What’s That You’re Doing There, Wendy’s?

How long do you have for lunch?

At my full-time office job, we have 30 minutes that we are responsible to punch out for. We don’t necessarily have to go anywhere or even eat anything (many are the times I’ve eaten at my desk between projects), we just have to make sure we swipe our timecard twice during our shift. Example: 830, clock in. 1230, clock out. 1, clock in. 5, clock out.

Skipping over various labor laws, corporate policies and internal drama, it’s a fairly simple procedure. It also doesn’t allow much time to actually go anywhere, but luckily for us there are a pretty large quantity of choices available within a couple miles. (Insert Perk #5738295372 of living in San Diego.)

Typically if I’m caught in LCP*, Wendy’s is a solid option for me. What’s up, Dollar Menu? Besides – Wendy’s is familiar. It’s consistent. You know what you’re going to get when you go there, how quickly you’re going to get it. They add in new menu items every so often, but the staples are there and they don’t mess around, for which I thank them. (By the way, has anyone tried their new Frosty selections?) If you’re in an airport in a strange place, and you see a Wendy’s, you know what’s going on. Wendy’s = Home.

It was also my first job ever, at the ripe ol’ age of 15-and-a-half, way-back-when. I stayed there for about eight months (a legacy, at that age), and actually REALLY enjoyed it up until the very end. Which is typically why you leave a job. It was steady, honest work, and the food wasn’t terrible. Even the customers were pretty cool.

So these days when I go to a Wendy’s, I reflect on how we had a 30 SECOND MANDATORY SERVICE TIME – from order to pickup – and how we were actually respectful of that while staying cheerful to the customers. I reflect on how things always had to be clean, organized, stocked up. For the most part things have not changed as far as the procedures go, but it’s just not the same anymore.

Today, however, was different.

Around noonish I got to thinking of my upcoming meeting this afternoon, how there will be food involved, but how that’s still a good three hours away. Why not head over to Wendy’s for a quick bite and some light reading, right?

The first thing I notice is the guy at the register. He’s actually kind of cheerful, but in a genuine way. Let me go ahead and say that I too work directly with the public (customer service), so that sort of thing is kind of embedded into my radar. The interesting things is that while he’s going through the standard procedure, he’s actually interacting on a real level with customers. He’s smiling, for chrissakes! He asked me how it was going, nice day huh, that sort of thing – but didn’t make it awkward or robotic. And you know that awkward pause that I mean, where somebody automatically asks the question but doesn’t expect an answer.

Then I notice the guy serving my food to me is doing the same thing, nice guy, good interaction, good service time. Well, that’s cool.

The dining room is packed, but there are some corner window seats (score!). I’m enjoying my food, when I notice that the counter guy is walking around, doing an Actual Restaurant procedure. He’s doing a brief stop at people’s tables to check on them, he’s not pressuring, he’s asking if we want refills. He’s asking how we are. He actually… cared about his job!

Wait a second. You… can get a refill at Wendy’s? Someone will get that for you? Okay, look. I don’t spend a lot of time these days inside a Wendy’s (despite the ideas this post might give), but of all the times I’ve been inside one, nobody has ever asked me how things are or if they can get me anything. That was AWESOME. You know why it’s awesome? Because it cuts out the awkwardness. Let’s say you get your order, you sit down, but oh crap you’ve forgotten to ask for your special item that makes things tastier. Sauce, whatever. You now have to cut the eight people in the lunch rush line to ask really nicely, blushing, if you can please have your whatever. It’s fine (because it’s a restaurant), but it’s awkward. You know what I mean! And refills? No. No, you just forget about that. You don’t really need a second 60 ounces of soda, honestly, but I know you’ve got a long drive ahead of you and maybe you just want some more soda, okay?

You have to go up there. You have to ask. It’s a little embarrassing; it always is. But this time… it wasn’t. I’m not saying that all policies should be to check on everyone and get them whatever they need,, because that would kill the service time, but it was a really nice touch. Maybe in between when they’ve got an extra minute or so, or when they’re out cleaning the dining room, say hi. See how it’s going. This guy went the extra step and did kind of what waiters did when you go to a nice restaurant but without making it seem like it was something he was forced to do. Kudos to whoever motivated him, that’s for sure.

So… in conclusion, thank you, Short Dark-Haired Front Counter Guy Whose Name I Didn’t Get, Working Around 12:30PM at the Midway Store (3760 Midway Drive, 92110). Thank you for reminding me that just because we’re used to fast food being a bad experience doesn’t mean that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

I don’t know what you’re trying to do, Wendy’s, but I like it. I’ll be keeping my eye on you.

*Lunch Confusion Phase, in which you know you should probably eat something, but don’t know what, or aren’t even really that hungry. You mainly just want to get out of the office for a bit.