Fast Food Goes Down a Long Way

An early Burger King restaurant

An early Burger King restaurant.  The burgers were cooked over an open flame and SO good.

When I was very young, my brother and I used to love going to Burger King. Children are easily amused, but in those days the burgers really were flame-broiled and we hadn’t heard of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, or Jack-in-the-Box. We lived in south Florida, where the original BK really was king. The most serious competition came from Royal Castle.

I don’t know why, but I remember one Burger King restaurant in particular. I have no idea of where it was, if it’s still there, or if it’s even still a Burger King. But they had a long open-flame conveyor belt and they would put the beef patties on the belt and send them down across the flames. All the kids would run down the production line (on the outside) and watch their burgers cook. The meat reached the far end of the belt, fell off onto a second belt, and came back down toward the cash register.

A worker would scoop the freshly scooped meat off the belt, put on your freshly warmed bun with all the fixins’, and wrap it up for you.

I don’t remember when Burger King stopped cooking the burgers fresh in front of you, but I do recall the change in taste. Yuck! I rarely eat BK any more. Microwaving beef patties after they have been cooked is just not fine with me.

But I occasionally stop by Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and maybe a few others (including Krystal, which opened a store in Houston last year). In fact, since my surgery, most of the fast food I’ve eaten has consisted of McDonald’s small hamburgers. On a good day I can eat all of one hamburger and maybe part of a small order ofFre– American fries.

So, I had to attend a lunch-time class at work today, and therefore slipped out of the office at 11:15 to grab a small hamburger and fries at the nearby Mickey D’s. While I stood there waiting in line for them to do whatever it is they do with the meat in the back (I get the impression it’s not freshly fried at Mickey D’s, either), the store manager came out and asked if I had been helped.

He then not-quite-berated his employees for making me and other customers stand around while they hurriedly shoved fried meat and potatoes into bags. I watched one guy pull a freshly cooked basket of potatoes out of the grease and proceed to drown them in salt.

“Why am I here?” I asked myself.

“It’s fast, the burger is small, and you’re paying less than $3.00 for the privilege of rushing back to the office with that oh-so-full post-surgery feeling.”

Frankly, I’ve stood at greasy open-fire grills that looked more palatable. Part of the problem, though, was the manager. When he wasn’t looking over his workers’ shoulders, he was sitting down interviewing someone for a job, or rushing around asking customers if they were being helped.

High pressure fast food is more about passing quality surveys and corporate benchmark performance standards. I watched this same restaurant go through a corporate inspection only a few weeks ago. You could see how nervous the employees were. The managers on duty were walking on egg shells. The corporate office people were walking around with clipboards in their hands and conferring in hushed tones. They made extra sure to point out some of the teeniest complaints possible, aiming for that one better level of service.

McDonald’s, here’s my take on your pressure-tank process: ease up and cut your employees some slack. Sometimes, I’d rather have hot, fresh food than something that has been sitting out under a warmer light for 10 minutes.

I could go to Whataburger, except I don’t think there is one near my office and I have no idea of what I would do with all that meat. I can’t eat it all. I’d be in agony from the belly ache for a week.

I could go to Krystal, but that’s a good 10-minute drive from work and I’m not sure I could even eat their 3-burger combo (the side order of Fre– American fries is huge). I met one of the managers at the local Krystal earlier this year. He seemed like a nice, laid back guy. He watches his employees, too, but he didn’t seem to be riding the herd like a Gaucho who hasn’t been paid in six months.

There is a huge level of difference between the ambience of Houston’s lone Krystal restaurant and the high-speed BurgerNet connection you get at the local MickeyDs. I think if they were not located on every corner, most people would probably not visit Mcdonald’s very often. The food is definitely not the reason for why I go. “Here’s your salt, Mr. Martinez. There may be some potatoes with it.”

They call it “fast food” for a reason, but I think it’s gotten to be a little too fast. I miss the fun of racing down the counter, watching my patty cook over the open flame. But if I’m fortunate enough to have kids, I hope by that time someone will have figured out that they don’t need loud noise, busy managers, and plastic playgrounds just to learn how to enjoy a freshly cooked meal — even if it is fast food.

Disclaimer: No white bears were used in the making of this post.