Whatever happened to FAST food?

We know a thing or two about what used to be called fast-food. Here’s me mopping the floor (well, leaning on a mop!) of a Burger King (or what used to be a Burger King and is now a KFC, but that’s another story);

and Marta setting off to deliver some pizzas;

Just thought I’d get the credentials out of the way first. :)

My suggestion is that there is no fast left in fast-food these days and scarcely any quality. For me, that sort of removes a lot of what used to be the point of going there in the first place. I can get much better food at the same speed elsewhere now, so why bother with McDs, KFC, BK or anyone else?

I remember going for some training many moons ago when I worked for McDs in London. It was a sort of all encompassing training that gave me an insight to the whole company and how they did business with a large focus on in-store operations. Working for McDs back then was like joining the army, the Moonies or some equally fanatical sect no matter whether you worked in the stores or not. The people working in ops were mini-Gods, were passionate about their business and that meant being passionate about service times. This was fast-food and it was supposed to be a well constructed sandwich (and other stuff) delivered quickly to the customer. They had stopwatches to time the service back then and managers who shouted at people to “Get a bloody move on!”. QSC was the buzzphrase of the day – Quality, Service, Cleanliness. This fanaticism was both very admirable and very annoying at the same time. There’s no question that it worked well, a kind of brainwashing, but it was ultimately the main reason I left the company, my brain was not the washing kind and I didn’t work in the stores anyway.

I notice that McDs were issuing warning to franchisees back in 2001 that unless they improved their QSC scores they could be offski. Well that warning doesn’t seem to have been heard here in Europe yet. This is not just a Polish thing, it’s the same everywhere these days but I see it first hand in Poland for too often.
Knowing as much of the background as I do, every visit to a so-called fast-food establishment these days just makes me want to break down and cry. The cleanliness is perhaps no worse than it used to be but the Q and S scores have taken a very serious nosedive. Frankly, there is no S and very little Q. I think I can say that on at least 90% of my visits I have to wait for the sandwich to be cooked because there is nothing in the chute. The chute is that sodding enormous thing at the front that they pull the sandwiches from. It is big so you can fit a lot of sandwiches into it and keep them warm for about 10 minutes, then you throw them away. The current tactic of having almost nothing in the chute, apart from making a mockery of the chute as kitchen appliance, is just a great way of saving money, which is of course why they do it, nothing waiting in the chute means no chance you’ll have to throw away an expired sandwich. They save money, the customer has to wait. They seem to like it that way and are not shy about getting shirty with you should you have the temerity to complain about the wait. Everyone waits, why should you be any different, seems to be the attitude.

I could understand this if I were ordering a Big Mac minus pickles plus extra mayo, what’s known as a “special”, but I’m not. I’m not because I’m sure they would tell me I can’t order such a thing, which would just make the pain even worse. So I order a regular sandwich and wait, and wait, and get more, and more pissed off about it. Funny thing is that today I ordered a MacRyby (fish thing) and got it immediately. That used to be the only one I’d expect a wait for because it was so rarely ordered and was cooked specially. We waited for my daughter’s cheeseburger… the most basic of basic sandwiches. Bit like going to a pub and getting the “Geronimo Wall Banger” cocktail before the pint of bitter!

Quality. Well, the ingredients seem to be okay, not perhaps as good as they were but good enough for what it is. The construction of the sandwiches though……the Leaning Tower of Pisa in a head-on collision with a freight train about sums up most of what I get served.

I guarantee that if the team who set-up McD in the UK were to come over here, assuming they are all still alive and kicking, they’d sack every last employee, all the management and start all over again with themselves doing all the work. Looking at the number and size of the adverts in McD these days looking for employees, this might cause a few problems! Is this the problem? Nobody wants to work in these places any more? Hard to believe when there is such high unemployment.

Anyway, there it is. I appear to be the only customer left who remembers the good old days, the rest don’t know, or don’t care enough to moan and so the Q and S slip quietly down the toilet.

Why don’t I stop going? I suppose all those years in the biz means it is in my blood now. No matter how bad it is I still have to visit once a week, or so. Like being addicted to sticking needles in my eyes.

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10 thoughts on “Whatever happened to FAST food?

  1. I think it is better to wait 5 more min. than to throw the cold hamburgers away after 10min.
    Maybe in the 70s and 80s it was cool to waste food and to drive 20liter cars ,but i think now we are a littla bit wiser than 20yrs ago.

  2. Ah, I see, this is all about saving the planet, cutting down waste, etc.

    Good idea, and surprising that McDs have not taken advantage of that in their marketing. “Dear customer, sorry you have to wait a lot these days but we’re doing our bit for the environment.”. Turn a negative into a positive.

  3. Freaky mind-reading stuff! Back when I lived in Warsaw I was often to be found fuming gently in McD’s queues muttering darkly about the irony of the phrase ‘fast food.’ I’m afraid I’ve given up on the whole thing these days. Once you get over the initial addiction-kicking hump it takes a great deal of stress out of one’s life.

    What the hell did happen to Burger King? I was always a massive Whopper fan and my delight when Burger Kings started opening up in Poland was matched only by my horror when they almost immediately closed down again. I’ve heard theories that they just didn’t catch on, perhaps because Poles have little interest in eating beef. Are you in the know? I remember it was highly amusing when they converted them all into KFCs by ripping out all the tacky blue plastic seats and replacing them with otherwise identical tacky red plastic seats.

  4. island, I am “in the know” but email me if you really want to know.

