Ron and I eat at a place called Chickenburger a fair bit. It’s a popular fast-food restaurant that’s been around since the ’40s, and while I keep telling myself I need to eat better, I also despise cooking, so the Just Get Something Quick And Easy allure is strong. I kick myself every time I’m in line at a fast-food place, but at least with Chickenburger, I can tell myself that I’m supporting local, which is important to me. I also have a real soft spot for it, because when Ron and I first started dating, he couldn’t believe I’d never been – it’s a bit of a local icon – and took me there on one of our first dates.
The last time we were there, there was a mistake made on our order – the cheeseburger came without any cheese. No big deal. Accidents happen. But when I popped back inside to get it replaced, I was rather astonished by the response.
Chickenburger always has a lot of staff on, mostly teenagers. I approached a young woman at the counter and explained what had happened, and she asked if I had my receipt. A bit odd, but whatever, I’m a paper receipt kind of person, so I dug it out of my wallet and handed it to her. She and a co-worker huddled together over it, then went to the cash and started poking away at the screen, whispering intently to each other.
Eventually, the young woman came back and told me that my order had been put into the cash as a hamburger. I said that I’d ordered a cheeseburger, and when the person who’d taken my order read it back to me, he had said cheeseburger.
In response, she said that if I paid for the cheese, she could get a new burger made and I wouldn’t even have to wait for it.
I was so surprised, I kind of blurted out, “Seriously?”
And then two things happened.
One: As she started to explain that cheese was only a dollar or so, I noticed how nervous she’d become.
And two: The customer at the next cash leaned in front of me and almost shouted at the young woman to, “Just give it to her! Just give it to her!”
I was about to go off on the guy to mind his own business and stop yelling at the staff when I noticed he was wearing a Chickenburger jacket, and realized he was Somebody. Not sure who, exactly. But Somebody. The young woman’s reaction, which was to scurry off to the kitchen and get the cheeseburger going, confirmed my realization, as did his actions shortly after, when he’d gotten his food and was leaving, and he hollered from the doorway, “If they say anything, tell them I told you to do it.”
While I was hearing him holler that from one side, from the other, I could hear the cook worriedly asking the young woman I’d been dealing with, “Did I make a mistake? It wasn’t my mistake, was it?” as he made my replacement burger, and I realized The Chickenburger’s management style could pretty much be summed up by something I saw on a t-shirt many years ago.
The beatings will continue until morale improves.
For months, one of the big pandemic stories has been how employers, especially in the service industry, are struggling to find staff. There’s a bit of a workers’ revolution happening, and my experience at Chickenburger is a prime example of why. I’d noticed in the past that I rarely see any staff members twice, but attributed it to the fact that they are, as I mentioned before, mostly teenagers. I figured that students having limited hours during the school year, coupled with the fact that I’m only there once every month or so, was likely the reason I always saw new faces.
Now? Not so much. It’s pretty clear that management holds their employees to a ridiculous level of accountability, and forces them into awkward situations with customers to ‘fix’ their mistakes. (It seems to me that making things right at no charge is the least a restaurant can do to make up for a customer’s inconvenience – especially when that charge would be all of a buck.) I suspect they hire young people because their lack of life experience makes it easier to treat them badly.
I wish I’d had the presence of mind to speak up at the time, but I get overwhelmed by conflict, plus I was hella confused as to what was going on, so I just kind of froze, and it took me days to put everything together in my head. By the time I had, it was too late to do anything.
But sentimental value or not, I don’t see me going back anytime soon.
To see previous posts in my Quotes series, click here.