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Poor Service and Cutting Your Losses

Written by Nickel - 16 Comments

Last night my wife stopped at a well known fast food joint to pick up dinner. I’m not naming names, but there was a red-haired, yellow-suited clown and some arches involved… I’m sure you can figure it out.

Anyway, she went through the drive through, ordered, and got our food. They almost forgot one entire meal, but she caught that before pulling away from the pickup window. In her rush to get home, she handed off the bags to our 15 year old and asked him to check the order. Ooops, bad call.

Once she got home, we realized that three of the sandwiches were wrong (cheese on what should have been hamburgers, etc.) and that we were missing an entire order of large fries. Annoyed, I picked up the phone to call the number on the receipt.

After a few rings, the manager answered and proceeded to be completely unhelpful. I was presented with two choices: drive back up to pick up the food they had screwed up, or drive back up for a refund for the items that they had screwed up.

It’s a 10 mile round trip, so I had no interest in driving back for a few burgers or a few bucks. But… Really?

You screw up a customer’s order, mess up their dinner, and the best you can do is to offer to have the customer go out of their way to get things back to how they should’ve been in the first place.

I very reasonably (to me, anyway) asked them to re-make the messed up part of our order and also provide a refund for the affected items — not the entire meal, just those items. Their answer? Nope.

At a “real” restaurant, the common solution to a kitchen mistake is to deliver the correct order and comp the affected portion of the meal. This is just good business, as the food itself — especially at a fast food restaurant — hardly costs a thing to make. The cost is certainly far less than the value of a satisfied customer.

Annoyed by the response, I decided to cut my losses and excuse myself from the call. I did, however, ping their national hotline. Sadly, they weren’t any better. They basically dodged responsibility by saying that they can’t control their franchisees and then offered to pass my complaint on to the owner.

Oh well. At least I dodged a rather unhealthy meal. Perhaps I should be thanking them instead of complaining…

Side note to business owners: When dealing with a screwup that is clearly your fault, do more than just the absolute bare minimum to make things right.

Published on January 23rd, 2013
Modified on February 4th, 2013 - 16 Comments
Filed under: Customer Service

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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16 Responses to “Poor Service and Cutting Your Losses”

  1. 1
    BG Says:

    Nothing is more frustrating than getting ripped off in the drive-through. Fast food restaurants are setup to prevent mistakes, example: a screen for the customer to acknowledge that the order was heard/recorded correctly.

    But if the person who is putting the food in the bag can’t get it right then everything else is pointless.

    Anything over two meals, or any “make it your way” burgers, then you are better off walking inside to order.

  2. 2
    Penny Says:

    To be totally fair:I went to the same restaurant chain yesterday in Saint Paul, MN for lunch and I had what was probably the best QSR service I’ve ever experienced. Fast; everyone smiled and was friendly, and no screw ups.

    Not all Franchises are run the same way

  3. 3
    Victor Says:

    When you pull up to the window, you are engaging a supplier optimized around low cost, low cycle-time, and high volume. It is unrealistic for every customer to expect a 0% defect rate, and if a defect does occur, to not only have the error corrected, but to also be compensated with free goods and/or services.

    I can’t imagine expecting a waiter to discount my meal because he forgot to bring an item to the table until I asked for it.

  4. 4
    Jim Says:

    I don’t have a general expectation that ‘real’ restaurants will give me free food after any error. If a normal restaurant brought you a salad with the wrong dressing would you demand a free salad?

    Fast food chains are not ‘real’ restaurants so I wouldn’t expect the same level of service. Errors can an do occasionally happen at any restaurant. In fact I assume the error rate is lower at the high volume fast food places since they have it down to a science. I think offering to fix the order or refund is reasonable.

    The fact you live 10 miles away isn’t their fault and thats part of the nature of a drive in.

    I do agree it is really an annoying pain if a drive up screws up your order and you don’t realize till you get home.

    You just gotta check your meal before you leave.

  5. 5
    Michael Says:

    Number one rule of fast food:

    Check, before you leave, that what is in the bag is what you wanted to get.

    Everything that is supposed to be there is there, and everything that is supposed to be missing is missing.

    It is guaranteed that the first time you violate this rule, you will suffer the consequences!

    A better manager might have agreed with your request. Some manager’s aren’t so great.

  6. 6
    Fred Johnson Says:

    Hmm, I have not had that experience at McDonalds. Twice they gave me the wrong type of cheese on Angus burgers. I skipped the talking to the store and instead sent an email to McDonald’s national website. They apologized and sent me free meal coupons each time. I have no complaints. They have been good to me. I live in Minneapolis.

  7. 7
    Lewis Says:

    I think McD’s is more worried about getting scammed than they are about customer satisfaction. I know a lot of stories about people getting one over on the fastfood industry.

  8. 8
    Nickel Says:

    Jim: Of course I wouldn’t expect a free salad if they brought one with the wrong dressing. That sort of thing can be fixed very quickly. I’m talking about the kind of mistakes that disrupt the meal. That’s equivalent to what happened in this case.

