Vegas. …

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