    In the meantime, Burger King are back and you can get a Whopper anytime by going to Zlote Tarasy foodcourt or coming soon to Arkadia foodcourt. They opened the first (ZT) sometime around September. I’m sure they will spread from here. The franchisee is now AmRest down in Wroclaw.

  5. Burger King at ZT was great when I popped by last month.

    As a generalisation, fast food in Poland is infinitely preferable to fast food in the UK. My last foray to a McD in the UK was in Leagrove, a dump of a suburb of Luton. I was surrounded by obese single mums with four kids (each of a different colour), service was gormless (“Wowasva[‘] yewardad?”), couldn’t get our orders right. On a Sunday lunchtime I felt the same frisson of fear I felt that day in New Orleans when I wandered too far north up Canal Street and realised I was the only white face in the restaurant.

    I’d agree with Ich – better to wait five minutes and have piping hot French Fries than to get insipid, limp fries that have been vegetating under the UV for quarter of an hour waiting for some impatient sucker to turn up and claim them.

  6. This reminds me of a story by American comedian Patton Oswalt about Kentucky Fried Chicken who had filled a bowl with gravy, mashed potatoes, corn, breaded chicken, and finally, cheese and called it the Famous Bowl. He said “Shut-ins, people afflicted with Prader-Willi Syndrome, and manic-depressives. If you’re trying to make a fortune in the food and beverage industry, those are the three demographics to shoot for—the Famous Bowl is one of the bestselling items on the KFC menu…

    But I have a shameful secret.

    I’ve never had a Famous Bowl.

    Until now.

    The A.V. Club asked me to try one and write about it. I said yes. I bought one and ate it. It was a mistake.

    First off, when I went looking for a KFC in Los Angeles, I realized I hadn’t been in a KFC in decades. I remember, as a kid, how fun they were, with the corn on the cob on a stick, and the way KFC chicken tastes so goddamn awesome the next day after spending the night in the fridge.

    The franchise I visited, on Hollywood Boulevard near my old apartment, looked like it had withstood assault by bullets, flamethrowers, Baseball Furies, and a hundred hook-handed whores. Everything inside the store—including the employees and customers—looked like it had been rubbed with sad ham. And they were offering a new product for kids—”fun meals” that came in colorful cardboard containers that opened like laptop computers. A generation of children are growing up associating computer use with fun, grease, and food. I will flee to the mountains before I see how porn gets folded into that equation.

    …I drove the Famous Bowl home. It sat on the passenger seat next to me like a sullen runaway I’d picked up on the interstate…

    The Famous Bowl hit my mouth like warm soda, slouched down my throat, and splayed itself across my stomach like a sun-stroked wino. It was that precise combination of things, and so many other sensations that did not go together. At all.

    The gravy, which I remembered as being tangy and delicious in my youth, tasted like the idea of blandness, but burned and then salted to cover the horrid taste. The mashed potatoes defiantly stood their ground against the gravy, as if they’d read The Artist’s Way and said, “I’m going to be boring and forgetful in my own potato-y way!” The corn tasted like it had been dunked in fake-corn-flavored ointment, and the popcorn chicken, breaded to the point of parody, was like chewing a cotton sleeve that someone had used to wipe chicken grease off their chin.

    The cheese had congealed. Even in the heat and steam of the covered Famous Bowl, it had congealed. I stabbed it with the tines of my spork and it all came up in one piece. I nibbled an edge, had a vision of a crying Dutch farmer, and put it down.

    I managed three or four more spoonfuls, trying to be fair. I am not the healthiest eater, but this was a level of crap I hadn’t earned a belt in yet.

    Afterward, I had the weirdest feeling. I’m trying to imagine this feeling amplified, as if I’d finished the entire bowl:

    My mouth was laced with the various “flavors” of the Famous Bowl. My stomach was bloated and uncomfortable with the fist of starch I’d just put in it. But I didn’t feel like I’d eaten. It’s like when you see some loud summer blockbuster, or hear an overproduced pop song—you’re left with the sensation of seeing, hearing, or in the case of the Famous Bowl, eating. But in the end, that’s all they are—sensations.

    There was nothing of consequence or value for me to digest, no taste or memory left on my teeth or tongue to savor and think about.

    It’s goddamn horrible, this Famous Bowl.

  7. They used to sell something similar, if not exactly, the “Famous Bowl” over here for a while. I actually enjoyed it! How sad am I?

    They stopped selling it now, perhaps too many people read the Oswalt story!

  8. Since moving to Poland I’ve eaten fast food exactly one time, when visiting a friend who wanted to order something (and get it delivered!) from KFC.

    I ate plenty of it when I lived in the US but the only major fast food I like now is Taco Bell. My kingdom for grilled stuffed burritos!

    Back on topic: I will never understand global companies that set up shop here and then, apparently, seem to say “…ok, you don’t have to work to the same standards that we have everywhere else” because “Poland is different”. Frankly, it’s just people gaming the system – getting away with something they know they can get away with. As you say, Ian, the UK managers would sack everyone here in a heartbeat …but they aren’t here and it seems no one is worried that they will ever show up.

    I also think McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King here are way too expensive here and doubly so for what you get.

  9. Brad, do you have a device that flags up any posts I edit? Because if you do it’s going to be really busy!

    This one is three years old now and I’m slowly working my way through the blog fixing all the “missing image files” that were left when I moved my photo galleries.

    Anyway, I’ve never really got to appreciate Taco Bell. Must try sometime.

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