Restaurants have discovered in tough times they must capture additional revenue by working extra hard on things like catering, delivery and pick-up programs, as well as setting aside dedicated parking spaces for carry-out patrons. Of course, added sales help the bottom line of their meat and poultry suppliers, too.
Ron Paul, founder, president and CEO of Chicago-based Technomic Inc., recently iterated the industry he covers is hard at work these days, particularly to further enhance convenience. “Sometimes it’s, ‘Call ahead and we’ll bring the food to the car’ because consumers don’t like to get out of the car, particularly if they have kids in a car seat. Businesses with drive-through areas always have an advantage in that area.”
Attempts to enhance convenience for customers can be seen everywhere. Chili’s and other chains have designated entrances for carry-out customers. Other chains, such as Portillo’s in the Chicago area, employ people that man the drive-through areas outside to help speed up order taking and retrieval.
But this area is also where a lot of mistakes take place, Paul admits. “The restaurant’s answer is to try and have a check-list posted near wherever food is assembled or packed.”
I then shared the following story with Paul. I live in a small, rural town in Northern Illinois. The closest major foodservice establishments are almost 10 miles away. It has become a running joke in my family whether or not our carry-out orders, which we get several times a week, will be right or wrong.
I recently called in a to-go order to a local franchise of a nationally known restaurant chain. The person answering the phone correctly repeated my three sandwich orders and advised it would be ready for pick-up in a few minutes. After I arrived at the eatery, the clerk again went through the order and confirmed its accuracy before I departed. I was confident the order was right.
Once home, I discovered one order was wrong...and all sides, which should have been French fries, were corn chips and salsa. Not wanting to make another 30-minute round trip, I ate the “wrong” order. The fact that the meat on the sandwich was dry, overcooked and the bread was partly stale added insult to injury.
“How often do things like this happen to others? What can be done to improve menu ordering service? I’d really like to know,” I said to Paul.
He replied, “I can comment anecdotally. It’s a problem industry recognizes, but they have not really figured out how to solve it. Basically, the burden is on the consumer to be the inspector and check the order before leaving.”
This isn’t what I wanted to hear, partly because my wife has told me this many times before. But they are right; the burden is on the consumer...but should it be? Something’s wrong with this picture.