    For example, someone’s order is screwed up badly enough that, by the time they get it back out to the table, everyone else is mostly done eating. In those cases, my experience has been (more often than not) that they’ll comp the screwed up part of the meal.

    As for your argument that it’s not they’re fault that I live a 10 mile round trip away, that’s true. But that’s completely missing the point. It is their fault that they sent my wife on her way without the right food.

  9. 9
    Nickel Says:

    Michael: You’re exactly right. Fail to check the bag (or have a teenager do the checking) and you’re almost guaranteed that something will be wrong. Similar to having it rain on the only day you forget your umbrella. ;-)

  10. 10
    RJB Says:

    First,
    people like you and your family tie up drive thus asking for “My Way” food! I know when people went to a friends Arched eatery, and when people whined about no cheese no lettuce or tomato, they would do all kinds of things intentionally to make it a payback!
    If you have to have it your way, stay home and make it, or go inside, but don’t tie up and make everyone wait because Little Nerddy has to have Glton Free and No Cheese!
    Get there, order, leave, FAST FOOD not turtle express!

  11. 11
    Nickel Says:

    RJB: Last time I checked, hamburgers which we ordered) come without cheese and french fries (which we also ordered) exist. I’d hardly call those things special orders.

  12. 12
    Tim Says:

    The easiest way to deal with things like this and poor service is the bottom line is you did not get the service and or products you were expecting you paid for.

    I always pay for everything on Credit card and all of my card services offer a feature to back charge to the merchant for not delivering their promise on the services or product you ordered.

    You don’t have to deal with a merchant that is providing less than subpar customer service and you get you money back anyway. With my card companies the back charge can be filled out online and takes a couple of minutes. It is always far less hassle than dealing with the merchant. Sometimes I contact the merchant to let them know I’m doing the back charge and sometimes I don’t.

    If I had to put a number on this I would guess I have done this 30-40 times in the past 5 years.. and all but about 2-3 cases the credit card company honored the back charge. Consumers have power you just have to leverage your benefits sometimes.

    I don’t pay for services that do not get delivered.

    cheers!!

  13. 13
    Kim Says:

    I had the same thing happen to me at BK, except I had ordered a veggie burger and was given a hamburger…completely useless to me. Anyways, I called them and asked for a refund. Nope, they don’t do refunds. I could drive out there and pick up a new sandwich. Nope, too long of a drive. I complained long enough that they offered to mail me a coupon for a free meal. That was an acceptable compromise. When I redeemed that coupon, my lettuce on my sandwich was dirty/gritty, like it hadn’t been washed properly. I was more than annoyed. I guess you get what you pay for with fast food.

  14. 14
    Joe Says:

    As a rule, I never use the drive through. But I’ve had poor counter service too. I stopped at the same fastfood restaurant in question with several friends. I ordered first. One egg muffin sandwich. Total cost was $3 and some change. Sat down and started eating when my friend returns with his food. Laughing, he told me the Egg muffin sandwiches were two for $3. I paid over $3 for one. I went right up to the counter to complain. Manager’s response was they have to ring up the order exactly how the customer ordered.
    I began to complain loudly – insisting they give me another sandwich. The poor cashier was so confused she refunded the entire amount and gave me the other sandwich.

  15. 15
    Tracy Says:

    I had an experience at a fast food restaurant with a king for a mascot about a month ago. My SO picked up breakfast for us, and while they got his meal right, they messed mine up. I called the restaurant, and no one answered the phone. Not even after 15-20 rings. I hopped on the website, and put in a comment about it on their contact page.

    One hour later, the regional manager called me, apologized for the messed-up meal, apologized for the unanswered phone, and asked what he could do to fix it. I asked for a replacement of the affected items. He immediately told me he would replace the whole meal, including the items they got right, on my next visit.

    That’s EXCELLENT customer service.

  16. 16
    Shell Says:

    I think you are completely right. We went inside to a McDonald’s not too long ago. The people at the counter were more interested in talking to their friends that showed up than giving good service. Everything on the tray, when we got to the end was screwed up. Why are they there, if not to serve what you ordered, accurately and charge the right price? Do they not want to make a profit? Otherwise, they could just throw your food at you as you pass through and hope for the best. Which, in some instances, almost seems like that. Another issue is attitude and keeping the customers you have. If you went for donuts and they kept giving you lemon filled when you wanted Rasberry and hated lemon filled, would you go back? You shouldn’t be expected to take apart each burger to see if it is right. We keep those people in a job by buying their food. They need to be polite and deliver what is paid for. Otherwise, get the heck out of the business. You don’t deserve the business. It shouldn’t be on the customer to see that you do your job. Real simple. Lousy managers need to quit or do their job. We haven’t been back to that particular McDonald’s in over a year. I have started calling Corporate when they screw up more than once. That’s what they are there for. They need to know these things are happening.

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