August 24, 2008

The long wait: Part III of When good food goes bad

Things can go wrong when you're eating in a restaurant. Then you're left spitting an undercooked burger into a trash can or waiting in a 20-minute line when you're already late for work. It's time to take a look at the dark side of the food industry.

The words "so near and yet so far" are pretty painful when you're hungry. Especially if you're in a fast food restaurant and it's past lunchtime. And somehow, at 2:30, those words always seem to fit.

Sometimes the store is empty and you expect to get your burger quickly. Since there are no other orders. yours can be rushed to the counter, right?

Um ... no. The person running the fry machine left for a smoke break but decided to run to Wal-Mart since no customers ever come in the middle of the afternoon. Now you have to wait for an 18-year-old to get back from buying another pack of Malboros before your fries can be cooked.

Other times the place is full and there isn't enough staff to handle the crowd. That happened to me Thursday. I stopped in at a McDonald's next to the interstate to grab a couple of late McChicken sandwiches. Construction had snarled traffic and left me running behind and my stomach running on empty. Judging from the size of the line at the register, it left at least 10 carloads of people in the same position.

In both situations a manager always seems to be out to try to solve the problem. A sweaty guy in a polo shirt usually pops up in McDonald's telling customers to "Have a nice day" while he orders his staff to make that double cheeseburger cook faster. A washed-up hippie saunters through Taco Bell, telling the new hires that you have to turn on the Quasadilla machine.

And it would be a pretty good spectacle if you weren't so hungry. Can the staff feed all the hungry people before time expires and they leave? Will they find someone who knows how to work the milkshake machine?

But you are hungry, so it isn't a spectacle. It's a debacle. And while good things usually come to those who wait, you're more likely to be thinking "there's no time like the present."

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