Fast food future


I recently traveled across the state for newspaper meetings. On the day of my return home, I stopped at my favorite fast food chain for my favorite breakfast. I had a seven-hour drive ahead of me so I wanted to get a bite and hit the road. 

When I walked in, there were no workers behind the small counter. I saw a gentleman in front of me standing at a large computer screen kiosk placing an order. “I’ve got this,” I thought, brushing past my last terrible experience with a kiosk at a bagel shop in the Atlanta airport. 

As I started to place what I thought was the simplest of orders, I touched the screen paging through page after page of items. I’m nearly 50 and I thought the kiosk was tough to figure out. Seven minutes later it printed me a ticket to take to the counter. A worker from the back had come up to the small counter and yelled a number, left the food on the counter and then quickly disappeared. 

An older gentleman, who had started an order at another kiosk soon after I did, approached me and asked me how I had gotten a ticket. I would say he was in his early 80s, with a lot of life left in him. I asked him what he ordered and he said, “Medium black coffee.” I replied, “Pretty soon we’ll be ordering from robots,” and I went back to the kiosk with him to see why he hadn’t gotten a ticket. 

Another gentleman was stuck on the screen of another kiosk and asked me if there was anyone who could help. He promptly walked out. As I tried to figure out how to get the medium black coffee back on track and my friend a ticket, I thought, “This is way too complicated.”

Time now, 11 minutes. Still no workers in front. The screen was either frozen or asking a completely irrelevant question regarding medium black coffee. I told him I could have gone back to my hotel and gotten him a coffee faster.

Finally, a worker came to the front to drop off another order and I abruptly asked her, before she could disappear, “Can you tell me if this gentleman’s order went through, it was for a medium black coffee.”

She punched the screen on her terminal and said no, she didn’t see it, but that she could take care of it. By this time there were two more couples struggling through the kiosk. 

I asked the worker, a pleasant young lady, “Are you getting good feedback about these kiosks?” I think she could hear the slight irritation in my voice. “Well, the more that you use them the easier they are to figure out.”

I replied, “I’d rather talk to you.” My heart instantly went out to my 80-year-old friend, thinking he may have to deal with these “great strides in technology” for another 20 years! 

The two couples behind me finally made it through the kiosk and approached the counter saying, “This is ridiculous.” Both of them were older than I and were on extended trips through the west and Wyoming. I know because I was passing the time chatting with them. 

“How has your trip been?” I asked.

“Fine, until now,” one replied. 

I looked at my watch as the worker brought out the medium black coffee to my patient friend. Nearly 18 minutes had passed since we both ordered. Flabbergasted would be the only word I could use to describe the experience. She brought my favorite meal out soon after and apologized for the wait. 

I know there are certainly benefits to technology, but at what cost? I guess it’s like the airline kiosks at the airport — step up and start interacting with machines instead of people. The future of fast food.

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