A Tale of Two Burgers
So I am on my lunch break and I walk by the nearby McDonalds with no intention of going in. But I see some signage I’ve never seen before – something about making a burger your own way, which I always took to be a Burger King tagline (“Have it Your Way”). I saw what looked like posters with avocado, exotic sauces, and other options that I’d never associated with McD’s. As a journalist, I felt it was important to investigate further – y’know, for the podcast.
I walked in and the entire place had been revamped with a modern black and silver motif. The kitchen was open and visible. There were Coke Freestyle machines and, most impressively, several 8-foot tall, vertical, self-service touchscreen ordering stations to the right of a (now smaller) standard “full service” ordering cash register.
It was crowded, but I tried to make my way toward one of those monolithic ordering stations to test it out – y’know, for the podcast – maybe get a soda or something. I waited for quite a while until I realized that nobody seemed to be ordering, the crowd was a gaggle to teens just playing with the buttons. I was just about to bail when Dorian, a very nice McDonald’s staff member plucked me from the crowd and led me to an open touchscreen. I quickly realized she was assigned to assist customers, sort of like that one assistant in the self-checkout area of the grocery store.
Dorian kindly explained over the surrounding adolescent noise that the machine I was using was out of paper for printing tickets, so I would have to remember my order number. Despite feeling already in over my head, I said, “okay” and Dorian left me to touchscreen my way through the menu.
I was first confronted with an option to, “Create Your Taste (trademark McDonalds Corporation).” I hadn’t intended on getting a burger, but this seemed like something I needed to know about – at least research – y’know, for the podcast. So I worked my way through two burger patty options, three cheese options, four bun options, and a plethora of novel-for-McDonalds toppings and sauces.
Partway through my touchscreen journey, Dorian came back and asked if I was doing, the “Create Your Taste (trademark McDonalds Corporation)” burger. Even though I was really just playing around, I panicked and said, “yes” figuring I could still back out. She quickly said that she would need to come back and give me something. She made me promise not finalize my order until she got back. Confused and unwittingly committed to this burger, I completed my selections but did not finalize my creation – ¼ lb burger, bacon, white cheddar cheese, ciabatta roll with guacamole, sweet onion bbq sauce, tortilla strips, and lettuce. I wasn’t sure if each addition cost more money, or if it was all inclusive – but I was in this for discovery. What was she going to bring me? This was getting exciting.
Dorian returned quickly with a small plastic disk and helped me enter the number printed on the disk – “46.” I added a soda to my order and paid with my credit card. Dorian handed me the disk and said that I could sit anywhere and they would bring my order to me – but I had to remember the number “1039.” (this was the number that would normally be on a ticket – but my machine was out of paper). I decided to note the number “46” too – although it was printed on my disk so I didn’t concentrate as hard as I did on “1039.” The touchscreen accepted my order and said it would take approximately eight minutes. Dorian was suddenly gone.
Alone again in the crowd, I found an empty table. I looked around and had a flashback to my Double Down experience. Nobody else was waiting. Others sat down with their trays and bags in hand. They were sipping their sodas. I had a disk. Was I the only idiot who fell for this “Create Your Taste (trademark McDonalds Corporation”) madness? Fortunately I was not. Eventually, I spied one other dude, in a leather jacket, sitting alone. He was foodless with his disk in his hand. I avoided eye contact but kept my eyes on him. He was a fellow, “Create Your Taster.”
Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. At about twelve minutes the dude in the leather jack got his order. It appeared in special wire basket. After his server walked away, he was looking up, trying to get her attention but she was gone – he seemed to enjoy his burger, although I noticed him get up and head toward the counter – I guessed to fill his soda. I stopped paying attention to his problems since I was getting impatient about my food. I needed to get back to work.
Eventually a server came around with a wire basket of food – she was looking for disk holders. I perked up. She came up to me and asked, “1042?” I responded in disappointment “1039…” and eyed her basket to confirm. It wasn’t my order – it had fries on it and it wasn’t ciabatta bread. The server moved on.
Almost fifteen minutes passed and I was literally going to walk out. I wasn’t mad. But I was convinced that “Create Your Taste (trademark McDonalds Corporation”) was not worth the trouble, and I had to get back to work. Just then, out of nowhere, that fellow “Create Your Taster” in the leather jacket got up and came up to my table. “Hey man. What was your number?”
“1039,” I responded, quickly realizing where this was headed.
Leather Jacket: “I think I got your order. You get the sweet onion bbq sauce and tortilla strips?”
Leather Jacket: “Me too. But I didn’t get guacamole. That’s how I noticed. Sorry man. I started eating it.”
It’s worth noting at this point that out of maybe 200 or so burger combinations, ours matched with enough accuracy to reasonably cause confusion. I guess that’s why those numbers are so darn important.
Mildly frustrated, but mostly pleased that I had a good story – yknow, for the podcast – I marched up to the counter through the crowd. On my way I found Dorian, explained the situation and noted that I had to get going back to work. Dorian was immediately and noticeably concerned – totally on my side. She said, “Follow me.”
Dorian marched me right up the manager and started pleading my case. The manager first thought that I wouldn’t be charged since my meal never came out. I was about to explain that my order DID come out, but somebody else got it. But before I could open my mouth, there was Leather Jacket, right behind me, as if in a prepared soliloquy, “I ate this dude’s burger. Sorry. I didn’t know. They looked the same – except the guacamole. And I just noticed it was Ciabatta bread. I got Artisanal bread. I didn’t really know what that was supposed to look like.”
Writing this now, it is clear that the standard McDonalds customer (myself included) should probably not be asked to reckon with so many options – especially options labeled “artisanal.”
Realizing what happened, and recognizing that I couldn’t hang around while they re-made my order, the manager said I could come back another day and get my order for free. Dorian asked where Leather Jacket’s order went to. The server poped up behind the manager with order 1042 in hand. 1042 was actually Leather Jacket’s, still unclaimed. Looking to keep things simple, I said I’d just take that order if it made everyone happy. All parties agreed and the manager even said I could still come back for another free meal.
I sat down with order 1042 and scarfed down its French fries – which had not been part of my order. I realized that was why Leather Jacket had gotten up when he got his order. The fries were missing because my order didn’t have fries. I palmed my burger, filled up my cup with vanilla coke and ate the rest of my meal on go as I walked back to my office.