Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/23/2021: Shots” [Item #1: McDonald’s]

mcdonalds drive-thru

I have been at war periodically with our two local McDonald’s, one of which I have permanently boycotted since a manager there insisted that when my son’s friend ordered a “cheeseburger with nothing on it,” it was reasonable to omit the cheese. The other one is notorious for non-English speaking drive-up order-takers, long delays, and, as in this instance, botched orders. I wish I had prompted Michael R’s Comment of the Day on Item #1 of today’s warm-up years ago.

Here it is, a cautionary tale to be sure…

Why is McDonald’s messed up? I can tell you why, because I lived through it.. McDonald’s used to be pretty fast and efficient. McDonald’s stores were a mix of franchisees and Corporate-owned stores. The McDonald’s Corporation provided training and support for franchisees and their key staff, but franchisees ran their own stores and had some latitude in how that was done.

In the early 1990’s, the Corporation found that their most profitable stores were ALL owned by franchisees. They couldn’t understand it. The Corporation was staffed by highly-trained experts and professionals. The franchisees were just Joe-blow off the street hiring their relatives for managers. How could average people out-perform the EXPERTS? They decided that the franchisees must have lucked into ALL the good locations. So, they proceeded to buy up all the best-performing McDonald’s in the country. These were ‘fast stores’, averaging over $20,000 in sales/day at the time. After a year of corporate ownership, however, these stores had all become ‘slow’ stores, with well under $10,000/day in sales. The McDonald’s Corporation even sued several of the former franchisees, claiming that their sales figures must have been faked, because the ‘experts’ couldn’t replicate the success.

Now that there were no more ‘fast’ stores, the ‘efficiency experts’ moved in. They added warmers, so the food could be held longer before being discarded. This reduced waste, and also made the stores EVEN SLOWER. Owners with a financial stake in their stores were replaced by hired managers who receive no performance bonuses and have little flexibility in the wages they paid the workers. Apathy sets in. Bad workers aren’t fired, good ones leave. This is McDonald’s of today.

What did the franchisees do differently?

•As a trainer, I only approved about 1/2 the trainees for hiring. After their 3 training shifts, I recommended that 1/2 the people be fired. This was fully supported by management. Employees who didn’t show up for shifts were fired.

•Employees were reviewed quarterly with performance measurements. For example, if a counter person couldn’t fill orders in an average of 1 minute, 45 seconds over 2 hours, they were removed from working the counter or fired. Employees who passed were given between a $0.10-$0.50 raise each review.

•Employees in good standing were given $1/hour raises on the anniversary of their hire. This was good up to a total of $5/hour (when the minimum wage was $3.75/hr).

*Managers were given a 100% bonus at the end of the year if the store made quota. Managers did not tolerate bad managers because their pay would get halved if the store didn’t make quota. Bad employees were fired. Bad managers were fired or reassigned.

•Long-term crew members (over 3 years) were given the owner’s phone number to report problems at the store anonymously. One such call resulted in the owner’s daughter-in-law being reassigned from store manager to accounting.

•We ‘bent’ McDonald’s protocols to increase efficiency. Grill leaders were given drive-though headsets so they could hear special orders as soon as they happened to reduce the number of parked orders, for example. Counter workers also called special orders to the grill area directly, bypassing management. Grill workers would ‘modify’ food being cooked to fill special orders (throw away a bun to make a double). Food was almost always being cooked so special orders would not wait.

•Employees were cross-trained in almost all areas. I was a college kid, but I could work the grill, counter, or drive through. I knew how to clean, disassemble, and reassemble all the machines. So did all the long-term employees. So did EVERY SINGLE MANAGER. In 5 years, I saw an shake or ice cream machine down for 1 afternoon total (because it actually broke). Now, it seems the ice cream or shake machines are ‘down’ half the time and it is because no one knows how to take them apart or put them back together. I was at a store and their machine was ‘broken’ because no one, including the store manager, knew how to put it back together. I asked them if they wanted me to put it together right (blades were going the wrong way, part inserted backwards) and they said ‘No’. This was noon on a Saturday. My franchise owner would have fired EVERYONE.

•Managers were given leeway to keep things running. I was once given a $20 bill to work one more hour when 5 buses pulled in just as my shift ended. The tomatoes we were supplied by McDonald’s were overripe once, so the manager gave me $30 and sent me to the grocery store to buy good tomatoes.

•The owner had no delusions about what McDonald’s was. He said “This ain’t haute cuisine. People want it clean, courteous, fast, and most of all, they want it to taste like every other McDonald’s meal they have ever had in their life. If you can give them that, they will keep coming back. That is your job.”

The current state of McDonald’s is yet another warning about the dangers of ‘experts’ running things.

7 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/23/2021: Shots” [Item #1: McDonald’s]

  1. All that wonderful knowledge the “experts” possess mostly interferes with the expert’s ability to see what actually works. Sure, his learned solutions are great for solving some problem, but none of the solutions will solve all problems. It is wisdom to look at problems from different perspectives.

  2. May I recommend Chick-fil-a?

    I have never had a wrong order and once was even given a free sandwich at the drive-through when I had forgotten my wallet.

    • As far as I know, ALL Chick-fil-a’s are franchises. Until very recently, franchisees were only allowed to own 1 store each and the owner had to be present at the store a minimum number of hours/week. They have recently allowed franchisees to own 2 stores, which I think is a mistake.

  3. Not just the mistake of letting “experts” run things…

    This is a perfect analogy to how big, powerful, centralized government operates. It takes good ideas, blows them up to exorbitant proportions with equally exorbitant costs, then ruins them. For you Mystery Science Theater fans, it’s the Wish-Squisher on steroids.

    Thank you for posting it. It should be required reading for every government official, every power-hungry wanna-be, and anyone that thinks socialism is the cure to the country’s ills.

  4. Never forget the bureaucratic/expert solution to the square wheel. It’s the triangular wheel, because then one bump is eliminated.

  5. This is fascinating and I’m glad it was reposted!

    Over the past few years I’ve had increasing requests from drive-thru operators asking me to pull forward and then back again, or to pull over and wait by the door even if no one is behind me. This is to artificially increase average service speed, which is measured by motion sensors. If I were logical, I would stop using fast food restaurants altogether, since management that will cheat and inconvenience customers just for good reviews will probably compromise in much scarier ways.

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