I ran to the grocery store today to get some onions for the homemade spaghetti sauce I’m making for dinner, and the trip took me by a Hardees restaurant. The guy behind the counter was obviously on his first day.
Let me try to recreate the experience for you …
The group in line before me had just come from the set of Jerry Springer. The leader was a mid-twenties girl wearing a cross-your-back bra with an open-back halter top and had that babysitter-that-slept-with-the-fourteen-year-old-cause-he-looked-older-than-that-episode aura about her.
Her friend was a short, pudgy girl with a stringy ponytail and jeans that belonged on a figure two sizes smaller. Rounding out the “family” were two boys that looked in their mid-teens: one had shaggy hair and was growing out his almost-nonexistent sideburns, and the other kept playing with his shades and hat, talking about how he “was starving.”
The new guy behind the register was a mid-to-late-twenties young man with clean-cut features and droopy face. I immediately felt sorry for the guy, because I could tell his manager had just stuck him there without any training, thinking, “It’s Tuesday; how bad can it be?”
Note: It’s always bad if you have no training.
Now, having said that, I’m not sure training would have helped. He asked twice where the “back up” key was when the starving kid asked if the guy’d gotten his chili fries on the order.
Okay, they finally left and it was my turn. I’d been studying the menu and changed my mind at least three times while I was waiting: Frisco Burger Meal, Grilled Cheese Burger Meal, and at last, the Memphis BBQ Burger Meal. Not only did this thing have a big, juicy Hardees hamburger, it had cheese, fried onion rings, and a layer of pulled pork slathered in Memphis-style bbq sauce.
Now you gotta have one, right?
Go on, I’ll wait. It’s only a few miles away from you. Won’t take long …
When I stepped up to the register, I told the guy with a smile, “Hi. I’d like a quarter-pounder Memphis Burger combo meal, medium size.”
Perfect. Easy. Everything right there in one place with all the adjectives and adverbs arranged appropriately so he’d have no questions.
I knew all this writing would pay off one day.
“A third-pounder?” he asked.
I frowned and glanced back up at the lighted sign behind him. I hadn’t misread.
“No. A quarter-pounder,” I repeated.
The guy’s lips parted, and he turned to look up at the sign behind him. He swivelled back toward me, his eyes blank like I’d just ordered a Veggie Burger.
(LOL. I’m sorry. A Veggie Burger at Hardees. I kill me. I gotta remember that one.)
His manager came up behind him as I figured out the magic phrase that he needed to hear. “A one-fourth-pounder,” I said.
I was proud of myself there, bridging the gap between our intelligences, dropping my high-brow language in favor of a more blue-collar one.
Don’t try this at home: I write blue-collar characters all the time. I know what I’m doing.
The manager pushed a few buttons, and the guy looked up at me again, the light back in his eyes. “Did you want that in a combo?”
I flicked my eyes to the left, searching my brain for whether or not I’d said I wanted a combo. I had. I know I had. Then before I could preempt his next question, he asked it.
“Did you want to upsize?”
I hesitated for a split second, then said, “Medium.”
He punched it all in as I slid a ten from my wallet. I had some loose change in my pocket, and I pulled that out too, just in case I could get rid of it. He slid a cup toward me along with a plastic meal marker–I was #60– and told me the total: $6.81.
I looked at my change. It was about seventy cents, so I handed him the ten and poured the coins into my wallet. I raised my head and smiled at him. He returned the smile.
Silence, reciprocated smiling, then …
“Out of ten?” he asked.
Mother Of God. No one can be this stupid. The guy’d had just enough training to erase any vestige of common sense and replace it with a script that he followed without thinking.
If he was seventeen with a forehead of acne and a voice that tripped up more than the Three Stooges, I might have cut him a break. But this guy was nearing thirty. There was no excuse for this kind of skullduggery.
Because I’m a true Southerner, I bit my tongue and only said, “Yes, out of ten.”
The manager hovered behind him until he handed me my change–he got it right, by the way: $3.19. I filled my cup with Diet Dr. Pepper, squeezed out a ramekin of ketchup, and placed my meal marker on the edge of a table near the window.
I pulled out my smart-phone and promptly tweeted about the incident: I was just waited on by the slowest guy in fast food history. In his defense, he’s also the dumbest.
As I was hitting the post button, he approached with my burger and fries. He sat the tray in front of me and smiled sincerely. “My name’s Richard, and if you need anything, just let me know.”
I eked out a “thank you,” and he turned and trotted back to the register for his next training victim.
And I sat there, feeling like a complete douche.