This was originally published in an issue of the Austin-American Statesman newspaper’s XL Ent entertainment magazine on October 30, 1997! This was the first piece I’d ever written that actually generated hate mail which was published in a “Letters to the Editor” section of the XL Ent magazine in the following issue. I feel proud to have been a creator and recipient of petty social whining long before the existence of Twitter.
If you are a college student, I strongly suggest that you go ahead and get an internship at a fast food restaurant in your area. That way you’ll be fully prepared to enter the job market when you graduate in 10 years.
The fast food industry is a thriving factory of opportunity where anyone can succeed as long as your idea of success is making such an insignificant amount of money that when you sit down to chart your finances the only item you can list under the heading of “luxuries” is saltine crackers. In fact, the only drawback to working in the fast food world is having to deal with Customers.
The thing always to keep in mind when dealing with any Customer is that this person is a complete idiot. I performed many scientific studies on the subject of Customer Behavior Patterns when I spent three years in fast food, by which I mean getting drunk after work and watching my co-workers gnash their teeth into powder while dealing with a Customer. My research has shown that Customers and Human Beings are two completely different entities.
Human Beings are a highly complex and highly evolved life-form with the ability to communicate remarkably with others of their own species and perform reasonably well on game shows, whereas, Customers are lobotomized, demon-possessed morons. Apparently, some sort of metamorphosis occurs, at the molecular level, the moment a Human Being enters a food service environment. To better illustrate my point, here is a very scientific chart, which I have just made up:
ABILITIES OF HUMAN BEINGS: Reproduction, language, use of opposable thumbs, logic, politics, manners, wars, riots, living in places such as New York City on purpose, etc.
ABILITIES OF CUSTOMERS: Grinding entire entrees into carpet fibers.
The point of this research is to gain insight into the Customer/Employee relationship to better prepare those in fast food how to deal with their Customers in a kindly, patient and sometimes homicidal manner. I’ve prepared a list of various Customer types in the percentages they are most often encountered.
Overweight Customers who get diet drinks — 16 percent
These are the patrons who sometimes might arrive at your establishment via flatbed trailer. They will enter, and if they haven’t built up too much forward momentum, stop at the counter where they can place an order. A typical order may be something to the effect of two large Cholesterol Combos (with double meat, double cheese, double mayonnaise and a side tub of ranch dressing), the Super Goliath French Fries (extra salt, extra grease, etc.) and a DIET SODA. Granted, their entire order might have less fat content than, say, a 25-gallon drum of lard, but I don’t see how a diet soda is going to make one bit of difference in the big picture (which is really, really big).
Customers who are illiterate — 13 percent
Chances are, your restaurant of employment utilizes a highly sophisticated piece of technology that I like to refer to as “a menu.” This is a board or a slip of paper or perhaps even a little, plastic-coated booklet with the items you sell printed in it. Most list the ingredients of individual menu items, and the ones that don’t make up for it with descriptive names such as the Meat, Lettuce, Cheese, Onion, Mayo, Mustard and Bun with 42 Sesame Seeds on it Burger. Sadly, a great majority of customers have difficulty using the menu, even when they can find it. They will stare at it for upwards of 20 minutes, as if the fate of the entire Democratic Political Infrastructure hinged on their decision, and then timidly order the “Uhm,” which is clearly not on the menu. They will say this many times, until perhaps you start to wonder if they are trying to order by grunting Morse Code at you. Then they will once again give the menu a shot, looking it over with an expression on their face not unlike an archeologist might have if he had just unearthed a digital watch in an ancient pyramid.
Finally, if you are lucky, the Customer will approach you and order something like this (which actually happened where I worked):
Customer: “If the Steak Sandwich comes with beef, what kind of meat comes on the Chicken Sandwich?”
At this point you may begin throwing knives.
Regular Customers — 9 percent
These are the Customers who patronize your store at least once a day if not every 10 minutes. They come in, and, despite the fact that your menu has at least five billion items on it, none of which are called “The Regular,” say, “Give me The Regular.” Of course, you, who have dealt with approximately the population of Japan all day, have absolutely no idea what “The Regular” is. If you do happen to sell an item called “The Regular” and this is not what the customer means by “The Regular,” then you should prepare what you think “The Regular” is (preferably something with shards of glass in it), serve it to them and run away. This way you will not be injured when the Customer Not Getting What He/She Thought He/She Wanted Bomb hits ground zero.
Customers who are better than you — 23 percent
The majority of these customers wear ties. They are usually very successful at some sort of legitimate career such as Car Sales or Digital Pager User and have names like Lance, Chad or Guy. You will almost never come across a successful customer named Cletus. Not only do these customers possess the incredible skill of sticking their noses so high in the air that NASA projects get lodged in them, but they can also perform your job better than you. Not that they would, of course, because that might lead to calluses or using a few hundred sweat glands that are usually active only in high-quality spas where they go to relax after a hard day of receiving manicures.
Customers with children — 34 percent
These are the customers, usually women or heavily beer-gutted coaches of some sort, who bring large broods of children into your store. The children barge into the store with a care and sensitivity toward your establishment comparable to that of interplanetary collisions. The accompanying adult will either be (A) nonpresent, or (B) completely ignorant to the fact that large groups of children are smearing bodily waste all over the bathroom walls. All the kids will order the menu item in which they receive a toy and a complimentary entree that can be used to drop on the floor and step on. The scene will resemble that part in Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” wherein the students revolt (which actually was filmed at a fast food restaurant in London called McKrumpet’s).
The proper way to deal with this situation is to use cattle prods hooked up to brand-new car batteries. Unfortunately, this is not condoned in most fast food establishments. If you are lucky, your respective store will offer children a play land. A play land is a fun-oriented structure designed for use by chimpanzees in zoos, but has been adopted by the fast food industry to increase their influx of lawsuits. Some common play land features are: Pool of Plastic Balls, Spiral Slide, Jungle Gym, Rabid Snake Pit, and Mr. Live Alligator.
Thieves — 3 percent
Although “money” is not listed on the menu, that is usually the first thing these customers will ask for. You may inquire as to whether or not they would like a side of fries with their money, but it is not recommended because they might shoot you.
Human-like Customers — 2 percent
These are Customers who, through some bizarre freak of nature, actually retain some of the traits of a Human Being and will pose little if no problems whatsoever. They may say things like “Please” or “Thank You” or “Have a nice day” or “You have a nice day, now.” Don’t let this shock you too much. If the Customer sees fear or amazement in your eyes they may revert to Full Customer Mode and begin saying things like “I want” or “Give me” or “I want you to give me a McHog’s Head Cheese Burger now or I will unleash my children into your establishment,” at which point they will motion to their rather large van parked outside with the bumper sticker that reads “Ritalin is for Chumps.”