News from the Tennessee Valley Columnists
SUNDAY, APRIL 29, 2007


Waiting in line for not-so-fast food

How many workers does it take to man a sandwich shop at lunchtime?

On a recent day it took one.

The young lady was taking orders from the drive-through, from walk-in customers and over the phone. She was also preparing the food and ringing up sales.

She was doing it all without complaining. In fact, she was friendly, efficient and calm — even when a telephone order kept the cash register from taking my check card. In a stroke of engineering genius, the debit-card reader and the telephone at this restaurant share the same phone line.

Then, the sole worker manning this link in a national chain told me something incredible.

“It’s my second day on the job,” she said.

I asked why she was left alone to operate the business on her second day.

She said nobody would stick with it.

A few days later I visited another location of the same restaurant chain. It had only two workers to get through the dinner crowd. They were working hard, too, doing the tasks of multiple workers.

To complicate matters, the register at the counter was closed or not functioning so a worker had to walk to the drive-through cash register to ring up inside sales. When this involved a check card, the worker had to return to the drive-through register to complete the sale.

I respect these young people, who are under a lot of pressure from their customers and from their bosses. Often the folks who show up for work get blamed for problems caused by the people who don’t show up for work.

I hope they’re making $12 an hour for doing the jobs of multiple workers, and apparently doing it without a manager on the premises. Unfortunately, they’re probably making close to minimum wage.

I know from personal experience that the restaurant business can be frustrating when it comes to personnel. The work is hard and the pay is low. It’s hard to find good people and even harder to keep them.

At the restaurant chain where I was a manager, we received bonuses for keeping our labor and other costs low. That was good for both the business and the manager in the short term. This particular chain, however, eventually went out of business.

My favorite not-so-fast food joint spends a lot of money marketing its products nationally, building attractive buildings and sponsoring major sporting events.

Maybe it needs to spend more on hiring people who can make a sandwich.

Scott Morris Scott Morris
DAILY City Editor

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